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Sunday, October 20, 2013

Tommy - A Lesson Worth Re-Telling

Many years ago when I was younger I was asked if I would manage a Little League team. I agreed as it seemed like it would be a fun thing to do. Back then teams were picked by attending a try out where the kids would try out and the managers would pick their team from those trying out. After watching the boys play toss and catch it was obvious that only a few had the eye/hand coordination to be good players. There were eight managers there to pick teams. I thought it was nice that they let me go first being the newest manager. We couldn't pick our own children so I picked a boy that showed he could clearly play. The picks went on down through the managers until all eight had chosen a player. Then I was told the choices went from manager number 8 back to me. That meant 15 players were chosen before it got back to me. I picked another boy who looked promising but then it went through the choices again. The other managers had worked with some of these boys before so clearly the first two rounds into the third round all had players who knew the rules and how to play. I ended up with 15 players with only one who actually knew the game. The others had boys they wanted to look bad so they wouldn't be chosen and ended up with over half their players with experience.

I had picked one little boy who was a mess but looked like he needed to be a part of something. His name was Tommy and he was being raised by his mother. Back then divorce was more of a stigma than it is today and Tommy was not handling the pressure well. I'm getting ahead of myself though. As it turned out Tommy was at an awkward age where he couldn't catch, run or throw. The other boys developed naturally but Tommy make no progress. His team mates in order to encourage him ragged him pretty badly in the outfield and I was unaware of what was going on. Then one day Tommy failed to show for practice and then another and another. I called his mother to see what was going on with him and she said he didn't think the other boys liked him and he didn't want to be on the team. I drove over to his house and met with him and his mom as he told me what had been going on. I told him he was as much a part of the team as any other player and would he come back and let me handle the situation.  He agreed to give it another try. I promptly called a team meeting and told the other boys even though Tommy was not progressing at their level he would if given the chance.  The team would not be complete if they let Tommy go. We had some conversation about rejection, working together including those who were less talented. Tommy came back and the boys all worked with him with greater patience that I possess and soon Tommy was getting his playing time - albeit not good but the boys never gave up on him. He remained the worst player we had but he was part of the TEAM.

No one expected our team to do well but our boys developed quickly and we were winning games. In fact our team gravitated to winning and we ended the season with only one loss and tied for first place. There was a play off to see who would be first. Our team against the president of the league's team which had all the stars on it. The day came and we were one run ahead half way through the sixth inning. All we needed were three outs and we were champs. We got two outs but ended up with a couple players on base and the tension was high. Their big hitter came to bat and I could hear the other team telling him to hit the ball to right field as Tommy was in right. My heart sunk as I don't think Tommy caught a ball all season. Sure enough - Whack the ball was a high fly to right field. No chance for the center fielder to get to it and I saw Tommy circle around trying to hone in on the ball. It took a thousand years for that ball to come down as we collectively held our breath. The ball started down and there stood Tommy with his big mitt on his skinny arm. As the ball came down he stuck out his mitt with his free hand supporting the clumsy over large mitt and the ball landed right in the mitt and did not bounce out.

Tommy made only one play the entire season but it was the BIG ONE and our team - the one no one expected to win a game - ended up number one. Tommy only made one play but ended up the hero of the game. The other boys treated him like a champion which he was. They never gave up on him and he never gave up on himself again. He went from a shy withdrawn boy to someone others respected. As the boys ran onto the field shouting and throwing gloves and hats in the air for Tommy it suddenly became all worth the endless effort to teach team work and playing together as a team.

Weeks later Tommy's mom called me and said without a man figure in his life he gave up easily, was a poor student but all that changed when I encouraged him to come back to the team. I don't know what ever happened to Tommy because we moved shortly after that but I hope he may have gone on to be a good person. Being a Little League manager with that team taught me many things. How teamwork even with a weak link is better than being a lone ranger. To be patient with people because while they may lack certain skills they possess others that may be valuable. Most of all that just because a person isn't the best they can be the most important. There were a lot of other lessons learned from managing those boys but these are the most important. Also, never under estimate your influence on others as you simply don't know when or how it may come into play. Therefore be sure your heart is in the right place and do the right thing and everything will work out the way intended.  I know those boys would have been disappointed if Tommy dropped that ball but they would have been there for him and never would have blamed him.  I'm just glad it worked out the way it did.  

1 comment:

Bruce said...

Comment by Robert: Thanks for sharing a wonderful story. It couldn't have happened without the RIGHT coach. Kids will put out an extra effort if they love and respect their coach.