Marolt: An old man dreaming about an young man’s game
They call me “coach.” They mean “assistant coach.” What I am is a guy who knows a little about baseball, shows up to practice when I can and helps out with the fun stuff. Planning workouts, getting to the field two hours early, strategizing, making the lineup card and preaching the virtues of a grade point average above 2.0 are not in my “job” description.
I’m a 15-year-old brain inside of a 52-year-old body. That’s like dropping a supercharged V-8 into a vintage Pinto and entering it into the Mustang rally. It wants to go fast but can’t. Worse, in spite of everything, it thinks it’s a Ferrari, and it will preserve this self-image up to the time it explodes.
Studies show that about 1 percent of parents live vicariously through their kids’ sports. You know where I’m going with this, don’t you? That’s right, the same studies prove that the other 99 percent are liars.
Of course we live vicariously through our kids! That’s our job, joy and privilege. It’s a way to connect over common life experiences. We want to protect them. We want to share in their successes and console them in their defeats. Most of all, we just want to let them know that we love and support them. The thing we have to be careful of when we do this, though, is to make sure we see ourselves as them and not them as our time-polished former selves.
I am so convinced of this rule that when the real coaches offered me the opportunity to round out one of the teams in a fast-paced, super-fun, ultra-competitive inter-squad game of speed ball, I didn’t give them, or myself, the chance to reconsider. What better way to show the kids that I’m with them than to mix a little spitting, sweating and swearing with them?
OK, shift into reverse for a second. John Hart is a good friend of mine. He is a baseball guy who got a taste of the majors playing as an Expo, was a third-base coach for the Orioles and made a claim to fame as the general manager for the Cleveland Indians. While I am obviously name-dropping, there is a point to it besides providing you with more evidence of me as a blowhard.
When he got the GM job in Cleveland, I must have been in my early 30s and he about 50. Here, I have to tell you that the guy is as fit as anyone you know. He may have been wearing his body out for half a century, but he looked like he could run with most 20-year-olds.
I asked him if he ever got down on the field with the players to take a few batting practice swings. Without hesitating, he said, “Not a chance.” It simply wouldn’t be worth going out there and making an ass out of himself in front of the players whose respect he needed in order to do his job. He knew his mind was more gullible than his body, which had become more prone to tattling.
I didn’t get that. I thought he was crazy. I told him I would be down there every day, taking my licks with the likes of Robby Alomar and big bad Albert Bell. He laughed the laugh of the wise.
Now, getting back to the AHS inter-squad game. For those of you keeping score at home, it was proved that I can no longer run, hit, throw or catch, but I still love the game as much as ever. Outside of earning a paycheck for playing, passion trumps skill. My team won with a rally in the 10th inning after I left in the ninth with a pulled groin muscle. I may have lost cred, but I felt like I won the world. It was indescribably great to be cutting across the diamond again. I was so sore that I couldn’t sleep, but I haven’t dreamt so sweetly since the night of the 2011 father/daughter lacrosse game.
Only one question burns as intensely as the shoulder of my throwing arm: Are part-time, volunteer “assistant coaches” covered under the school district’s health plan?
In the end, John Hart was right. An executive for a big-league baseball team can’t risk fooling around and losing the respect of his players. As for me, the “part-time assistant coach,” I could afford to come down a few notches in the players’ eyes, so I spent the wad. Hopefully I earned a little back showing the kids that you never outgrow fun.
Roger Marolt is forever grateful to head coach Ryan Triece, real assistant coach Dave Lagrue and the AHS nine for making him feel part of the team. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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