Diamond Certified: Laying it down at Leydecker

Diamond Certified: Laying it down at Leydecker

Bill Collins

The Pappo Mudcats in 2012, after their first win of the season. Photo by Bill Collins.

Baseball is a life lesson. Win or lose, the lessons remain the same. Successful coaching eventually leads to positive results … always.

Alameda Little League takes input from coaches and board members to make the game more interesting and fun for parents and ball players alike. Every level, from T-ball through Majors, has a unique set of rules, circumstances and game play options which help to raise players’ skill sets.

For example, the youngest levels – T-ball and farm ball – both use major league team names like Giants, Dodgers, Yankees and Marlins. This is a great way to introduce young players to the Major League Baseball brand and make them feel like big shots, just like their favorite big league players.

Farm ball players switch from a T-ball hitting base to an adult coach. Usually it’s done by the team’s coach, as this is less intimidating and gives the young player time to build up skills and confidence. He or she learns to swing at a moving object. Farm ball teams also play on the newer Major/Minor fields, where the older players play all their games. It’s like a step up, and makes the young player feel like a big leaguer.

Single A introduces a pitching machine, which pitches a lot faster, and with varied results; AA switches to a human player pitcher. Double “A” also has weekly pool parties, provided by long-term Storm coach Randy Marmor. These parties are well loved by the kids and builds team rapport.

Triple “A” moves the players back to the Major/Minor fields, where they will finish their Alameda Little League careers. The earlier tradition of after-game snacks goes away; young boys and girls have matured, and don’t need to be persuaded or rewarded by a treat after the game anymore. But the most significant change for the AAA level is Friday Night games at Leydecker Park. Every Friday night, two AAA teams take their best to the diamond for the Friday Night showdown on Bay Farm Island. The parents make a party out of it, bringing a potluck or catered dinner.

Back in 2012, The Pappo Mudcats were scheduled to play their very first game at Leydecker Park. Unfortunately, 2012 was an exceedingly wet winter by Alameda standards; only one AAA team managed to play all 16 of their regularly scheduled games, and three teams had as many as four games that were rained out. The Mudcats missed two games; one of them was their very first game out on Leydecker. I was very disappointed, since I had never seen a game played out there. It’s can be a nice change of pace, and I was looking forward to it.

Fast forward, to game eight, at the end of my last column. The Pappo Mudcats are now 0 wins and 7 losses, with two rainouts. And, wouldn’t you know it, they’re now returning to Leydecker, where our season had begun, to play against Coach Jack Gibbons’ Threshers team.

Coach Barnes had given the pep talk to end all pep talks, and these boys were ready to play well – to win their first game of the season. But about 30 seconds after the first pitch of game eight the errors began, – and didn’t end, until the last out of the sixth inning.

Since we were the home team, we played all 18 outs, six innings. Our hitters couldn’t push one runner across home plate; a complete game shutout, 8-0, Threshers win … Mudcats lose, again.

Coach Barnes immediately escorted his team out to center field. Nobody else was allowed or invited to come, including coaches and parents. Eleven young players, and a troubled coach, headed out to center field.

I didn’t know what Barnes had said to those rising young stars, exactly, and I didn’t want to ask. I was afraid of what it might do to the psyche of my kid. But at the same time, I knew Barnes had to lay it down! These boys needed some serious talking to!

I finally did ask my son. He seemed very calm … almost at ease. He told me his coach told them they just weren’t playing up to their potential. They were playing awful baseball. He wasn’t telling them “they are bad ball players.” This, apparently, was the right message.

The very next season, Coach Barnes went on to win it all. His Pappo Athletics Majors team won the Majors Championship in 2013. I was there to watch the final game.

Just last week those lessons came back full force, as I watched the Pappo Athletics’ star pitcher, Seamus McGuinness, knock his first home run of the season over the fence. I recalled how tough his coaches had been on him in seasons past, to keep him focused on the mound and at first base. He looked as serious as I've ever seen a young player that day.

Seeing his teammates run out to congratulate him at home plate, I thought about how the lessons hadn't been lost on the young pitcher, nor any other players Coach Barnes has coached since then.

If you’ve got Alameda Little League news or stories to pitch about your team, e-mail me at dubyac99@yahoo.com or contact me via Twitter @WilliamRCollins.