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A picture of a banner that’s pretty self-explanatory if you ask me. Photo courtesy of littleleague.org

 

SPENDING A SATURDAY REVISITING MY OLD BASEBALL AND SOFTBALL PLAYING AND COACHING HAUNTS

For a twenty year span, from 1979 to 1998, I either played, coached, managed, or umpired – or a combination of the four – youth baseball and softball in Santa Monica, CA.

Where I lived for 22 and a half years, spending my formative days in that seaside town as I moved there just before my ninth birthday in 1976 and didn’t leave until I was well into my thirties.

A significant part of my time in Santa Monica was spent being involved in Santa Monica Little League and Santa Monica Girls’ Fast Pitch Softball, which was called Bobby Sox Softball during the 1980s and 90s and where I got my start in coaching, when a classmate of mine asked me to help her team in 1982.

My baseball playing days lasted from age 11 as a member of the Santa Monica Sunset Little League’s Major Division Dodgers – where as a newbie to the game I spent the majority of that ’79 season in right field until my skills improved enough to be put at catcher during the last five games – until the end of 11th grade in Santa Monica’s high school-age Colt League, having (of course, as my throwing ability was awful) been one of the first cuts from the high school program.

As for my coaching – in the grand tradition of “Those who can’t do, teach” – I can safely say that I coached every level of youth baseball/softball, from six-year olds in T-Ball (I had my brother’s T-Ball team in 1989, it was called the Giants) to 15-year olds in the senior division.

I spent so much time in Santa Monica’s various parks that the only thing I didn’t do was live in them.

That was particularly the case at Memorial Park, one of the flagship recreational areas in that town and a ten-minute walk from my house, as both my playing and coaching days began there.

Since I moved away in 1998, I could count the number of times I visited that park on two fingers, basically due to the business of living my adult life.

Like someone who wonders whatever happened to his old school and what it is like after his days there are long gone, I had periodically wondered about the leagues I grew up and spent so time in.

Which was why I decided to pay a visit to Memorial Park one recent Saturday, going back to my childhood home in a sense.

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Most unfortunately, I couldn’t find any photos of the softball players in action at Memorial Park, so this very nice logo will have to suffice. Image courtesy of santamonicagirlssoftball.org

 

On my way to the park, I got a chance to venture through my old neighborhood, where the memories began flooding back as I not only saw the duplex where I spent 18 years living in, from just before my 13th birthday until the end of 1998, but the little one-bedroom flat around the corner where my mother and I spent the previous four years.

Yes, they both looked different! And somehow smaller.

But enough about that! Let’s get to my return to Memorial Park…

After walking the same route that I had taken countless times in my youth and young adulthood, I arrived at Memorial Park and was glad that there were games going on, being that there was a threat of rain and some dark clouds in the not-that-far-off distance.

That park was the site of what I consider the greatest upset in the history of youth sports, a game that I was a part of, catching for that ’79 Dodgers team as we stunned the undefeated defending champion Cubs.

It was also the site of something I had achieved as a coach in 1988 that to my knowledge no one else has done – win a championship in both the Santa Monica Little League and Bobby Sox as the teams I coached that year, the minor division Cubs and the softball Senior Division Supersonics (don’t even ask me why those young ladies took the name of an NBA team!), both won titles.

It was one of the peaks of my coaching career, looking back.

That place was also the site of a few memories that I don’t regard as fondly, but in the tradition of “Water Under The Bridge” we won’t get into those.

The prevailing thought going through my mind as I watched parts of four games, a major and minor division baseball contest plus two softball games featuring ten through 12-year olds, was this:

I was more impressed at the quality and skill level of the players and the coaches than I thought I was going to be.

Particularly considering the changes that youth sports has gone through in the past 15 years, what with the best players opting to play on high-level travel and club teams rather than spending their days in the local leagues.

And speaking of coaches…

I was shocked when I was told that one of the league’s softball coaches was a guy who had not only been there for three and half decades (and counting), but was a guy who I knew!

A guy whom I had met at age 15, when he was doing the exact same thing that I saw him doing that cloudy and cool Saturday, getting his young ladies ready for a game.

To put it in perspective, as I write this I’m 13 months away from my 50th birthday!

So as one can imagine, it was a pronounced no-brainer on the level of “Duh!” that I see him and say hello.

It was a nice reunion, enhanced by the fact that I was very impressed by his coaching and teaching methods, having not changed one bit from when I saw him on a regular basis in the 1980s and 90s.

So much so that I remarked to a few folks that he should be put on a salary for what he has done for girls softball in that Los Angeles suburb through the years, and that it was a complete shame that no high school or college has snapped him up.

I made it a point to say that if I was a high school principal, Santa Monica Fast Pitch Softball would never see this coach again as I would hire this man to coach the softball  team; he would be especially perfect for Santa Monica College’s program.

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No, this wasn’t the game I saw, but this IS the place where I spent a good part of my coaching life – the minor division field at Memorial Park

 

As for the Little League, located just across a path from their softball counterparts…

The game that I had the most fun watching and talking to the parents and coaches was a minor league contest being played on the same field where I did the bulk of my coaching in that league, having spent four seasons coaching the minor Cubs in the mid to late 80s at one stretch.

I found the coaches and the parents on both teams to be quite friendly, one coach in particular – who incidentally had a girl as one of his pitchers that day, who I was quite impressed with as she threw strikes – going out of his way to welcome me back.

It was an exciting game, ending in a 7-7 tie due to a time limit rule that, while I understood the reasons behind it, I had never liked.

Largely because of that game and the reunion with the longtime softball coach, I was glad I took the nostalgia road (“Memory Lane” sounds lame) as in many ways, Santa Monica’s Little League and the league formerly known as Bobby Sox Softball had not changed as far as organization and quality of the players and coaches.

At least outside of cosmetic changes, such as a different scoreboard and press box and banners of various team sponsors lining the fences, which wasn’t there back in the day.

Not only did I not see any “yellers” or hardcore “Must-Win” guys, as there were in my time, I also did not see any coaches on the opposite end of that spectrum; the kind of coach who approaches his team like he’s a glorified babysitter running a glorified form of recess, not teaching his charges anything and not caring if his team played worse than the Bad News Bears.

In short, I had a great time.

It should go without saying that I wish everyone involved in those two leagues well.

And that youth baseball and softball in the town I grew up in is in good hands.

 

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The major field at Memorial Park in Santa Monica, part of where I spent SO much time as a youth player and a coach.

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