Baseball Weekend Recap

My oldest son, Jack’s Outlaw team won their first game of the East Boise Classic tournament. They call them an Outlaw team because they are not the official league All Stars, just a bunch of kids who want to keep on playing ball in the summer. Before the second game of the day, during pre-game warmups he was in the wrong spot at the wrong time.

His assistant coach was hitting fly balls to his team mates in the outfield. Jack was in a group of kids waiting to catch. He was looking at the other team warming up when he noticed a team mate reacting to something. He turned up in time to just see a ball falling right on him. As he started to react by moving away from it, it nailed him in the lower right side of his nose. There was a loud pop and he went down as if he were shot.

I was in the stands and heard the pop and saw a kid go down, but didn’t realize who it was. It’s never your kid, right? Then I saw the coach bolt out of the dugout to aide and I knew it was serious. So I started onto the field to see if I could help. As I approached the crowd of kids I recognized Jack’s new shoes and then saw his jersey number. It was my kid.

He was facing down in the grass, bleeding pretty good and crying. It was very scary at first, until the coach did a few tests to make sure he was seeing straight and knew his name. Turns out his coach is an EMT, so he was reacting as he was trained.

We got some paper towels to stop the bleeding and an ice pack for the swelling. His mom had went to the car to fetch some chairs when she got back she learned he was hurt. We took him to the car and drove to a primary care office to have him looked at. Two hours later he had been looked at and X-rayed. He didn’t have a fracture or a broken nose. He lucked out.

His team went on to lose that day and were out of the tournament. But the East Boise All Star teams did pretty good. The Nine-year-olds won the title and so did the 12-year-olds. Laurie and I went back Sunday and watched some great baseball being played by the 10-year-olds and the Twelve’s.

Jack will be back on the field later this week.

Baseball Photo Essay

The outfield can get lonely sometimes. But a good outfielder is always vigilant and ready to spring into action to relay a hit ball back to the infield. This is my youngest son Spencer, who’s AAA team I  help coach. Spencer is a fixture in the outfield, he can catch pretty good and sometimes he gets to play second base.

Spencer at bat, loaded and ready to swing. He’s having a rough year at the plate, no hit so far in the season. This is not uncommon in youth baseball. He can hit the ball fine in batting practice, but during a game, he gets psyched out. I can relate, I did the same thing when I was a kid. But he sure looks like a hitter.

Here I am at First Base Coach position, waiting for a batter to get on base. Ty and myself both rotate at first base coach during a game. This year we stepped up our uniform by getting polo shirts for the Oregon State Beavers team.

The Beavers have done pretty well this year, finishing the season in 4th place out of six teams. Playoffs begin next week and are an elimination round tournament, so anyone can win it all.

I’m more involved in my kid’s sports than most dads. I coach my youngest’s team and umpire for my oldest’s team. It’s been coaching and umpiring for about six years straight now and I have loved every minute of it. It’s so rewarding to see young boys come onto the team and improve their level of play as the season progresses. Sometimes it seems like we literally live on the diamonds for several months at a time. Going without home cooked meals in favor of hotdogs and hamburgers, coming to work with diamond dust on our shoes and missing regular writer meetings that I normally attend, are just some of the sacrifices I make to be there for the kids.

But you know what? I wouldn’t have it any other way.

This is my oldest son, Jack. He’s eleven and on a Majors team – the Fighting Irish. The kids, ages 11-12, start to make the 30 foot baselines look small at this age. They are bigger, faster and smarter over all at the game than the younger AAA players.

Jack plays outfield and third base. Here he is in the ready position at third base in one of his 12, yes, I said 12 uniform combinations for the team. The coaches went a little crazy on the uniform combinations this year.

This is Jack batting. He’s had his best season ever at the plate. One game he hit four out of five times he batted. He even got his first home run this year. But as the season winds down, he’s fallen into a hitting slump. That’s baseball.

This is team Manager Sean and Assistant Coaches Steve and Darren getting the kids ready between innings. The coaches have done a fine job this season and our kids have learned more about baseball than they have in their lives to this point. Well done Irish!

I’d like to thank my brother Byron McConnell for all the fantastic pictures in this post. My kids are lucky to have a great uncle with awesome photography skills!

Mid-Season Baseball Photo Album

Now that the season is three quarters over, I thought I’d post some pics of my kids playing baseball this year. If you’re not a lover of America’s past time, you can skip this one. If on the other hand, you love baseball – enjoy.

First up is the 11-12 year old boys in the Majors. My oldest son tried out for and got on the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. All the teams are using college names due to a licensing snit by Major League Baseball. Their loss.

This is my oldest son Jack at the plate in his last game. I shot this through the backstop fence on a gorgeous Monday evening game. I love the green, brown and blue colors in this picture taken with my Nexus phone. If you look closely, you can see the white ball coming. Jack’s locked-in on this inside pitch.

