My son had a very solid 12-year-old season, mainly playing second base, a little bit of center field, and a handful of times on the mound. We didn’t win many games, however, and I felt it was because of his head coach’s managing style. In my view, Dylan’s manager shifted players around too much and didn’t have the killer instinct to win games. I felt he made some head-scratching substitutions and position changes that cost us games.
I approached him one-on-one a few times during the season and questioned his decision-making. He told me over and over how he felt it was important for the kids to be well-rounded baseball players, which was why he put kids in different spots. When I told him, I didn’t think the team enjoys losing, he gave me a speech about how losing teaches lessons, and that the most important thing was they were having fun – win or lose.
I couldn’t argue that they were having fun. That was clear, but my competitive nature couldn’t accept the way he coached. I started voicing my concerns in the stands. I figured if I couldn’t get through to the manager, maybe there would be power in numbers. Each game, when he’d insert a player, especially a younger one, who clearly was not as skilled, I’d point it out to the parents sitting next to me. Of course, I made sure that kid’s parents weren’t within an ear shot.
I didn’t get much agreement or support, which frustrated me even more. After a while, parents, even friends, wouldn’t sit next to me. So, I’d go find a new group of parents to vent to. Again, no support. One mother, who was a Board member, said to me, “Tom, they’re kids having fun. Relax.” I couldn’t.
There were two games left in the regular season. We had already secured a fifth-place seeding for our Tournament of Champions. We were up 5-4 going into the bottom of the 6th. The manager made a defensive substitution at third that I didn’t agree with. He put in a kid that played there in other games, but didn’t have the glove our normal third baseman had. When I questioned the move, a parent said to me, “Sammy hasn’t played as much as the other kids. He’s young and learning. It’s the end of the season. What’s the problem?”
The problem was with two outs, our new third baseman misplayed a ground ball that started a rally, which resulted in us losing 6-5. I waited until the manager got done addressing the team in the dugout, and then met other parents on the field. I just couldn’t hold back. I verbally tore the manager down in front of everyone, including my son and his teammates.
The looks from the other parents should have convinced me to stop, but I didn’t. I turned to a few, and said, “You know what I’m talking about with the way he manages. I’ve complained about it all year.”
My friend, John, shot back, “We know, Tom. We all heard you. And, to be honest, we’re tired of it.”
I looked for support again, just like I did in the stands throughout the season. Same result. I saw parents shaking their heads and mumbling under their breath as they took their kids off the field. The parents of the player who had gone in at third base were shocked and angry. The mother who had told me to relax games prior came up to me and said, “You’re out of line, Tom, and your actions, not just today, but for the entire season, will be addressed at our Board meeting this week.”
I was invited to attend the meeting but couldn’t go because of work. I found out that the Board voted that I would not be allowed to attend the last regular season game, and they would revisit whether I could attend the Major division All-Star tournament our league was hosting.
I was devastated. As much as I complained during the season, I loved watching Dylan on the field. And, I wasn’t the only one who was affected. Dylan was embarrassed by my actions, and I felt terrible about that. I apologized to him, and told him I handled the situation poorly, and it wouldn’t happen again. I made a point to seek out the parents of the third baseman, apologized and told them, too, that it wouldn’t happen again.
I told the same thing to his manager when he called me to address the situation. He once again explained his coaching philosophy of moving kids around, not all the time, but sometimes, so they could develop different skills in order to be a more complete player. He also reminded me that despite our record, the kids had fun. He finished the conversation by telling me that he would recommend to the Board that I be allowed to attend the All-Star tournament. That recommendation went a long way, and I’m forever grateful that I was able to watch Dylan play a few more games. I could have easily missed out on that because of not embracing what Little League is all about.