The draft: ‘I can’t believe he did that’

Published 9:39 pm Thursday, February 24, 2011

It’s that time of year. Rec league baseball is about to start up here in Troy, Alabama. For those of you who do not know, baseball in Troy is a really big deal. After all, this is the start of a new season. This is our chance to be better than last year. This is our chance to pick some new players who can help us win the season championship. This is our chance to develop strong tournament teams that can beat our arch rivals down the road in Enterprise.

Over the last few days, all the coaches have been meeting at the recreation department to draft their new players in an attempt to field a “new and improved” baseball team for the 2011 season.

We all have a clean slate. At this point we are all even. All of us are zero and zero (no wins, no loses). I, being one of the coaches in the six and seven year old league, have been making calls to other coaches, inquiring about certain players, trying to decide which kids to pick when the opportunity comes, and making sure I pick kids with supportive parents and guardians who bring good snacks! You laugh, but the snack thing is important! Believe me; I want to be better than last year. I also would love to finally beat those pesky Astros … but that is another story.

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Well, anyway, you get the idea. Drafting players for rec league teams is really important to me and my team’s success – at least that was the attitude I took into the draft last night. An hour or so later, my attitude had changed for the better. Let me tell you what happened that really taught me and the other coaches a lesson about the true importance of rec league baseball.

On draft night, the first thing you do is go through your list of available players and mark off the sons/daughters of the head coach and his/her assistant coach. After that, if there are ten teams, every coach picks a number 1 through 10. This determines the order in which each team selects players.

So as the hat goes around the table and I reach in to pick my number, I am saying to myself … ”Come on, Keith, number one…or at least number two … heck, I will take number three.” So, I reach in. I take a deep breath. I swirl the numbers around thinking this will help me pick a good number. Then, I grab that little folded piece of paper. Quickly, I open it … and … I get … the number eight. Oh no. I have the eighth pick. That means that the top seven players will be gone when it is my turn. The demise of my team has already started and we have not even had our first team practice.

I coach the Red Sox. Across the table from me sits the Yankee’s coach, James Sparrow. He and I and our sons have always had a friendly rivalry in soccer, basketball, and baseball. He smiles. At that point, I know what has happened. My heart sinks. He has the number one pick. The baseball gods are shining down on the Yankees once again! The Red Sox are doomed.

So, with the first selection of the 6-and 7-year-old coach pitch league, Coach Sparrow and the Yankees pick a hot shot 6-year-old that can do it all – at least according to all our scouting reports. In my mind, I am already thinking, how are my Red Sox going to get that kid out when we play them.

Anyway, we continue the draft and pick our players for an hour or so. Finally, we are all done. Looking over my team, I realize that the season championship is very unlikely. A few minutes later, after the league director examines the teams, it is determined that one team only has 11 players and a few other teams have 13 players. So, now what?

At this point, one team must be willing to give up a player so that the team with 11 can have at least 12 players. Without hesitation, Coach Sparrow pushes his list of players over to the other coach and says “Here … You need a good player … Pick whoever you want.” Coach Sparrow pauses. He points the player he chose with the first pick of the draft. He says, “take this guy.” The other coach who is short a player pauses – not sure he can take one of the Yankees “best” players. Again, Coach Sparrow, points at his top rated draft pick and says … “Really, I want you to have this player. It will help even out the teams, and make it more fun for everyone.” The other eight coaches sit there stunned. Our mouths open. We all think to ourselves, “WOW, I can’t believe he did that.”

Coach Sparrow looks up and says to the other coaches, “Come on guys, we are just talking about 6- and 7-year-old baseball.” At that very moment it hits me. Coach Sparrow has the right perspective about this whole rec league baseball thing. He has figured out what it should really be about The other coach finally agrees to accept this gift. The draft is over. The number one draft pick has been “given” to another team who could really use him.

I personally want to thank Coach Sparrow. My outlook on this new season has truly changed. I can’t wait to practice with these kids and watch them grow as players and as individuals. Now, don’t get me wrong. I want to win all of our games. However, winning is no longer my top priority. I want to teach my players about playing hard, having fun, and being good sports no matter the final score.

I don’t know how good my little Red Sox team will be. I don’t know how good the rival Yankees team will be (although on paper they look pretty strong). But, I do know one thing for certain. The Yankees have a great coach who is even a greater person.

Good luck to everyone this season. I hope we all can learn something from Coach Sparrow.

I know I did!

Keith Sessions