Same game, now he’s on first. The game ended when the kid at the plate, also named Jack, hit into an out at first base and advanced my son to second base. (This was a fielder’s choice play, but they should have gone for the out at second, to keep the lead runner out of scoring position.) From second base, my Jack stole third base on a pass pitch. In other words, the pitcher threw it behind the catcher, forcing him to run to get the live ball and then the catcher threw it to third base to try and get Jack out. Only it was a bad throw that wound up in left field. Plenty of time for Jack to run home with a walk-off steal. That’s baseball.

This is my youngest son, Spencer, who plays for the Oregon State Beavers. I’m one of his Assistant Coaches. This picture was shot by a fan with a really nice digital camera. You can tell that these kids are a couple of years younger than the ones in the Majors. This is AAA league where the boys are 9-10 years of age. Our umpires are volunteer dads. The team we are playing here – the Cal Bears beat us on this day. They are a great team of good baseball players.

I’ll have lots more pics at the end of the season. But this gives you a taste what I see when I coach and when I get to watch my kids play.

Going Yard

Last night my oldest son Jack hit his first long ball, otherwise known as a Home Run. It was the top of the second inning and his team was down 0-1 when he got ahold of a fast ball and gave it a ride. This knotted the score 1-1 and inspired his team with much celebration at home base.

I was standing in Position One in Right Field, as the Field Umpire. Best seat in the house for watching that ball climb like a rocket over the infield and over the center field fence. The ball hit real dirt about ten feet over the fence. It was a beautiful sight. I just knew it was going out after I heard the tink from the metal bat. It was a solid hit that got high fast.

Everyone who watches Jack take cuts has commented that his swing is elegant and I just knew that if he ever managed to but his hips into a ball it would sail out. The game before was his all-time best at-bat with four hits out of five tries. In typical slugger fashion, this day he only had one hit for the night. His team lost the game by two with Jack on deck and two runners on, when the kid before him struck out. But that’s baseball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose and sometimes it rains. Right before the game, we had the worst lightening storm of the Spring.

It’s moments like this that make me thankful for all the long hard hours I put in as a coach and an umpire. I played Little League Baseball when I was a kid and I never got a Home Run. Few kids do. So Jack is the first ball player to homer in the McConnell family. He’s also the first to get a touchdown in football. Moments in time to cherish forever.

Starveyors Update, 23 April 2012

Be seeing you
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Oliver Hammond via Compfight

After taking a few weeks off from the novel, I’m back to writing again as of this weekend. Saturday I read through the last few chapters I had written and then that evening I rewrote a scene that I had lost. I think I’ve broken the bla’s and will now dive back into writing on a regular basis to finish out the first draft.

Writing a novel during my son’s baseball season is always questionable for me. I usually can’t find the time due to losing lunch hours at work in order to get to the fields early enough for games and practices. Exercise also takes a nose dive during this period of time. Being a coach and an umpire just eats away at all my regular writing free time. By the time the kids are in bed, I’m too physically and emotionally spent to do any writing.

Last year though, my most productive writing days were right in the middle of the baseball season. Not this year. This year I have to search for more time anywhere I can find it. My priorities are always going to be with the kids though. I don’t make much money on my novels and they are not my primary income, so I can’t give priority to the writing. The kids on the other hand, will only be this age once. I can be a writer until I die. I can only be this involved in their childhood once.

Coaching 101 – Yelling During Games

Some counsel from Matt Williams
Photo Credit: Dru Bloomfield via Compfight

One of my pet peeves when I coach youth baseball is coaches that yell at their players during a game. I’m not talking about occasional encouragement or getting a kid’s attention so you can signal him directions, I’m talking about overt yelling after a bad play has happened.

We’ve all seen this at games. The pitch is overthrown to the backstop and the runner on first base bolts for second. The catcher gets the ball and rather than “eat it” and return the ball to the pitcher, he sends it to second base to get the runner. Of course the short stop misses the throw and the ball rolls into center field. Meanwhile the runner is now standing on third, or worse yet, on his way home.

This kind of a situation really makes a coach come unglued. It’s tempting to yell at your catcher for making a throw he shouldn’t have and then to yell at your shortstop for missing the throw. If the runner makes it home, or even if he makes it to third on the play, at least three kids are immediately feeling horrible about the play. The pitcher feels bad for throwing a pass ball, the catcher feels bad for making a late throw and the shortstop feels bad for missing an easy catch. If the runner scores, the whole team feels bad.

Hollering at them will not make them learn from their mistakes, but it will make them feel even worse than they already do. Resist the temptation to discipline on-field. The best thing you can say to them in general is to shake it off and get out of the inning. Runs can be made up when you’re back on offense. Wait until they are in the dugout and then gather the players in the corner and ask them what they did wrong. Explain to them what they should do next time and then pump them up with positive words of encouragement.

