A Story of Courage

I had the honor of coaching a Little League Baseball All-Star team in the summer of 2007.  Our team was at Little League's majors level, the same as kids playing on TV in Williamsport, PA in late summer.  We had a pretty good team by our estimation, and since our league had been pretty competitive in the past, we had high expectations for our squad.  However, our team had something that most teams did not. The father of one of our players was losing his battle with prostate cancer at the age of 45.  This player, Kyle, is a lanky kid who pitched, played first base and outfield.  He is a great kid who always gave 100%; he respected his teammates, coaches and the game.  His father Charlie was a big baseball fan and his mother Patty was the treasurer of our league.  We served on the board of directors for three years together.  They were a true baseball family.

As the All-Star practices began (which included a brief batting practice in the morning and a full practice in the evening) Charlie's condition started to deteriorate fast.  We coaches would tell Kyle to not worry about coming to practice if he didn't feel like it - if he needed a day off it would be alright.  Kyle would do nothing of the sort!  He was usually the first one at practice and always showed great enthusiasm at every practice.  I suppose it was an escape for him amidst all the family coming to town and his father's imminent death.  We always tried to keep practice fun, although as coaches we may think it to be serious at times, these are boys ages 11-12, it's still a game for them which should be fun.  Especially in light of the serious condition of Kyle's dad.  On our All-Star t-shirts we put Charlie's initials in a yellow circle on our sleeves and we put a yellow sticker with his initials on the back of our helmets.  We did this for all three of our All-Star teams: the 10s, 11s and ours.  Most teams we played would ask what it meant and when we told them, a typical response was "that's cool."  I know Kyle was proud to have his father's initials on our sleeves and helmets, as was I.

One day after practice we decided to take the team to visit Charlie at the hospice.  This was Kyle's idea.  He wanted his friends, coaches and parents to come be with him and his dad.  This was Kyle's daily ritual after every practice.  I'm certain very few kids in the world practicing for this tournament had to do something like this after every practice.  We all gathered tightly in the room, which was not designed to hold 12 kids, their parents and coaches while we sang "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" for Charlie.  Kyle sat next to him singing loud and proud, holding his father's hand, while most of us adults could hardly sing due to tears streaming down our faces. 

Charlie passed away a couple of days after that event.  The entire team came to the funeral, and there was Kyle at the door of the church greeting everybody.  I cannot tell you how proud I was of him during this time and how much I admired his courage.  The next day at practice, there was Kyle, as usual the first one there! I gave him a big hug and told him how much I admired him.

Our team made it to the district championship game and lost by one run in the bottom of the last inning.  We were motivated by the "let's win it for Charlie" speeches, but in the end the other team played just a little better.  The boys were very disappointed about the loss and shed many tears, but within a half hour later at a pizza parlor, they were all outside throwing balls around and having fun.  While they played about, us coaches and parents sat inside drowning our sorrows and wondered if we should have pitched to the kid who drove in the winning run.  I call that perspective on Little League Baseball: the kids had it right!

I learned a lot about the game of baseball during that summer, and I have been around the game for over 35 years.  I learned it can be a place for a kid to be a kid having fun playing a game with his buddies.  Baseball can be a place, even for a few hours, that can help a kid cope with a family or personal tragedy.  It can be a place for them to not have any pressures or outside influences which are typically prevalent in youth sports, particularly at this level.

Most importantly I learned that kids think of it as a game, and in the end it should ALWAYS be fun.

Coach Mike Green

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