The Best Life Coach
The scoreboard didn't reflect the many wins on the field
I sat in the bleachers fuming. Being dragged to the Little League park to watch my brothers’ games was bad enough. But that summer the league was short of coaches so my dad stepped up to help out which for me meant sitting on the sidelines of yet another team. The sun was brutal. I slid down the bench seeking refuge in my mom's shadow but the baked boards slivered my bare legs.
Dad's team just lost their umpteenth game in a row. I didn't give a rat's tail about the score. But as the boys shuffled in from the outfield like the hangdog losers they were, my dad said, “You played your best. Ice-cream is on me!”
The boys cheered and stampeded toward the concession stand.
“No fair,” I whined to my mother. “We never get ice-cream.”
This was true. I was the fourth of six kids, and at age twelve I could count on one hand the number of times I’d been treated to ball park ice-cream. Heck, I could count it on one finger. Mom always said it was too expensive. And now my dad was going to feed an entire team.
Mom told me I could ask Dad for a treat.
I caught up with the team at the forest green snack shack. The boys, a couple years younger than I, were so excited they were pushing and shoving each other in line to order.
“One at a time! One at a time,” said the woman working the window.
The winning team was jockeying for popsicle position at the adjacent window. A kid with streaked blond hair who’d effortlessly caught the fly ball that ended the game, sneered.
“Why are you getting treats? You lost, losers,” he said.
The effect of the bully’s ridicule was immediate. Only one kid clapped back. The others shriveled like balloons with slow leaks.
I hate to admit that I agreed with the bully. Why should these strange kids who couldn’t hit a ball if it were balanced on a tee get free ice-cream when I, the devoted daughter of the coach, suffered week after week with nary a lick.
The bully poked some more "fun," and the one kid told him to shut his trap, and the bully said, "Make me." Someone's mom scolded someone else's kid and then that kid's dad told the mom to mind her business. A full Lord of the Flies style brawl was about to breakout by the concession stand and, frankly, my money was on the other team.
And then my dad stepped into the the line of fire.
Some coaches might tell the picked-on kids to ignore the bully. Others might chew out the instigator. My dad did neither. He turned to the kid with the big mouth and tough stance.
“You made three runs," he noted with admiration. "That's impressive! You're really good!"
The bully looked around slightly confused, then nodded.
"And did you see how our Dave, number seven, slid to first base," my dad continued. "He just made it! That's not easy when you're playing against a team as good as yours. Our guys did their best. Even when they knew they couldn't win, they never gave up. That takes guts, right?"
Then I witnessed a most remarkable thing. The kid who'd been all swagger and snotty remarks, softened.
"I guess you guys tried," he said coming as close to a sincere compliment as he could muster.
Upon hearing those words, the Little League losers puffed up their tiny bird-cage chests in pride. They had in fact played their best. Never mind that their best wasn’t particularly good. Never mind that the rest of the season would prove their best wasn’t good enough to win a single ball game that summer. Because for a brief moment in time, they basked in the glory of a job well done.
It was beautiful to see the effect my dad had on all the kids. He led by example, modeling how winners and losers alike could enjoy the game, appreciate individual skills, and be kind to each other. I like to think some of their parents might have learned a lesson, too.
My dad never coached again. I thought maybe it was because he wasn't very good at game strategy or something. I mean, his team lost every game. Then I learned that at tryouts, all the kids stood around staring at the ground while the coaches took turns picking their players. The serious coaches aimed to form all-star teams. At first, my dad thought he would do the same. But when he saw how the coaches bickered over their top picks and dismissed lesser players as losers, right in front of the kids, my dad changed his mind. He built a team of misfits. He wasn't trying to discover the next Harmon Killebrew. Dad just wanted the kids to have fun playing a sport he loved.
That summer evening after watching the team's umpteenth loss, I stepped up to the concession stand window and ordered a Creamsicle on the team tab.
“Hey, no fair,” whined one of the boys. “That girl doesn’t even play baseball!”
I turned to face the kid.
“Mr. McInerny is my dad,” I said.
“You’re lucky,” said another kid.
And I knew I was.
Not even the rare treat of summer ice-cream at the Little League park tasted as sweet as being the daughter of Roger McInerny.
About the author
A former daily newspaper journalist, now an independent writer of essays & fiction published in several lit anthologies. The Whole Hole Story children's book was published by Versify Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2021. More are forthcoming.
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
Original narrative & well developed characters
Heartfelt and relatable
The story invoked strong personal emotions
On-point and relevant
Writing reflected the title & theme
Easy to read and follow
Well-structured & engaging content