It started as a simple yell, “hey…hey….get up here…hey….” I’m talking about getting the attention of our dog Pickles, a Pekineses. Now, before I get into the handling progression of this…dog, I must tell you that I have recently learned a whole new perspective for the phrase, “Hey you!” My friend told me his story. Now I cannot not smile when I think of it. So let me put off the story on the training escapades of Pickles and see if this story doesn’t bring a new perspective for you too. Maybe a smile.
His wife coached a recreation summer softball team. Just before the start of a one particular game, while the kids were on the field warming up, she received a phone call from her sister to come and help with an urgent matter at her mothers. If it was about her mother the matter was always pressing. He happened to be there, some reason wrapped around the need to drop off forgotten equipment. Otherwise he rarely attended, if at all. He could tell she was experiencing some type of panic attack! Wide eyed, she asked him to coach the team. He knew that ‘no’ was not an option, so he stated the good husband reply, “sure.” Now, he had played baseball his whole life, so filling in for a fundamental recreational softball team, in his mind, should be easy enough.
The kids had been taught the rudiments of the game. Like most playing summer ball, they enjoyed playing. And they seemed to understand. The age category was 12 – 13 year old kids, so at least they wouldn’t be making chalk castles (another story another time.) Skill, however, was a different matter. He stuck with the good news, they at least knew something about the game. Simple enough. All he had to do was “herd” them to the previously assigned positions and get his pitcher to throw strikes! Or not. The main problem, and really his only real problem, was knowing names. That was going to make communication a little difficult.
So he pulled them all in to the “dug out” and said, “Look, I don’t know any of you, so the first and only thing I want you to do is this. Everyone go to the position Coach had placed you….wait, wait, not yet! Okay, now, since I don’t know any of your names here is what we are going to do. When you hear me yell ‘Hey you,’ I want everyone to look at me and I will point to the one I am yelling to and that player will now do what I tell them, everyone got it?? Most nodded agreement. One seemed intent on texting. The kid was by himself, wearing green jeans and yellow tennis shoes that seem to have been resuscitated. He thought, this ought to be an experience!
“His” team was called to take the field. Green pants stayed locked on the bench. The rules were such that the actual positions were secured and manned in baseball tradition, but to include all, the teams were allowed to bat the entire order. At some point every coach usually got everyone to play at least one inning in the field. Green pants usually played bench the entire game. He had no interest to pursue the ball from any postilion and therefore declined the opportunity. Why he was there, no one really understood. Most likely he was the ward of a Grandmother who had replaced the traditional parent relationship and was dropped off to give her relief. It really made no difference to the team. He showed up each game in his dirty green pants and yellow high tops. The magic phone, seemingly his life line to someone or somewhere, was glued to his hand.
The game began with the teams exchanging misery in the form of misplayed balls, walks and strike outs. Every once in a while a bat actually struck the ball (Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory would providentially give it a 35% chance that it would be fair.) When that happened, there was a pretty good chance something semi-comical would take place.
As the game progressed, there wasn’t any real need for him to “direct traffic.” His team was not very good, but they did try and make the right choices. They had been taught to listen for instruction if needed. He concluded that he would only involve himself if the situation warranted top dog influence. Otherwise he would let them work the game out themselves.
The game commenced with both teams skirting disaster and being cheered on by energized parents. Neither team had much advantage over the other and the score started out even and remained so for the majority of the time. He sat down, crossed his legs and let the game unfold.
While his team floundered at times, the other team was making their share of mistakes, with their coach calling his own players names…sometimes not even nice names. Around the fourth inning (mercifully they only played for an hour, no matter the inning!) Green pants with his unlaced yellow shoes put his phone in his pocket and headed to the plate, placed the bat on his shoulder and waited. The first two times he had been called out on strikes. His usual result. He was comfortable with that outcome though his teammates grew weary of it. If he did manage to secure a walk, he would take his place at the first base and pull out his phone. If something miraculous happened and another batter would walk or squibble a ball in fair territory, his non-pulsed walk to the next base was maddening. Advancing past second was like changing the result of Waterloo. Wasn’t going to happen, at least for him. That was forbidden territory in his mind.
The bat had never left the cradle of his shoulder. It did not have to. He walked. The other coach said names. As he shuffled his way to first base, he reached to his front left pocket and pulled out his phone.
He had to give the kid credit. Nothing seemed to bother Green Pants and the team just pretended he did not exist. He recrossed his legs and watched Greenie’s posture at first base. Straight up, both feet on the bag with the phone in the palms, thumbs out stretched. All baseball!
A slight grin slipped into place. He looked toward home. To this point his instructed yell had not been necessary. The game slowly unwound to the soulful beat of a hot Georgia sun. And then it happened, snapping everyone’s attention to the immediate happenstance of something that had never been seen by this team to date. While Green Pants had stooped down to actually tie one of his yellow shoes, placing just for the moment his treasure on the bag, the batter took a swing which must have been caused by a bee sting in the ass. The bat whipped around from the back shoulder and came across the plate at drone speed and met the ball on the lower half of it’s sphere. The resulting pop up rocketed up and caught orbit right over the second baseman’s head. At the sound of the bat meeting the ball Greenie, while everyone was watching the ball’s flight, scooped up his phone and took of in a sprint. Problem was there was only one out thus far in the inning. This had the making of double play (Sheldon probably would have said 50%) if the second baseman made the play.
His natural instincts took over, drowning his good intentions of letting the kids sort everything out. He uncrossed his legs, stood up, and yelled, for the first time, his instructional, “HEY YOU!” The batter stopped running, his team on the bench looked at him, and the other team’s players all stopped any mental meandering and looked at him. Even the second baseman. Especially the second baseman. His mind went into over-drive. He pointed at the batter yelling “get to first!” Then he commenced to try and get Greenie to stop somewhere between first and second at least until it was determined the second baseman could catch the ball.
He was one for two. The batter ran to first and made it safely. But Green Jeans never looked his way. He kept on running.
Now the second baseman tried to relocate the ball. Whap, it hit him on the head and he dropped his glove and began to cry.
The sequence unfolded before him in dream-like fashion. The players all snapped their attention to the ball. The opposing coach yelled for his second baseman to pick up the damn thing. The kid sat down and kept crying. So the shortstop ran over, grabbed it as the a streak of green and yellow flew by second and thundered toward third. Just as the shortstop began throw, those distinct colors went flying past third, bent around the third base coach and headed for home. The shortstop double clutched, now taking aim at home plate. This altered motion triggered a higher release than expected. The ball looped over the catcher’s head as Green Jeans raced half way down the line. As the catcher retrieved the ball he touched home plate with one yellow foot.
The Green Machine crossed home and down shifted. His pace took him almost to the dugout where he finally settled, walking the rest of the way down the bench to his spot while grabbing his phone. He sat down.
While the opposing team’s coach was alternately berating his team and arguing with the ump that the kid ran outside the “line,” He walked over and sat down next to the kid. He looked at the untied shoes, gummed up pants and finally at the phone. Crossing his legs once again, he looked up at the coach, the ump, and all the players around the field; some sitting, some throwing stones, two wrestling in the outfield, and he smiled. Looking higher, Cumulus clouds bounced off each other in a Robin blue sky.
He looked back at the kid, who was still “reading” his phone. He bent ever so slightly toward the mopped head. An eye flickered just briefly toward him.
“Hey you,” he whispered.