So much of baseball, like most group sports, is mental and emotional. If you let your players get down on themselves, they will find it hard to continue playing and then you have a team melt-down. My head coach and I make it a golden rule not to go off on the kids during a game. In fact, we do very little “coaching” on game day. That’s what practice is for. If we see the kids making repeated mistakes, we work on those plays during the next practice. The games are for the kids and practices are for the coaches.

It’s extremely difficult to watch your kids get burned by making bad plays. Competitive coaches sometimes take winning a bit too personal. We have to remember that the real reason we are playing a game is to teach the fundamentals and instill a respect for the game in the young players. We’re not out there to tear people down like angry drill instructors or to win the World Series. Keep your emotions in check.

My head coach usually takes third base when we’re up to bat. He’s the only one who talks to the batter directly. One of the other assistant coaches will take first and remain largely quiet. We will say encouragements when we feel the kid needs them, but we let the head coach do the adjustments like “Choke up on it,” or give the sign for bunt or not to swing. This lets the kid focus on his goal of hitting the ball.

I hope that I don’t need to reiterate here that yelling at umpires is also unprofessional. Even if the call was completely wrong, the Blue’s decision is final and arguing about it, especially loud enough for the kids and parents to hear is poor sportsmanship and sending  the wrong message. Our policy on this is basically the same thing we tell our kids. Don’t argue the call. If you think there’s a chance the field umpire had a better view, ask for them to discuss it. Other than that, let it be.

Believe it or not, I’ve also been in games where opposing coaches argue like school boys over calls or non-calls during the game. This is just childish and should never be allowed to happen. Again, who are we playing the game for the coaches egos or for the kids? If the coach is not going to be an adult, he or she needs to leave the game.



Season Opener

Melrose Incarnation Baseball - 060708 - 125-5x7
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Paul-W via Compfight

Tonight is the season opener for my youngest son’s baseball team. I’m his team’s assistant coach for the third year in a row now. The head coach and I have been on the same team together for two years of non-competitive Rookie league baseball. This will be our first year where the score is kept.

Coach and I spent two hours at a local pizzeria last night sweating over the player positioning and lineup. It was much harder than it looks, when you have to play everyone at least two consecutive innings and then you have to worry about the order of your pitching staff.

At game time tonight we’ll be putting our best team forward and doing our best to ensure  the kids get to show off their skills and hopefully get our first win. The league is pretty well evened out in terms of tallant on each team, so the winners will most likely be determined by the best coached kids and of course lady luck.

It’s going to be a long two month season and just about all of my evenings will be spent at the ball park with either practices or games for both of my boys. My oldest son’s team will use me as an umpire when I’m not coaching a game for the youngest son. My family will be going in different directions for most of that time. It’s fun but after about the first month, you start to wish for the season to be over.

Today though, we can’t wait for all the madness to begin.

Field Day

legends stood here
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: sj carey via Compfight

Field Day. That annual event a week before Opening Day when all the parents and coaches huddle together on cold, wet ball fields and try to make them look good with rusty shovels in one hand and Starbucks cups in the other.

I’ve been attending this annual event every season now for six years at the local youth baseball fields. It seems like every year it’s cold and rainy and every year all the work comes down to about ten dads who really want the best for their kids. Oh it always starts out good, with lots of parents standing around waiting to be told what to do, but as the hours go by, only the truly loyal parents remain until noon.

Here’s to all the parents who actually put on their work gloves and get dirty on Field Day. The ball fields always look better after your efforts. Thank you!



Irish Spring Scrimmage

This is my oldest son’s Majors team, the Notre Dame Irish warming up for their first scrimmage of the year. Jack is in the middle catching a throw. The boy to the left of screen is one of the kids from my youngest son’s team, the Oregon State Beavers. Chasten is our star player and since we had the night off, he was helping both Majors teams by filling in on the field for them.

The Irish have a great sponsor that has given them a complete practice uniform, which is what they are wearing here. Pretty nice of FatCat Enterprises to go the extra mile for the team.

Jack participated in a run down out at second and gunned down a kid trying to steal third from the middle of Center Field. Unfortunately the third baseman dropped the ball. But that’s why it’s Spring Training, to work out the nerves.

Baseball Fever

It’s the final week of Spring Training for Youth Baseball here in Boise. My kids have been living at the ball park for five days a week, through rain, snow and a cold wind. After this week, they’ll get Spring Break off. Well, maybe a few days anyway.

The team for which I’m an Assistant Coach – The AAA Oregon State Beavers, is comprised of nine, ten and eleven year old boys. The kids are giving us their all and starting to come together as a team. This week we’ll begin learning signs and some plays while we continue to go over the basics of fielding and hitting. Even our team cheer is starting to sound better and better.

The coaches all have our team Polo shirts and hats so we’ll look like we are part of the team. I also purchased an Oregon State banner that we will clip to the foul fence on our side of the field to let everyone know who we are. ;-)

Games start the first week of April and wrap up late May. Gonna be a fun season. Baseball fever – catch it!