Authors: Fred Bowen
THE KID COACH
To all the kids I have coached at
Woodlin Elementary School
hat do you want to do?” Scott Hudson watched the spring rain splash tiny rivers on the living room window.
“I don’t know,” Scott said. “What do you want to do?”
Drew Moyers, Scott’s best friend and Tigers teammate, walked across the room and joined Scott at the window.
“We sure aren’t going to have baseball practice today,” he said.
Scott shrugged. “What does it matter?” he asked. “Coach Skelly would have been late anyway.”
“What’s his story?” Drew asked. “He’s always late for practice.”
Scott searched the skies for a break in the clouds. The sky stayed steely gray. “I don’t know,” he said. “My dad says he’s starting a new business or something.”
“Remember when his cell phone went off during practice and he answered it like his pants were on fire?” Drew laughed.
Scott laughed too, but his smile quickly melted into a frown. “He better be there when we scrimmage the Red Sox,” he said.
“Yeah, but I hope Mr. Skelly doesn’t play Max at third. Max can’t throw,” Drew said. “I think Fran could make the throw from third.”
Just then, Scott saw a yellow-hooded figure dash across the front yard. “Hey, guess who’s here?” called Scott as he went to open the door. “It’s Fran.”
Mary Frances McDermott, Scott’s next-door neighbor and teammate, stepped in and shook the rain off her coat. “Hey, guys, what are you doing?”
“Hey, Fran, can you make the throw from third?” Drew asked.
“Sure, no sweat,” Fran said. “Why? Do
you think girls can’t throw?” she asked, looking straight at Drew.
“No, gimme a break,” said Drew, holding up his hands. “We think you should be playing third instead of Max.”
“So do I. But we’re not coaches. We’re just players,” Fran replied.
“Hey! Let’s make up a lineup!” shouted Scott. “You know, like who we would start if we were coaching.”
“Well, there’s nothing else to do,” Drew shrugged.
“Yeah, let’s do it,” said Fran.
Scott found a piece of paper and a pencil and sat down in front of the coffee table with his legs underneath him. His two friends sat at either end of the table leaning toward Scott.
“Okay, let’s start with pitcher,” Scott suggested.
“That’s a cinch,” Drew said. “You and me pitch. When I pitch, you play shortstop. When you pitch, I’ll play shortstop.” The boys exchanged high fives before Scott wrote down their names.
“Put Danny at catcher,” Fran said.
“Yeah, that’s good,” Scott said. “And what about Brendan in the outfield?”
“Just so long as he’s not near a snack machine,” said Drew. “Boy, does he like to eat!”
“Okay. How about Max at first?” Scott asked.
“Nah,” said Drew. “Nick’s taller. He makes a better target.”
Fran nodded and Scott wrote it down.
The three friends went through the entire Tigers roster matching players with positions.
“We forgot Benny,” Fran said. “We gotta put him someplace.”
“Benny the Brain!” Drew howled. “That computer nerd! He stinks!”
“He’s not bad,” Fran protested. “He’s a pretty fast runner.”
“He runs goofy,” Drew said. “It’s like he borrowed someone else’s legs.”
“You don’t like him because he’s so much better at math than you are,” Fran said.
“I’m better at math than he is at baseball,” Drew snapped back. “At least I get Cs
in math. The Brain wouldn’t get a D in baseball.”
“Let’s get back to the lineup, guys,” Scott said, pointing to the paper. “We gotta play Benny somewhere. What about someplace in the outfield?”
“Outfield?!” Drew blurted. “We oughta play him someplace in
Scott laughed and wrote it down.
“Let’s take a look at what we got,” Fran said. The three teammates studied the lineup.
C Danny Perlstein
1B Nicholas Chu
2B Maggie Ferris
LF Max Stevenson
CF Peter Martinez
RF Sam Finch
Eric Jaworski infield
Brendan Lynch outfield
Benny the Brain cyberfield
“It looks pretty good,” Fran said.
“We’re better coaches than Mr. Skelly,” Drew said.
Scott laughed, folded the paper, and stuffed it in his pocket. He walked back to the window, desperately looking for some blue sky.
It was still raining.
cott stood in center field with his hands on his hips, feeling as if he were watching a whole year of baseball go down the drain. It was time for the Tigers—Red Sox scrimmage and Mr. Skelly was nowhere in sight.
The Red Sox were warming up on the sidelines, firing baseballs back and forth. The Tigers looked like a bunch of kids with nothing to do. Some of the kids played a lazy game of catch while others just hung around the dugout.
Fran and Drew walked over to Scott.
“Where’s Mr. Skelly?” Fran asked.
Scott looked at the ground and shook his head. “Who knows,” he muttered.
“Well, he better get here soon,” Drew said, pointing to the Tigers bench. “Brendan’s gonna finish off that whole bag of potato chips all by himself.”
“Man, look at Benny!” Scott said. “He’s reading a book on the bench! I’ll bet the Red Sox are real impressed with us.”
