The following is a story of the first time I got a head coaching job. Spoiler alert: this story doubles as the first time I ever got fired from a job.
They say, those who can’t do teach, and by the time I was 16 years old I knew I could be a great baseball teacher. I love the game of baseball, but love alone can’t hit a curveball.
The dad of a good friend of mine ran the youth baseball program in my hometown of the Mendota Heights, Minnesota. We were a medium-sized suburb of St. Paul with a decent athletic tradition, and my friend’s dad was in need of a coach for the 7th grade boys ‘B’ team. It was rare to have enough kids to field two teams so he was scrambling to find a coach. He saw me as a responsible, intelligent, and very mature-for-his-age young man with plenty of baseball knowledge. He saw the opportunity to let a young, energetic, and charismatic man connect with a group of kids. Unfortunately, he did not see the simultaneous immaturity that would lead to a very awkward breakfast in which he had to tell me I was fired.
He offered me the job. Maybe it was my ego, maybe it was because I grew up a Twins fan and I always dreamed I would be Billy Haywood from Little Big League, but I really felt that I had what it takes to be a head coach. I accepted the job.
We were a quarter of the way into our season when we played a team from Eden Prairie. Just like the name implies, Eden Prairie is a suburb in Minnesota so pompous that they think a prairie would qualify as the Garden of Eden. It was one of the bigger and wealthier suburbs of the Twin Cities. Eden Prairie fielded five teams in the seventh grade level. Their B team was the second best of five teams, our B team was the fifth best of two teams.
The game begins and I am not certain that we will record the third out of the first inning before the Sun goes down. They scored 17 runs in the first inning. My first three batters struck out on nine pitches. It was clear this game was going to be a blowout.
Baseball is a game steeped in tradition and honor. There is so much tradition in baseball, there is even a proper way to blow out a team. Based on common courtesy and sportsmanship, there are certain things you just don’t do when you blow out another team in baseball. Eden Prairie did every one of things you just don’t do.
It wasn’t until they were up by 20 runs that they stop stealing bases, and they never stopped advancing on a passed balls the entire game. They let their best pitcher throw the entire game, which in their defense only ended up being about 30 pitches. Still, when you’re up by 20 runs, let the kid with the snot bubbles throw a few innings. At one point we actually got a runner on base, and the coach came out for a mound visit. I thought he was trying to coach his ace pitcher through the heartbreak of losing his no-hitter, but in reality it was much worse. The coach was bringing the team together so they could practice at pick-off play. I tried to keep my cool, but as the bush league plays added up, I could feel it getting under my skin.
The score was 22 to 1. Eden Prairie was up to bat, and there was a runner at first. The pitcher delivered to the plate and the batter squared around to sacrifice bunt. He put down a perfect bunt and we get the out at first, but the runner advanced to second. I don’t care what league you are in, if you are winning by more than 20 you do not ask your player sacrifice bunt the runner over from first to second. At this point I lost it. I was livid, but I was trying to set an example for these kids so I didn’t make a scene. The next pitch was a passed ball and the runner advanced to third, another bush league move. I got out of the dugout and yelled to my third baseman, “Move-in! their coach may just try a suicide squeeze here,” my voice dripping with sarcasm.
Unfortunately seventh graders are not the best of picking up sarcasm so he actually moved in. I yelled to my third baseman again, “move back! I was trying to be sarcastic so this jerk could hear.”
After the game I shook hands with the opposing coach who was all smiles after his 27 to 1 victory. I shook his forty something year-old hand and stared him down with my 16-year-old eyes. “Thank you,” I started.
“For what?” he asked.
“I have always known I hated Eden Prairie, and today you’ve proven me completely right. How you coached showed no class and was completely bush league.”
He tried to defend himself by saying his kids needed to practice sacrifice bunting, and advancing on passed balls but I just walked away.
That is a pretty epic way to handle a frustrating situation, right? If only my players and their parents could have seen how mature I seemed in that interaction with the opposing coach because I really put him in his place… And then I got myself fired.
My team gathered in left field away from all the parents and fans for our post game talk and I addressed them. “Guys, don’t hang your heads. You played hard and did not lose your cool. Some days you just get outmatched but the important thing is to play hard and be respectful whether you lose by two or twenty-two. Next time we play these guys it is going to be a much different story. And if I’m being honest that coach is a C*** S***er.”
Even Crash Davis knows that is not an acceptable term in baseball. I immediately caught my mistake, and made another one. I addressed my team again, “And don’t tell your parents I said that.”
It is one thing to swear in front of a bunch of seventh graders, but it is a completely different thing to tell them to keep a secret from their parents. It turns out, almost every kid on the team told their parents word for word what I had said. The majority of parents were not upset and actually thought I was doing a good job trying to relate to the kids. One set of parents wanted my head on a spike.
My friend’s dad took me out to breakfast the next day and told me I was fired. Actually I was just demoted to assistant coach and a dad took over. It should be mentioned, that the dad who took over agreed with my choice of words.
Looking back on how I got fired, I was probably more cut out to be a head coach than I thought. I lost my job the way real professional head coaches lose their jobs. It was not because of wins or loses. I lost my job because I said something controversial in front of an audience willing to complain loudly about it until I got fired. I am just glad this all happened to me before Twitter.