John Miller, head coach of the Brussels Kangaroos and a reporter for a major American newspaper, is chronicling his team’s 2008 season in a column that will appear every Monday on mister-baseball.com. It is the first of several Mister-Baseball Blogs this year.
It was the best of all Saturdays, when the Kangaroos and (Baltimore) Orioles won, Vincent and Sam hit homeruns and our new U.S. import — Mike Joannides from Pomona College — threw six innings of one-run baseball. Oh yeah, he also homered.
We are into the second part of our season now, playing in this composite division made up of the bottom two teams from the first division, and the top four of the second. We’ll play only on Saturdays for a month, take a few weeks off in July, then go back to Saturday and Sunday games.
June and July is the same thing every year – a time of practice in shorts on cool evenings, beers and burgers in the late Northern European light, and just enough steaming summer days to be seduced by fall.
My wife and I spent Sunday with friends who live in stone house in southern Belgium, next to a 12th century abbey. We ate homemade ravioli; for desert, rhubarb and strawberry crumble and ice cream on a terrace. Europe is a theme park.
Life was not so joyful a month ago. Distraught by losing and a downward spiral of frustration, I called Pomona head coach Frank Pericolosi, long an éminence grise of European baseball wisdom.
“I don’t know what to do,” I said. “Guys don’t come to practice, I’m becoming a negative influence and I’m not getting anybody to work harder.”
“John, you have to understand, it’s recreational baseball,” Frank said, his voice cracked by the California sun. “You gotta coach to the player, you can help individuals get better if they want to, but you can’t force an entire team to share your vision and follow it.”
I’ve been carrying that little piece of advice to games and practice the last few weeks. Frank is right. There are players on our team with talent. A Major League scout showed up two weeks ago. But my friends and teammates play baseball for fun, and don’t feel that pit in their stomachs driving them to lift weights daily so they can increase their batting averages by 40 points. And that’s fine.
My job is to install a managed meritocracy. Practices happen, fun and snappy. Fast guys bat leadoff. Starters throw less than 150 pitches.
What happens next is a baseball picnic, sometimes good, sometimes bad. If we teach lots of 10-year-olds to play the right way, it will one day become high class. Otherwise, probably not.
But there is nothing to be gained by trying to mould a bunch of grownup Joes and teenage Nukes the same way you coach a Little League team.
On Saturday, a light-headed 14-3 win, there was no place for such rumblings.
Thoughts on coaching a men’s league team? The dugout is listening at email@example.com