This was a very different year for Rachel and I in softball. We only had two girls returning from last year, so we picked 10 girls at the draft that were just moving up from the younger leagues. Three of our players had never played softball before. Our team chemistry was not very good. Rachel was often telling the girls to quit the drama and just support each other. We lost the first five in a row. Morale was down, but thankfully all the girls continued to show up. I realized it was time to try something different. Rachel LOVES to catch games, but our pitchers were giving up lots of hits and our defense was not very good. We had a young girl who offered to catch and Rachel played shortstop. Rachel made great athletic plays using her gymnastics skills to make incredible catches and stops. We win our first game. The next game is against a good hitting team. Rachel has practiced pitching for years against the garage door, and I talk her into pitching. Her style is very unorthodox. She throws it hard, until she gets behind in the count, then tosses it much slower for a strike. She keeps them off balance and we win again. We continue this strategy with Rachel pitching every other game and playing shortstop the opposite games. We win game after game, and Rachel is getting some speed on her pitches. So much speed in fact, that our catcher calls time one game and walks over to tell me she doesn't want to catch anymore. When I ask why she says Rachel is throwing too hard and her hand hurts and she is scared. They sure don't talk about this in the coaching books. Luckily a very tough 12 year old agrees to try to catch the following inning. She has no experience but manages to stop enough pitched so we can continue our winning ways. We won our final 7 games for a 7 and 5 record. Most parents are puzzled how we pulled off a winning season after the horrific start. More important then our record, all three players who had never played before got at least one base hit during the season. The last girl getting her hit in her final at bat of the season. We learned a lot about strategy since we didn't have a lot of talent.
The district tournament commences, I am elected the manager of the team. It's a double elimination tournament, your team is through after the second loss. We immediately lose the first game. Remarkably, we win the next 4 games, Rachel pitches 3 of the wins. Our toughest game was against Fishkill at Fishkill We play the first inning all tied at 1, when a nasty downpour occurs, flooding the field. It is agreed we will pick up in the second inning the following day. In a series of bazaar events, one of our players of divorced parents, is with her dad, and he refuses to waste his visitation watching her play softball. She was in the lineup before the rain came, and we have to call the little league commissioner to see if she can be substituted, since she did not have an at bat yet. The officials decide we will treat it like an injury and continue as usual. Next a disgruntled Dad pulls me aside and informs me that his daughter is the BEST player on the team and demands that she play every inning of every game. He further explains if she is not starting this game they will return to their car and quit the team immediately. I explained that Little League rules state every player must play at least one inning in the field and get one at bat. We have 12 girls, three girls are removed during the game and the three substitutes replace them. That means EVERY game 6 girls will NOT play the entire game. He would hear none of this and took his daughter still in uniform off the field and proceeded to yell to everyone how terrible the Hyde park team was and that he was taking the STAR player home and we would lose terribly.
All of the players and parents saw the outburst, and surprisingly most saw it in my favor. They were very proud that I did not take the easy road and play his daughter the full game, as they had seen other coaches do in the past when such an outburst occurred. I held a brief meeting in the dugout with the girls and explained that two of our players we not with us and the odds were not in our favor. I asked them to stay tough and do their best, but we were the underdogs as the other team also saw the shenanigans and were anxious to take advantage of our misfortunes. Rachel is pitching and the game see saws with both of us getting a lead and then giving it up the next inning. Rachel can be very determined and stubborn and had a "refuse to lose" attitude. She had a passed ball with a runner at third who tried to score. Rachel blocked the plate with her leg while she received the toss from the catcher and swipe tagged the runner. She quickly turned to the umpire who made the out call, then casually turned back to the mound to face the next batter. This batter hits a clean single to center. The runner tries to score from second as Rachel fields the weak throw from our centerfielder. She spins on the mound and throws the hardest throw I've seen her throw to the catcher, only 40 feet away. Well by the grace of God the catcher caught the bullet and tagged the runner in a bang bang play at home. After the umpire called the runner out for the final out of the inning, he came over to our dugout for a drink of water. He was very impressed with the determination of our team and that "possessed pitcher". He never saw a pitcher throw a ball that hard at a catcher 40 feet away, and he was shocked when she caught it and tagged the runner.
We were down by 2 runs in the last inning. We were the home team. I jokingly tell the girls that we won this game when we won the coin toss that earned us the home team advantage. Two to tie, THREE WE WIN! I repeated a dozen times. After the first batter makes an out, the next walks, then double and a single and we score one with two runners on and two out. Our next batter is .....Rachel!. Although my heart is pounding out of my chest with excitement, I call time and tell Rachel to relax and have fun. I confirm she realizes that the tying run is on third and the winning run is on second. If she hits a grounder and beats it out, she should take off for second and allow the winning run to score while they catch her in a rundown. I also joke if she hits it over the outfielders head, she should just stop at first, because we will have scored the winning run already. Well after a few pitches, she hits a grounder to third. The third baseman bobbles it, Rachel is tearing down the line towards first. She finds the handle and fires it to first, wide left, Rachel is safe at first and collides with the first baseman as she turns towards the foul line. She heads for second to draw the throw but the first baseman just stayed on the ground as the winning run scores. The other manager complained without success that Rachel had interfered and some of the girls on the other team showed poor sportsmanship by refusing to shake our hands. As we packed up a majority of the parents from the opposing team and the umpires congratulated us and apologized for the despicable display their coach and a few players exhibited.
We went on to lose in Red Hook, ending our bid at a championship once again, but we learned many lessons during our tournament drive, and really had fun.
I was the assistant coach on the Fallball team that ends the season with a two day tournament. Not only did we win the tournament, but both Emily and Rachel were mentioned in the newspaper for their efforts. This was another very proud day for the father of the Conners girls.