Flying by the seat of my pants
High school coaches are important. Good ones inspire and teach valuable lessons you take with you the rest of your life.
Bad ones pass on a legacy as well.
Aside from playing some Minnesota town ball in my 30s, my last year of "organized" baseball was my sophomore year of high school when I was on the JV team. I was much smaller than virtually everyone else -- I think I was around 5-foot-4 and barely 100 pounds -- which was one problem. Another was the question our coach asked at the start of the season: "We need an official scorer for each game -- does anyone know how to keep score?" I said yes.
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Thus, no matter that I practiced every day along with everyone else, no matter that I wanted to play as badly as everyone else, no matter that we were supposed to be a development squad, no matter that we sucked, I spent virtually the entire season on the bench, recording the few successes -- and many failings -- of the classmates who played instead (I knew precisely how many strikeouts our starting second baseman had, and how low his batting average was). I batted twice all season, going 1-for-2. I also cleanly fielded the one grounder hit to me and threw the runner out.
The rest of the time I sat on the bench, trying to keep a good attitude. Until the final day of the season.
"If you're not in the lineup for the first game, don't worry," our coach said. "You'll play the entire second game."
Excellent. I wasn't in the lineup the first game, but at last I was going to get into a game.
Then the first game went into extra innings. It went into the eighth (we were scheduled to play only seven), then the ninth, then the 10th. As the sun dipped toward the horizon and the game went into the 12th, I realized there would be no second game. I either got into this game or I would not play at all. I hollered and cheered (positive cheers only), hoping the coach would notice me.
He did. At the end of the inning, he sidled up to me, looked into my eyes and said, "Jim, I'm putting Curt into the game, but he doesn't have any pants. Go into the locker room and give him your pants.''
I am not proud to say that I did not tell him to go to hell. Instead, I went into the locker room, took off my pants and gave them to Curt. And then I sat on the bench in my gym shorts and stirrup socks the rest of the game, keeping score. We lost and we did not play a second game. My high school career ended with me sitting on the bench in my shorts while someone else wore my pants. It was easily the most humiliating moment of my athletic career (other than when a team of Yankees beat writers successfully pulled the old hidden ball trick on me during a media game at the Kingdome).
So, thanks, Coach. You taught me a valuable lesson that day. You taught me what it feels like to have your pants pulled down in public and how a bad coach can turn a kid off to sports for years.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.