An Interview with Coach Dave
Today it's my privilege to have as a guest one of the characters in a book series I recently reviewed, Coach Dave: Season Two: All Stars. It's a novel by Al Ainsworth, about a young baseball coach who begins coaching a team of twelve-year-olds in Southburg, bumping up against some entrenched ideas, hard-nosed parents, and win-at-all-cost coaches. For more information on this series, click on the link.
Coach, welcome, I'd like to ask you a few questions, if you don't mind, for the avid readers and baseball fans that might want to know a little more about you.
1. So, first up, why don't you tell us what got you into baseball? Did you play as a kid, and if so, what positions did you play?
I think I started playing baseball about the same time I started to walk. That might be exaggerating a tiny bit, but I don’t really recall a time when I didn’t play. My dad taught me the game in our backyard. He wasn’t one of those guys who pushed me hard to live out his unfulfilled dreams, so my memories of learning the game were fun memories. I was fortunate to have a youth coach who thought his players should be exposed to every position on the field. That was very important to me in high school because I was what they now call a super-sub, a guy who can play multiple positions.
2. What brought you to Southburg? Was it a job opportunity?
I did my student teaching at nearby River City Middle School and decided that this area was where I wanted to live. I was already in talks with the principal at Southburg Middle when I signed on to coach in the summer league in Southburg. I am now a history teacher at SMS, but I was pleasantly surprised to get the opportunity to coach baseball here, as well.
3. What motivated you to begin coaching twelve-year-old boys in baseball?
Twelve is a great age—old enough to have some skills and knowledge and young enough to not know it all yet.
4. You brought the Scarlet Knights through an incredible season. What has been your most difficult challenge in coaching so far?
Turning the tide against the win-at-all-costs mentality is a challenge that all youth coaches face. I can’t tell my guys enough that who they are becoming is more important than what they are becoming on the baseball field. If winning is all youth sports is about, that comes to an end at some point. What then? I think there is more to teach than the sport itself, life lessons that carry far beyond these young men’s playing days.
5. What was the motivation behind picking Kevin, a twelve-year-old, to be your assistant coach for the All Stars team? That seems pretty radical to me, and I just wondered whether that's common in baseball.
No, it’s certainly not common, but Kevin has a unique set of skills—especially for his age—as a coach. I didn’t go looking for a twelve-year-old assistant coach, but I like to keep all of my players, even the ones who aren’t in the game at a particular time. It’s not that Kevin doesn’t have any baseball skills, but he wasn’t a starter for our team. I saw that he has a mind for the game and wanted to stay involved. He stands for all the right things in the game, so as I was working through the process of building the all-star coaching staff, Kevin seemed like a natural to me. He just so happens to be twelve years old.
6. The boys are almost always easier to deal with on a League Team, than the parents are. Who has been your most challenging parent, and how did you deal with them?
Ha ha—it’s no secret around our team that Gary “Rooster” Hamilton struggled at first to understand the philosophy we wanted to build. My coaching methods were beyond his experience in the past, and he’ll be the first to tell you that he wasn’t a fan of anything new. However, he has proved himself to be as coachable as a parent as our players have been as players. Rooster has bought in to what we’re trying to accomplish beyond just baseball, and I dare say he has grown quite a bit himself.
7. Umpires don't always make the right calls, and this can lead to bitterness and anger in your players, their parents, and even yourself. How do you deal with these bumps along the road?
I’ll be perfectly open with you—nothing gets under my skin more quickly than an unprepared or an inconsistent umpire. So much of what you try to teach your players about the game and what you try to get your players and parents to respect about the game can fly out the window in a flash with a bad umpire. When players and coaches (who aren’t getting paid) are putting in so much more effort than the only guys on the field who are getting paid, that can get under a coach’s skin. However, dealing with what can seem an unfair situation is another life lesson that we can learn together.
8. Tell us a little about the most interesting game you've played or coached. What did it teach you about the game, or life in general?
I don’t think I will ever coach another team that wins a game on a walk-off, inside-the-park grand slam like the Scarlet Knights did in the first game of the summer season. Hudson Jones had been hitless in our two scrimmages and in the game prior to his at bat. He had hit some hard foul balls and had just missed some pitches, so we knew that it was a matter of time before he came around. Wow, though, he picked a most opportune time, and we got a fortunate ricochet off the fence. He never slowed down around the bases and just beat the catcher’s tag. That’s the way boys for generations have played it out in their backyards. We got to see it play out that way in real life. I must say that Bryce Ford’s pinch-hit home run to win the tournament championship at the end of the summer was the stuff of dreams, too.
9. Different coaches have different styles, and yours is pretty different from the competitive cut-throat mentality. If you had only one thing to tell your boys about the game, or life in general, what would that be?
Work harder on who you are becoming than what you are becoming. Baseball ends for almost every player before he is ready for it to end, so we try to focus as much on life beyond baseball than we do on the game itself.
10. One final question, Coach. As a young coach, you have a lot of life ahead of you. Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Since I didn’t see myself in Southburg even a year ago, that’s a tough question to answer. I suppose in some way I will still be investing in the next generation. I would love for that to happen through a game that I love and from which I have learned so much in my own life.
Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions, Coach, and good luck with next season!
Thank you. We’ll be working hard so that our preparation will meet opportunity.