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January 21, 2009 - Image 9

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1 813 The Michigan Daily - Wednesday, January 21, 2009

In a league with the devilamr

e trailed 4-3 with two
outs and the bases load-
ed in the bottom of the
sixth and final inning. Standing in
the coach's box alongside the first
base line, I glanced at my scorecard
to find, regrettably, that Aaron was
our next batter. "Shit," I muttered
to myself. "Anyone but Aaron."
This past summer was my third
year of coaching youth baseball.
Usually, the scores of the games
were inconsequential, these being
eight- to ten-year-olds, but our
team was 0-11 and this was our last
game. For the kids' sake, we need-
ed to win once. A 1-11 season spells
dignity; the tacit recognition that
victory is possible even if infre-
quent. Not so with 0-12, a Little
League record so odious it's liable
to haunt a player through their
teens and into middle age when,
invariably, his own children will
be pressured into sports to atone
for their parent's past failings.
But all hopes of forestalling
such a traumatic season rested on
the bat of our worst player, Aaron,
the single most sadistic nine-year-
old in the history of Minneapo-
lis' little leagues. The boy was an
unendurably rambunctious mon-
ster. He pulled teammates' hair,
destroyed equipment and yelled
insults at other players while they
batted, but it was his unwilling-
ness to throw a baseball that galled
me most. He preferred to drop-
kick the ball and shout "Goal!" at
the top of his lungs instead. This
happened more than a few times
in every game, which might have
been why this team had yet to earn
a victory.

At the plate, Aaron seldom
swung the bat. Having no faith
in his ability to come through in
the clutch in our last chance for a
win, I looked toward our bench to
see if he was ready to hit and get
it over with. Predictably, Aaron
was nowhere to be seen. "Where's
Aaron?" I yelled to the bench, but
the other coaches were already
searching for him. "Not again," I
thought. "Tell me he isn't crawling
under the bleachers. or throwing
other kid's gloves in the dumpster
behind the parking lot. Or digging
a - " This thought was abruptly
interrupted by a shrill chorus of
screams sounding from the oppo-
site end of the field, over which
I heard a coach yell, "Aaron, get
down from there!" To the crowd's
collective horror, Aaron had
scaled the backstop and was hurl-
ing rocks at the opposing team's
bench and fan section as he howled
"Goooooo Cubs!" with pernicious
glee. He had carefully prepared for
his onslaught, filling his pockets to
their brims with stones. "Rock-
ies suck!" he shrieked, launching
a rock at the opposing coach who
struggled to shield himself behind
his plastic clipboard.
Having witnessed several simi-
larly surreal Aaron outbursts over
the previous eleven games, my
resolve to intercede was torpid.
My only reaction was annoyance
at the fact that Aaron, who could
suddenly throw rocks with dan-
gerous velocity while clinging to
a chain link fence, had never once
been willing to throw a baseball in
a game.
Amidst barking dogs, screech-

ing children and mortified par- ting order and applied positions,
ents ducking under lawn chairs to he would stand over my shoul-
avoid the barrage of stones, I spot- der and ask where I planned to
ted Aaron's father. Vulgarly clad bat Aaron, making sure to note
in a Hawaiian shirt, he stood and that his son was primed for a big
attentively videotaped his devil- game and that many of the other
ish son with the slightest hint of a players were looking "lackluster"
smile on his lips, as if this incident in warm-ups. "I'm sorry, Greg,
were as normal an event at a Little but I've already told you. I'm bat-
League game as a skinned knee. ting him last and putting him at
catcher every inning so long as he
keeps tipping over the water jug
during games," I said on one occa-
Coaching the sion. "I know what you're getting
at," he replied as he removed his
meanest sunglasses and looked at me in the
eye with solemnity. "I'm the boy's
hellion to ever father and I know better than any-
one how he can be a real shovelful
pl e sometimes. But, as I tell my wife, I
like to think that that's just Aaron
League being Aaron. And you know what?
I wouldn't change Aaron for the
world."
During games, Aaron's father
Since I believe in giving nine- acted like a monarchal coach for
year-olds the benefit of the doubt, both teams, yelling at players to
I must place all blame for Aaron's shift their positions or to look
misbehavior on his father. Months alive. He also yelled at the umpire
earlier, before the season's open- from time to time, an absurdity in
ing game, he introduced himself a league where balls and strikes
to our coaching staff with the line: weren't kept. On one such occa-
"Hello, I'm Aaron's father. You can sion, after Aaron was called out
go ahead and call me Greg, though. and ejected for throwing his hel-
I'm a lawyer." He was the type of met at a player trying to field a pop
man who justifies excessive inter- up, his dad stormed onto the field
vention into his son's affairs with with arms outstretched in disbe-
the inflated notion of being a good lief. He proceeded to lecture the
father. He was anything but. umpire, a vacillating 14-year-old,
During the "kids against par- before kicking dirt on his shoes
ents" exhibition softball game, he and home plate. Though both were
had tried his hardest to win, slid- ejected and told to leave that game,
ing into home plate and taking Aaron and his dad showed up the
out the legs of his own son. Before next week and every week after
regular games, as I made the bat- that without scruples. Whether

denial or obliviousness permitted
them to return after repeated pub-
lic embarrassments, I don't know.
But the league was never willingto
intervene for more than one game
and so the sideshow had continued
with impunity the whole season.
Now, at the end of our last game,
it took Aaron's older sister climb-
ing up the backstop to finally end
his violent spree. As she did this,
the umpire walked to me and said
that, because it was Aaron's turn
to hit, his slot would be consid-
ered an out, effectively ending the
game and with it our winless sea-
son. Concluding here, one could
rightly assert that the experience
with Aaron and his father harmed
everyone involved. And though we
loathed both of them by season's
end, what happened next showed
that everyone has the capability to
surprise.
Before I could freely tell off
Aaron's father for his dangerously
permissive parenting and chide
him for letting his son hurt other
people under the guise of individ-
ual expression, he presented our
four coaches with a white enve-
lope and walked away. We opened
it and found, to our astonishment,
the highly inappropriate but cer-
tainly not unwelcome sum of $800
in cash. And just like everyone has
the capability to surprise, every-
one too has their price. Our penni-
less college-aged coaches realized
then that, despite their myriad
faults, Aaron and his father were
really very nice people after all.
-William Petrich is
an LSA sophomore

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