Scott slammed his glove down on the outfield grass and shoved his hands into his pockets. In his right pocket, he felt a crumpled piece of paper.
“Hey!” he said, pulling the paper from his pocket and holding it up to show Fran and Drew. It was the Tigers lineup they had dreamed up together. “Why don’t we use this lineup for the scrimmage?”
“I don’t know about that,” Drew said. “We’re not really coaches. We were just fooling around.”
“It’s worth a try,” Fran said, shrugging her shoulders. “I just want to play.”
Scott took the paper and marched up to Mr. Robinson, a tall man with a clipboard. He was the Red Sox coach.
“Hi, Mr. Robinson.”
“Hi, Scottie. Where’s Mr. Skelly?”
“I don’t know. He’s been late a lot this year. But we’re ready to play.”
Mr. Robinson looked at the Tigers milling around the field. “Are you sure?” he asked.
Scott nodded and held up the wrinkled piece of paper. “We’ve got a lineup and everything, see?”
“All right.” Mr. Robinson smiled. “It’s just a scrimmage. I’ll call balls and strikes from behind the mound. You guys want first ups?”
“No, we’ll take the field,” Scott said. He called out to Drew and Fran, “Come on, we got a scrimmage to play!”
Drew and Fran smiled at each other and ran to the Tigers bench.
“Everybody in!” shouted Scott.
The Tigers all gathered around Scott. “Where’s Mr. Skelly?” Nick asked.
“I don’t know, but we’ve got a lineup, so listen up.”
“Can I play infield?” Peter asked.
“Keep quiet and listen to Scott,” Drew said. “And put those chips down, Brendan!”
Brendan looked surprised. He put the bag of chips down on the bench and wiped his mouth with his T-shirt.
“All right, we’re in the field first,” Scott called out. “Drew’s gonna pitch. Danny’s behind the plate. I’m playing short. Fran’s at third. Maggie’s at second and Nick’s at first. Max, you’re gonna start in left. Pete, you’re in center. Sam, why don’t you start in right. I’ll get everybody else in later. Let’s go!”
The Tigers hustled onto the field. Drew took a few warm-up pitches, and Mr. Robinson called, “Play ball!”
The leadoff Red Sox batter stepped to the plate and knocked a hard grounder to shortstop. Scott scooted over a few steps to his left, gathered in the grounder, and threw to first.
“Out,” Mr. Robinson called.
“Nice play, Scott!”
Scott grinned. The Tigers were finally playing some baseball!
The second Red Sox batter smacked a hard single to center field and then the tall,
strong Red Sox slugger, Eddie Wilson, stepped to the plate. “Move back!” Scott called out to his outfielders.
It didn’t matter. Eddie belted the second pitch far out into right field. Scott gave a small admiring whistle as the ball sailed high over the right-field fence for a two-run homer.
“Shake it off, Drew!” Scott shouted from shortstop. “It’s just a scrimmage.”
The game continued for a few more innings. The Tigers got a couple of runs but the Red Sox pushed ahead when Eddie Wilson smacked a two-run double down the right-field line.
Scott tried to give everyone a chance to play. Before the final inning, he called down the bench, “Hey, Benny, you want to play right field?”
“Sure,” Benny said.
“Then put the book down and grab your glove,” Drew said. “What’s that book about anyway?”
“Well, it’s time to
baseball, not just read about it,” Drew said. “Let’s go.”
The Red Sox added another run in the final inning. The Tigers could not come back as Benny, Eric, and Brendan all struck out to end the scrimmage.
Despite the loss, the Tigers were upbeat as they gathered their baseball gear and headed home. Scott and Fran rode their bikes side by side along a dirt path that cut through an open field. “You did a pretty good job, Coach,” Fran said.
“We did okay,” Scott said. “At least we got to play. Lost to the Red Sox 5–2. That’s not too bad. I don’t know if Mr. Skelly could have done better than that.”
Fran dropped back into single file as the two friends turned onto a busy street.
“Mr. Skelly never did show up!” she shouted up to Scott. “I wonder what happened to him?”
r. Skelly’s whistle cut through the cool spring air. “Bring it in,” he called.
The Tigers gathered in a small circle around their coach. Some kids sat back on the soft infield grass while others knelt on their knees.
Mr. Skelly looked around the group and said, “Listen, kids, I’m sorry I missed the scrimmage. I called all your parents and I hope they explained that there was an emergency at work.” Mr. Skelly took a deep breath and continued, “You’ve probably noticed that I’ve been really busy at work. And … ah … I’ve been thinking that I … ah … really can’t coach you guys this year. I’m
just not sure I could make all the games and practices.”
The Tigers traded silent glances and fidgeted on the grass.
Mr. Skelly adjusted his baseball cap and went on. “I told your parents all this, but I asked them to let me be the one to tell you guys. I also asked your parents if any of them could coach the team, but … ah … none of them wanted to, I mean, none of them could do it. They’re really busy, too.”
