This Coach Made a Simple Change and Couldn’t Believe the Results
By Jamie Joy, Little League® Manager of Operations
I have been coaching Little League® for more than 15 years, and enjoyed many great moments with my teams. There’s no doubt that I’d like to say that my fondest memory came as a result of my skill and savvy as coach, but, in all honesty, my greatest experience on the Little League field came from a combination of fate, timing, and coincidence.
During my son’s 8- and 9-year-old seasons, I coached him in the Minor Division. My main focus was on the kids having fun and learning the game. On my team, I had a wide range of talent: players with raw talent; players who hadn’t mastered the skill of catching, but could hit; players that could field, but still didn’t understand hitting; and some that weren’t quite able to do either just yet; but I preached that through hard work, we would all become better than we were at the beginning of the season.
It’s natural for children to compare themselves to the better players on the team. However, I would talk to the team and have it focus on the player they were at the beginning of the season and have them compare that image to what they are now. That leads me to Noah.
Noah was the kind of player you wanted to coach. He would always greet you with a “Hey, Coach, I’m ready for the game today” or “What are we going to do at practice today?”
He was very engaged for a young person and his smile was contagious. Noah was going into the final game of the season, and, he said, “Coach, I am not sure I want to play baseball anymore.”
Shocked, I thought maybe it was because in two seasons, he didn’t have a hit. He would do well off the tee and in the batting cage. At times, it seemed like he was laboring, but he would push through, practicing and working hard. For whatever reason, come game time, he just couldn’t hit.
I convinced him to stick with it for the day, and we hit the cages to warm up for the game. Noah was my last hitter. I kept saying to him, “We are going to have a great game today. See the ball and imagine yourself hitting the ball, and it will happen.”
In true Noah fashion, he said, “I will coach,” and smiled as he always did. On this day, one of my better ball players arrived late. As I was finishing up with Noah, I called the late player over to hit. He was running back to the dugout to get his bag when I told him to just use Noah’s bat and helmet.
During the round of BP, he didn’t hit well at all. I couldn’t understand it, as he was one of my top hitters. I asked him what size the bat was, and he told me, “Coach, it is a 30 (inch), 20 (ounce) bat.” A light bulb flashed in my head, and when we got into the game, I asked Noah to use my son’s 29-inch, 17-ounce bat. He looked a bit confused by the request, but with a shrug and half a grin, he agreed.
During Noah’s first at-bat, he showed his quiet frustration and trepidation by taking the first two strikes. Having yet to take the bat off his shoulder, he stepped out and took a couple of practice swings. When he climbed back into the batter’s box, but there was no indication this plate appearance would end any better than any other over the past two seasons.
Then the next pitch was delivered and the magic happened.
On a fastball grooved down the middle, Noah lined a hard single between third baseman and shortstop. In that instant, he froze with a smile so big and broad on his face. I screamed from the third-base coaching box for him to run. Just then Noah began to sprint down the first-base line with his arms raised over his head in a “V” for victory as if he just broke the tape crossing the New York City Marathon…his smile was electric.
When Noah reached first base, he jumped up and down, double high-fived our first-base coach and gave a fist pump to the dugout. I had to compose myself to keep from running across the diamond to give him a hug.
Noah took that moment and understood its meaning. The smile and sprint to first base self-affirmed that he belonged. Seeing him accomplish what he was unable to do for two seasons, brought so much happiness to that season, but also a pang of guilt for not taking the easy step to make sure he was using the equipment that would help him succeed. For the next three seasons, Noah had fun, made friends, and collected plenty of hits. For me, that base hit ranks as one of my favorite Little League moments.
Jamie Joy has coached and managed in the Little League Baseball® program for 15 years. Prior to joining the Little League International Operations Staff, he was a coach on the Pennsylvania District 12 Big League Baseball team that represented the United States East Region in the 2001 Big League Baseball World Series. In 2003 and 2004, Mr. Joy was again a member of the Pennsylvania District 12 Big League Baseball team’s coaching staff. Both seasons were highlighted by an East Region championship and appearance in the Big League Baseball World Series.