Bench Sitters

Bench Sitters

Youth-league baseball coaches come in three types, those who play only their best nine players, those who sometimes use their bench-sitters, and those rare courageous souls who rotate players fairly.

There was this kid. He always sat the bench. He never played. He took part in practices, that was all.

The kid’s father came to see a game. The kid on the bench stood, walked out of the dugout, and stretched, showing off his always clean white uniform, so his dad could see he was in fact part of the game. He returned to the dugout and resumed his usual position.

The boy would cheer when his teammates on the field did something good, a half-hearted, limp, “raw raw,” for those of a superior caste.

One day the kid’s ignorant, selfish, cowardly imbecile of a coach came and gruffly told the kid he would be the starting pitcher that day. Three of the first-string pitchers hadn’t shown up (one was hurt in a bicycle accident).

The kid was seized with terror, nausea. The season was half over. It was July. He’d never been in a game before. What do I do? the kid asked. He shook. You mean play for real, in front of a hundred spectators?

Bench kid went out and threw strikes, a no-hitter. None of the opposing players reached first base. There was amazement.

His regular-playing teammates hardly knew him. Many of the parents had never seen him before.

Some spectators watched with awed courtesy. A few were drunk, shouting obscenities, taking out their adult job-commute frustrations on the game.

Bench kid ignored the taunts and kept striking them out, or popping them up. Finally, in desperation, the opposing coach shouted at his players that they had better swing at the pitches. “He’s not going to walk you,” he yelled.

Bench-kid’s inexperience eventually got the best of him, after seven scoreless innings. He allowed a walk. Then he committed a balk. He didn’t know what a balk was. He’d never played before. His coach, in a towering rage, ran out to the mound and screamed at him in front of the assemblage, “go ahead, blow the game, see if I care!”

The game ended up a 1 to 1 tie, called in the ninth inning on account of darkness (Babe Ruth League games normally ran only seven innings).

Bench kid never played the rest of that season. He quit baseball. Humiliation gets old.

The coach had reasons for coaching like he did. After all, if you win, you get to act the big guy, get a trophy, get to show off, strut around down at the local Order of the Timber Wolves Club—all that.

This coach generated so much hatred that later, his nine starting players purposely threw a game just to get back at him, a type of baseball Mutiny on the Bounty.

Bench kid was me.

It’s hard to learn to play by not playing.

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