You know you're in trouble when the athletic director is happy to see you.
"Why, hello!" she said with a giant smile this morning outside the main office. "So the answer is yes, right?"
Darn it! I had been avoiding her since the end of August. That's when she asked if I wanted to coach the boys softball team. I had assisted last year, but swore I wouldn't do it again, swore I'd definitely never be the head coach. Well, the head coach left, and no one was claiming the job.
I thought I had successfully avoided the responsibility, but then the principal cornered me in the office last night.
"So, what about the softball team?" he asked.
"No, please don't make me do it. Please, I'll do anything, wash your car, anything, just don't make me coach again."
"Oh come on," he said. "You know you love it. And besides, the season has already started. You guys are supposed to be playing today, right now."
I told him I'd think about it. And in fact, I did think about it. I thought of a million excuses why I couldn't, why I wouldn't do it. But then I ran into the AD today.
"We've got new uniforms, new equipment, even new balls ready to go," she said.
"Even new balls?" I asked. "You mean I won't have to run to the sporting goods store before games just to buy the game ball?"
"I knew you'd do it. Come on to my office, I'll give you the forms."
One of last year's players is in my fourth period. "You gonna play?" I asked him. "Our first game's next Wednesday."
"Hell yeah," he said. "Who we playing?"
So, the next month will be spent in a frustrating cycle of begging guys to practice, begging guys to get their physicals, begging guys to take the day off work so they can show up for a game, begging them to do their homework so they stay academically eligible, begging them not to leave a mess after games, begging, begging. Yes, begging. Kids don't beg to be on the team. You have to promise them extra credit.
And all you get in return are memories.
I remember my third year coaching, we somehow put together a good team. We lost the first couple of games, then did OK enough to reach the playoffs. Something amazing happened. The players all started listening to us, the two coaches. We came up with a strategy for the first playoff game, and the players pulled it off. We were playing a much bigger and stronger team, but we frustrated them, scratched out just enough runs and made just enough amazing defensive plays to win that game. Our next two playoff games were easier, even though the teams were better.
We finally got knocked out by the previous year's champs, the team that had beaten us earlier in the season by the score of 30-0 or something like that. We lost the playoff game by 2. They had to make an amazing comeback to beat us. How we lost was the most aggravating thing. Our second baseman, the only guy on the team that screwed around during practice and never took us seriously, committed two errors in the last inning to let the tying and winning runs score. I was furious. And I was bummed. I actually was sad, because we had been doing so well, and it ended with a couple of errors. If we had won that game, only one team stood in our way before the city championship. (Chicago, I think, is the only city that even has 16-inch softball as a high school sport, so winning that would've made us national champs. Hell, world champs.)
What made me quit that time was the players' reaction. Ten minutes after the loss, they were goofing around, acting like fools, as if nothing had happened. I tried to make a speech about how happy and sad I was, but they weren't paying attention. So I said, "You know, the only reason you guys made it this far in the playoffs was because you listened to your coaches. And the only reason we're not playing next week is because some of you didn't want to listen."
"Yeah, whatever," one kid said. "We don't need you as much as you think."
The next season, almost all of the starters returned. But with two new coaches. They didn't even make it to the playoffs.
Wait, what is this? My Chicago Teacher Man post, or my speech to the guys that come out for the team tomorrow? Oh well. I'll try not to care. I'll try not to be the only one out there that really, really hates losing. I mean, it's supposed to be fun, isn't it? Winning isn't everything, right?
And even if we get killed, maybe I'll come away with a few good memories. Like this one: Our very first year with a team, the coach and I collected enough guys to show up for the first game. We had never practiced, so on the way to the game we just asked players where they wanted to play.
Our leadoff hitter actually got a hold of the first pitch, sending a line drive into the outfield. "Run!" we screamed. And so he ran.
With his bat.
Straight to second base.
For a second, I thought he was going after the opposing pitcher. But then I realized he thought he was playing cricket. Players run like that in cricket, I guess.
Needless to say, he was out.
I'm hoping that doesn't happen next week. But then again, I'm hoping something entertaining does happen. Because, sucker that I am, I just couldn't say no to the all-of-a-sudden happy athletic director.