Our best chance to win a softball game this year took place today. It was against a team we actually beat last year. Our players had been coming to practice, working on their hitting and defense, so I felt pretty good going into it.
We lost the first game 18-0. Or something like that. I lost track, and I haven't looked at the scorebook.
In the second game, we scored some runs but were down 23-7 in the fourth inning. I went up to the pitcher. "All right, kid, this is your last inning," I said.
"But why?" It wasn't his fault the other team scored so often. Our defense just couldn't catch or throw anything today.
"Because Tommy's girlfriend just showed up," I said. "I have to let him pitch, or she'll get mad at me."
"Oh, in that case, OK," he said. "But can I stay in the game, maybe play outfield?"
There wasn't any scoring after that, I don't think, and after one more inning the game was called. So far we've lost every one of our games by slaughter rule.
Afterwards, the team sat around me, dejected. I started my post-game comments by reminding them how they just haven't been listening to me, how they haven't been practicing seriously enough, how I can't teach them everything there is to know about baseball in two or three weeks.
"Watch some playoff games this weekend," I said. "I'm not even a Cubs fan, but I'll be watching. And if you have any questions about what's going on, you can ask me next week at practice."
I decided to make that a requirement. Watch baseball. Then maybe you won't make the same dumb mistakes.
Then I remembered Tommy.
"Oh yeah, one more thing," I said. "Did you all notice how Tommy started playing once his girlfriend showed up?" Some of the guys started laughing, saying something about hormones pumping. "So that's another requirement for next week. By next Wednesday, I want every single one of you to have a girlfriend. And she has to come to the game to cheer you on. Then you'll play better. And if you still lose, who cares, you can break up with her after the game."
All the guys were now laughing, and I was thinking, yes, finally, a team moment. Everyone's out here enjoying being a part of this. So I went on.
"And if you can't find a girlfriend, maybe you can bribe a girl to come to the game. Offer her a nice dinner, maybe at Old Country Buffet."
"No," someone called out. "Take her to McDonald's!"
"Yeah," someone else said. "You could buy her lots of nice things off the dollar menu."
More laughter. It felt good to be laughing, after losing yet again.
I looked at my players. Most of them couldn't get a girlfriend if they wanted to. They probably couldn't even pay someone to pretend to be their girlfriend. My players are the misfits. The chubby kids, the nerds, the wimps, the guys who can't play football or soccer. In other words, they remind me of me.
"Hey, coach," one of the guys called out after we had dispersed. I thought I might get a thank-you for the pep talk. Instead: "Can you wash my uniform for me?"
"What?" I said. "Me?"
"Yeah, that's what coaches are for, right?"
Thank goodness there's only one week of this left.