Everyday Spirituality: Coaching Little League

That’s my son and me. (Photo by Courtney Perry)

Part of an ongoing series on Everyday Spirituality.

For the last several summers, I’ve coached my son’s Little League baseball team. Now, I love baseball, as readers of this blog are surely aware. In fact, it’s really the only sport that I have any affinity for. So when I first got into coaching Tanner’s team, I was expecting to have some fun with it.

But it’s become so much more.

For one thing, the time with my son has been tremendous, and healing.

For another, I’ve become great friends with two other dad (and their spouses) with whom I coach.

Those relationships, alone, are worthy of spiritual reflection. But there’s something about coaching baseball itself that, I think, has become deeply spiritual for me.

Baseball has a rhythm that’s unlike any other sport. It’s more like the rhythms of the Christian life than it is like other sports. And I’m not the first to notice this. NY Giants catcher, Wes Westrum, said,

Baseball is like church: Many attend, few understand.

I’ve found coaching baseball to be a lot like the many years that I taught confirmation classes to adolescents. I have to teach them about the rhythms of this way of life — about where to move when the ball is hit here, versus when it’s hit there; about how to encourage your teammates; about how to call a pop-up and how to take a sign to bunt, steal, and take. A couple players on this year’s team even got a lesson in how to run the bases after a homerun.

After each game, my fellow coaches and I gathered the boys in the outfield, where they each took a knee, away from parents and opponents. We gave out a couple game balls, talked about how the game went, and taught one bit of baseball vocabulary: Texas leaguer, diamond cutter, battery, can o’ corn.

About the game, the great Bob Feller said,

Every day is a new opportunity. You can build on yesterday’s success or put its failures behind and start over again. That’s the way life is, with a new game every day, and that’s the way baseball is.

That’s the other thing we said, particularly after a loss: it’s a long season, there are always ups and downs, and you’ll always get another at-bat.

It was a great season. We came in second place, losing in the championship game in our league.

Not unlike the liturgical year, the rhythms of baseball will fade with the summer, but next spring they’ll be back. So will the particular way of life that is baseball.

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  • Love this.

    I’ve played baseball my whole life, stopped playing in college for a silly reason, and after I got divorced eight years ago, started playing again, not only because it’s a wonderful game for many of the reasons you described, and I needed something… but because baseball is a game of failure, and I needed to learn how to fail better.

    Think about it. The most successful hitters succeed only about 30% of the time. That means about 70% of the time, even if you’re really, really good, you’re dealing with not getting the job done. And trust me, you want to get a hit every time you step up to the plate. You just can’t go up to bat thinking you’re a .300 hitter. You have to think you’re a 1.000 hitter: I am getting a hit in this at-bat. So really, you’re only ever a .000 hitter or a 1.000 hitter. At least, that’s how it feels.

    And yet, there was something so very healing for me in the process of (gradually) learning to embrace the fact that I had failed in that particular instant as I would walk back to the dugout after making an out—which I have done about 67% of the time in the last seven years.

    Anyway, I could on and on about baseball and spirituality, but I’ll stop here. Thanks for sharing Tony. Go Muskies.

  • Dale Friesen

    As a fan of baseball and spirituality, I wish you’d write a book about this.

  • andy

    i have coached my 11 year old’s teams since he was 4. and it has always made me feel connected to something deeper and more spiritual. beautiful piece.

  • scotmcknight

    Love it… and now we are just a few years from our grandson, Aksel, putting his hand to this wonderful game. That makes three of us, to quote Yogi! Make sure you gather a bundle of Yogi quotes for dugout time.