Tuesday, March 11, 2008
(WEST PALM BEACH, Fla.) - I began losing my hair when I worked in politics in Washington, D.C. I was reminded of that watching CNN in the Best Western here last night. The news out of Albany was shocking and I immediately thought of Governor Spitzer's staff and the scandal's impact on them. Those paychecks aren't ever guaranteed when you're working for an elected official. So, I was feeling a little sorry for his people, when I stopped myself and remembered when my locks actually began their full-fledged retreat to the power alleys of my 7 and ¾ inch dome.
It was after my first season as an assistant coach that my shower drain would look more like the floor of a barbershop on a Saturday afternoon. Paychecks aren't ever guaranteed in coaching either, but when you think about having that envelope show up every other Thursday is in large part dependent on the consistency of eighteen year-olds, you can really lose your mind, not to mention your flowing mane. Of course, I know this because, I was eighteen once and I know how reliable I was. I try to forget that as I fill out a lineup card with between four and six freshmen on it every day. Those rookies are doing a good job. Pierre LePage, Mike Olt, Mike Nemeth, Elliot Glynn, Joe Pavone, Maxx Catapano and Dan Mahoney have all contributed well on this extended road trip. So far - so good. They have been earning roles, we've managed to get the offense going and we've gotten three of our first four down here.
However, I am reminded of my reliance on these young guys, not when I watch them perform on the field, but on every drive we take to and from the ballpark this week. On the spring break trip, we go against our normal practice of having a bus on call for our movements, and opt for the more versatile five vans. They are driven by our coaches, trainer, and manager, and we like the flexibility they give us for the longer stay here in Florida. However, that means that I am driving. And guess who gets stuck with the head coach? I get the freshmen. Not only do I get the freshmen, I get the freshmen that weren't smart enough to get their bags loaded into the other vans quicker than their brighter classmates. Sophomore righthander Trent DeLazzer significantly boosts my van GPA. He is the best student on the team. Hopefully, he'll rub off on some of the other guys that fill the van with less-than erudite conversation for the twenty-five minute ride from our motel to and from the Santaluces Sports Complex.
I actually have three freshmen left-handed pitchers with me. It is a miracle we get to and from the complex every day. With that many rookie lefties in one place, we shouldn't be able to keep the van from tipping over. Come to think of it, here are just a few of the gems: Freshman lefty to nobody in particular: "I swear to God, we were walking yesterday and I heard a crocodile breathing. Then, we went back, and he was moving around and making noise in the water. Seriously, don't you know anything, there's a ton of crocodiles down here." Freshman right-handed pitcher: "Coach, how come this radio doesn't get any rap stations?" Another rookie: "Why do they call it daylight savings time anyway, it doesn't really save any daylight?" Freshman right-handed pitcher to sophomore: "You guys are so stupid in California, why do you call your aunts "ants". It's aunt, with a "u", not "ant". Then again, I call one of my aunts an ant, and I'm from Connecticut. That's actually kind of weird, huh?"
While the power alleys have met up in centerfield of my chrome dome a long time ago, coaching really does keep you young. I mean I'm getting a comedy show every day to and from the ballpark, and it's all free. How great is that?! While it's not exactly a Mensa meeting in the Ford Econoline, we're playing baseball in the sun, competing well and winning games.
I'm an educator first and foremost, but in addition to letting the guys know that unless they were walking in a zoo in South Florida, they probably heard an alligator, or more likely a squirrel or rat on their walk the other night, I've allowed a little rap after a win, and we're having some fun on the trips to and from. I doubt anyone on Governor Spitzer's staff is having much fun right now.
However, if my head starts bobbing to the bass, I know it'll be time to get on the plane.
- Jim Penders