“My dad goes to Australia on business a lot,” Brendan said.
“He mentioned that, Brendan,” Mr. Skelly said.
“I wish he’d take Brendan with him,” Drew whispered to Scott.
“Anyway, I’m going to go to a league meeting tomorrow evening to see if the board can find you a new coach,” Mr. Skelly said.
“He’ll probably miss the meeting,” Scott mumbled under his breath to Drew.
“Don’t worry,” Mr. Skelly said, still addressing the whole team. “You’re definitely going to get to play your first game
and that’s in three days. In fact, here’s your schedule for the season.” The Tigers all jumped up at once and tried to grab a sheet.
“Hold on! Everybody will get one,” Mr. Skelly said.
As soon as Scott got his, he sat back down on the grass and studied it.
As Scott and his teammates looked over the schedules, Mr. Skelly continued talking.
“I’ll keep trying to find you a coach,” he told them. “But right now, let’s get some practice.”
Mr. Skelly clapped his hands and grabbed a bat. “Max, take third. Drew, shortstop. Scott, you’re on the mound. Fran’s on second, Peter’s on first. Danny’s catching. Everybody else is running. Let’s go!”
Mr. Skelly cracked a one-hopper to Max. The third baseman bobbled the ball and could not throw to first in time to stop the speeding Maggie.
“All right, runner on first, force at second base.”
Mr. Skelly sent a sharp grounder to Scott on the mound. Scott scooped up the ball then whirled around toward second base and fired. Drew was there. He snatched the ball out of the air, touched the bag with his foot, and threw to first for the second out.
Scott broke into a big smile on the mound and pounded his glove. “Let’s get the next
one!” he shouted. Then Scott heard a strange noise from home plate.
“Darn it!” Mr. Skelly muttered as he pulled his cell phone off his belt.
“Scott, come here,” Mr. Skelly said. “I want you to keep hitting grounders. I have to call my office. I’ll be right back.”
Scott felt strange standing at home plate with the bat and ball. “Okay, Fran, here comes a hot one,” he called. Scott tossed the ball up and swung. But he missed the ball completely. The runners in back of Scott tried not to laugh.
Scott glanced over at Mr. Skelly talking on his cell phone and then smacked a grounder to second. Fran made a backhanded stab and flipped the ball to first.
“Great play!” Scott shouted.
After a few more grounders, Mr. Skelly returned and blew his whistle.
“I’m sorry, but I have to go,” he said, glancing at his watch. “There’s another emergency at work.” Mr. Skelly pulled Scott and Drew aside and said, “You guys pick sides and play a scrimmage.” Then he dashed off
again and called back, “I’ll let you know about the coaching situation.” The Tigers watched Mr. Skelly’s car spit small stones as it sped away.
Scott looked at Drew. “Well, you wanna flip a coin for first pick?” Scott asked.
“Yeah. I guess so,” said Drew. “Heads I get first pick and tails you do. Fair?” asked Drew.
“Fair,” said Scott. He pulled a quarter from his pocket and tossed it in the air. The quarter landed in the dirt heads up.
“I’ll take Danny,” Drew said.
“I got Nick.”
None of the Tigers moved. Finally Scott and Drew stopped calling names.
“What are we gonna do?” asked Nick.
“About what?” Drew asked.
“About not having a coach,” said Fran.
“They’ll find somebody,” Scott said.
“Yeah, but who?” Sam asked. “I don’t want to play for just anybody. I liked Mr. Skelly.”
“Well, he can’t coach this year, so that’s that,” said Drew.
“Maybe they’ll get somebody from another team or another town,” Scott said, thinking out loud.
“Hey! Why don’t you coach?” Nick blurted out, looking straight at Scott.
“Yeah, you did okay in the scrimmage.”
“I-I don’t think they’d let a player coach his own team,” stammered Scott.
“There’s precedent for it,” Benny called out from the back of the group.
“We’re not looking for a president, Brain,” Drew shot back. “We’re looking for a coach.”
“Pre-ce-dent,” Benny said slowly. “It means that it has been done before.”
“When?” asked Fran.
“Lots of professional teams in the first half of this century used a player as a coach,” Benny said. “They called them player-coaches.” Benny sounded more like a teacher than a twelve-year-old boy.
“How come you know so much about
baseball, Brain?” Drew asked. “You can’t play worth anything.”
“Cut it out, Drew!” Fran yelled. “He’s just trying to help!”
“It sounds kind of crazy. But what do you guys think? Should I see if I can coach the team?” Scott asked, looking around at his teammates.
The circle of Tiger hats nodded.
“I’d rather have you than someone we don’t know,” Sam said.
“So what are we gonna do?” Scott asked.
Fran had an idea. “Why don’t you and Benny go to that meeting tomorrow and ask if you can at least try it?”
“Benny can talk about that player-coach stuff,” Nick said. “That might help.”
“Yeah,” said Drew sarcastically. “Maybe they’ll make Scott the coach and Benny the pre-si-dent.”