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Man of the House by Chris Erskine

Say what you will -- they've still got game

June 26, 2003|Chris Erskine

"WE SHOULD have a coaches' game," says Bob one day, not so long ago. "Want to have a coaches' game?"

This is the sort of ambivalent demand-request you hear a lot of in the suburbs, people feeling strongly about something but not wanting to take too much of a stand.

"Sure, let's play," someone says with a shrug.

And so the coaches' game is born, our reward for all the hours spent teaching the dropped-third-strike rule and other nuances of the game to a bunch of girls who'd rather be home instant-mailing Matt or Trevor or some other little punk who doesn't necessarily have the girls' best interests at heart.

Not like us. We'll spend hours teaching them the dropped-third-strike rule. It's like teaching physics to circus clowns.

Scene 1, first practice:

"You gotta run on that," Coach Bill says.

"Why?"

"Because it's a dropped third strike," Bill explains.

From the very beginning, our young team struggled with the dropped-third-strike rule, one of sport's freakier provisions.

According to the rule, if a batter strikes out but the catcher drops the ball, it's just as if the batter hit the ball. She can run to first base and remain there, provided she beats the catcher's throw.

Two years ago, the little girl found a loophole. When pitchers threw a wild pitch to her with the count at two strikes, the little girl would swing at the wild pitch, 5 feet wide of the plate. She'd make it to first base almost every time as the ball caromed around the backstop.

"What happened?" the parents would ask.

"Dropped third strike," we'd explain.

What the little girl had done was the sort of manipulation of law that gets governors indicted. But under the dropped-third-strike rule, it was perfectly legal.

"I hate the dropped-third-strike rule," I tell Coach Lorraine at this first practice.

"Why's that?"

"I just do," I say.

Scene 42, Game 16:

We are in the playoffs now, and I'm pretty certain the umpire is either drunk or an impostor brought in as a gag by one of my friends or enemies, who are often hard to tell apart.

"Ball 4!" he snorts, sending another opposing batter to the charity ball that has become first base.

Frustrated, our pitcher is about ready to faint. My assistant coach is homicidal. Sunscreen is melting off my forehead and poisoning my eyes. Other than that, everything is fine.

"Are we losing, Coach?" a player asks.

"Four runs," I say.

"Wow, four runs," she says.

Over in the stands, I notice what looks like a wedding reception. There are trays of food laid out across the bleachers. Pitchers of refreshments. Napkins.

What the parents have done is turned our game into a buffet-happy hour, complete with veggie tray and three kinds of dip. A giant luxury box, that's what it is. I've got Lucifer calling balls and strikes behind the plate, and the team owners are over there dipping strawberries in champagne.

"Tuscany's nice," I hear someone say. "You should go in the fall."

In the dugout, meanwhile, the players have begun one of their incessant cheers. Softball players don't talk, they just cheer -- in unison, at frequencies best heard by show poodles.

"Meghan, we miss you, come home, come home," they sing to the runner on third. "Meghan, we miss you, come home, come home."

Next thing I know, my head explodes.

Final scene, the coaches' game:

So it's come down to this -- the coaches' game, our end-of-the-year celebration of us, masters of no domain.

"Come on, Mike, get us going," someone barks.

Mike fouls off a dozen pitches, then laces one to left, where some lawyer who works for Disney awaits, probably trying to figure out "points" for Tim Allen's next movie. Base hit.

"Way to go, Mike!" someone shouts.

Craig hits. Then Fred hits. Brian hits, then stumbles out of the box like a madman chasing chickens.

"You're bleeding," someone says when he hobbles to the dugout.

"So?" says Brian.

Somewhere, a front porch is peeling. A dog needs washing. A leaky faucet drips.

Somewhere, wives wonder where we are and whether it's too soon to dial an attorney.

"Nice swing, Steve," someone shouts to our second baseman, father of three, fugitive from weekend chores.

"Come on, Daddy," yells his daughter, "you can do it."

Somewhere can wait.

Chris Erskine can be reached at chris.erskine@latimes.com.

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