From Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul IV

Safe at Home

Great opportunities to help others seldom come, but small ones surround us daily.

Sally Koch

Coaching is one of the toughest jobs a man can do. He must please a platoon of people: parents who want the team to win; parents who want their sons to play; parents who are certain they could coach better than the one who is. There is no pleasing everyone.

It is not a job for the thin-skinned. It is best left for graying men.

But my most poignant memory of a coach didn’t involve a man with silver in his sideburns and years of experience on his resume.

It involved a first-year coach who was just sixteen.

It was during the annual Babe Ruth Tournament one summer several years ago—the elimination round in the double-elimination format. The situation is this: The local team and their opponent are tied. It’s the bottom of the last inning. The locals have two outs with a runner on first and the bottom of the order up to bat. The coach—a kid himself actually, because he’s only sixteen—looks across his bench and sees a face that hasn’t gotten to play that day.

He signals the boy to go in and pinch run. The boy looks surprised. He’s been content to cheer on his teammates today. He knows the importance of this game. But he stands up and pulls his cap down low over his forehead, then limps out to first base.

He limps because he has cerebral palsy, you see.

The crowd exchanges glances, and the skeptics are already muttering about the inexperience (and inadequacies) of this sixteen-year-old coach.

Then the coach gives the steal sign and the crowd holds its breath. The boy tears toward second base, catching the pitcher unaware. As the pitcher wheels to try to pick him off, his throw is high and the ball rolls into center field. The boy picks himself out of the agrilime and runs toward third. He has to slide again. Because he doesn’t have quite the grace that more agile players possess, he falls across the base. His hands and elbows are scraped raw from the ragged gravel, and the left knee is torn in his pants. Blood seeps through the white material.

But he is safe.

Then the pitch comes across the plate. It’s a little high, but catches the outside corner. The twelve-year-old batter takes a mighty swing and drills the ball to right field. The fielder runs up and snags it on the first bounce.

And the coach sends the boy on third home.

The throw is there; the right fielder—for a twelve-year-old—has quite an arm.

But the boy who has been on the bench all day needs to prove to his coach that his was a wise choice.

His slide creates a cloud of dust. Both runner and catcher are lying, legs tangled, in the dirt. When the dust clears away the umpire looks at the position of the players at the plate, then asks the catcher to show him his glove.

“You’re safe!” he decrees.

As his teammates hoisted their dusty, bloodied hero to their shoulders, I caught the eye of this oh-so-wise young coach.

The emotion of the moment had rendered many of us speechless. I could find no words to thank him. I hope he understood.

Mary Berglund

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