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In youth baseball, normal thought may not apply

The Fan of the House columnist's attempts to motivate his young players lead eventually to the multiplex.

May 31, 2012|Chris Erskine

If a bone chip can work its way into the bloodstream, then I'm doomed, after taking a furious four-seamer off the chin while warming up a kid pitcher the other day.

I remember the rawhide smell as much as the impact, the rotation of the ball adding a little extra karate kick to the experience. Thuuuuunk. Past tense of think. Present future tense of stunk.

I'm usually pretty good with pitches in the dirt — like J. Bench I try to smother them before the wicked, unpredictable hop. Not this time. Fortunately, it hit me in a good spot. The face.

So now I have this bone chip loose in my noggin. Even in the best of times, I am one neuron away from normal thought — though normal thought is so rare these days.

For example, normal thought would've had the NHL finishing before Little League season. How bizarre that youth baseball, our most pastoral game, ends before the hockey season does. I don't know about you, but our mill pond melted months ago.

Round about March, we first set these young ballplayers out in the sun, face up, like daffodils. For weeks and weeks we played something resembling the fine sport of baseball, the late-evening games cutting into precious homework time, delaying dinner, occasionally even skipping baths.

"You are taking a bath!" the boy's mother would insist.

"But I'm not even dirty!" he would holler, standing in his filthy uniform/napkin.

By the end of a game, here is what he would have on his uniform/napkin: bubble gum, chalk, blood, spit, hair gel, snot, dragonfly guts, pizza sauce, rosin, ranch dressing, bird muck, sweat, grass stains, chocolate, spider brains, grape juice, slime, ketchup, motor oil, cupcake frosting and three layers of Band-Aid adhesive. You don't wash a uniform like that, you cremate it.

And yet he will stand in the hallway and argue with his mother that he doesn't really need a bath. At least that's what he thunk (present future tense of stunk).

Normal thought also would've prevented me from deciding to take the whole 9-year-old team to see a movie the other night. Desperate for motivation after two successive losses, I'd promised the little animals a superhero movie if they'd just beat the A's and then a few days later, the Dodgers — no small feat.

That's what they did, all right. Being American kids, they respond well to bribery. Early in the season when I started handing out bubble gum to any hitter who reached third, I finally understood this whole "positive coaching" movement.

Basically, you pay them off. Kid pro quo.

Anyway, so we're at the movie, 10 players, with a couple of the dads also along, a sibling or two, one mom, and one other life form I couldn't even identify (probably a baby brother). Good-looking group. And well-behaved too. That seemed weird. So we bought them candy.

Let me just warn you that giving a 9-year-old ballplayer sugar is like dunking Lindsay Lohan in cognac.

First, an astro-sparkle comes to his eye, then his head begins to bobble, then he starts dancing and gets all kinds of chatty.

After about five minutes of movie candy, they all begin to pant, like spaniels in a hot car. "Coach, pant-pant-pant, when's this thing start?" Or "Hey, Coach, pant-pant-pant, is this movie scary?"

The answer: "Only if you see it with a dozen 9-year-olds."

The first kid had to go to the can about 15 minutes after the movie started, then one by one, they all needed to go to the can, which necessitated slide-stepping through a 6-inch snowfall of popcorn, Skittles and other overpriced crud on the floor, while bending down out of respect to the poor moviegoers behind us.

We got through the movie OK. In one quiet moment — by law, summer blockbusters are required to have one two-second moment of silence — one of the boys, I think our center fielder, blurted out "Soooooo coooooool!" Everybody laughed, thereby destroying the quiet moment.

Today's ballplayers, huh?

Now with playoffs at hand, and the season mostly past, I can't say enough about the sheer joy of taking an entire team to the multiplex. Or just coaching youth baseball in general.

Like bone chips, coaching can really get into your bloodstream. Then you're really doomed.

chris.erskine@latimes.com

twitter.com/erskinetimes

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