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Gullixson: Sports and the price of high expectations

Expectations bloom like mustard this time of year, and that's a good thing. Unless you happen to be a Little League coach, many of whom have probably put away those lesson plans about executing squeeze bunts and double plays in exchange for simple prayers that, come opening day — today for some local leagues — their players, upon hitting the ball, will run to the correct base.

And for those players who have forgotten their belts — or never got around to buying one — special graces are sought for arrival at their destination without suffering a potential rally-killing wardrobe malfunction.

Expectations, like pants, sometimes need adjusting.

I'm reminded of one time when my coaching hopes were calibrated for a group of 9- and 10-year-olds not all of whom, I discovered, knew their left field from their right. But there was one young man in particular who was tall and excelled at gloving the ball, so, as any winless-season-fearing coach would do, I put him at first base.

It came as a surprise later when the boy's father took me aside and said he did not want his son to play that position anymore.

"Why?" I asked. "He loves it."

"He's not left-handed," the father said. "He'll never make it at first base."

The inference was clear. Most of those who play first base in college and the major leagues are left-handed, the advantage being they're already turned toward the infield when they move right for a ground ball, and they can more quickly apply a tag on a pick-off move. But these fractional advantages matter little at an age when most players don't know their cut-off man from the team mom and don't really care other than the latter is supposed to bring snacks, and that's important.

When you're a coach whose only remuneration is a season-ending slice of cake, you don't argue with parents. And that wasn't the only time I've heard parents talk like that. But looking back on it, there are some things I wish I had shared with that father.

First, I would say that, in my book, a successful season is one in which players enjoy the game enough to want to come back and play again the next year. And if it happened to be their last season, my hope was that they would learn enough that maybe as adults they would be willing to sit in a dugout, teach the game and worry about the important stuff, like players not having gum in their hair. That's all.


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