By Braddah Lance
I can't. I really can't.
As I ritually do every year about dis time: get a haircut, shave and load up da truck for da first "official" day of practice. This will be year 22 of my faithful community service to da Police Activities League (PAL) with HPD and da C&C of Honolulu.
Every year, ritually, I fall back to two mo'olelo's dat 1) got me doing wat I do and 2) keeps me doing wat I do. As a volunteer, I am not paid for my time or resources spent and rely on soulful guidance to carry on since I don't even like baseball all too much. Seriously, I don't. I don't watch or keep up with any baseball teams oddah than highlights on ESPN and find it a little boring. I know, I know........
Wassup Wit Dat!
Long story short, I was asked by a friend a supah dupah loooooong time ago if I wanted to help him coach.
BL: "Coach wat?"
Friend: "Uh, baseball - what else?" (He's a baseball fanatic)
BL: "Baseball? BASEBALL?! Dat isn't even a contact sport!" (BL played football and loves contact sports)
Da very first day I show up to da field expecting to see "tweeners" but wat did I see? Little 5-year old munchkin rugrats wearing gloves and hats dat were too big. AI-GOO!
We had a majority of those kids for the next six/seven years and it was really fascinating to see them grow athletically but more importantly as individuals.
My friend "(involuntarily) retired" almost a decade ago and I've been carrying da torch alone full-time evah since.
Why continue to do it?
For da most part, I tell both da keiki and parents I don't coach baseball... I coach life. If they want hardcore baseball they've signed up at da wrong place. Don't take me wrong, da players will learn baseball and I can say with ablsolute certainty that they leave da program learning more about baseball in four months than they've learned da last few years they've been playing.
Coaching in a low-income latch-key community, I've witnessed - experienced as well - too many punks with no guidance or direction. I grew up there for most of my young life and now as an adult, spend my afternoons there for five months of every year and things haven't changed so much. I've seen and experienced things most keiki should not and know how tough it is to be an environment where most of the people you see are struggling one way or anoddah.
Da people in my life - "old school Korean parents", key coaches and teachers - have shown me oddahwise. Now I blend all da influences I've experienced and share them through coaching - hopefully it'll sink in for those keiki learning to balance on da fence of life even if it is just one.
I always read dis little mo'olelo before da season starts and some say it's true, some say it's made up and oddahs say it was tweaked but all da same, it's a reminder of why I still do wat I do after all these years.
In Brooklyn, New York, Chush is a school that caters to children with learning disabilities. Some children remain in Chush for their entire school career while others can transfer into conventional schools. At a Chush fund-raising dinner the father of a Chush child delivered a speech that always be remembered by all who attended.
After extolling the school and its dedicated staff he cried out, "Where is the perfection in my son Shaya? Everything God does is done with perfection. But my child cannot understand things as other children do. My child cannot remember facts and figures as other children do. Where is God's perfection?"
The audience was shocked by the question, pained by the father's anguish and stilled by the piercing query. "I believe," the father answered, "that when God brings a child like this into the world the perfection that he seeks is in the way people react to this child."
He then told the following story about his son Shaya:
One afternoon, Shaya and his father walked past a park where some boys whom Shaya knew were playing baseball. Shaya asked, "Do you think they will let me play?"
Shaya's father knew that his son was not at all athletic and that most boys would not want him on their team. But Shaya's father also understood that if his son was chosen to play it would give him a comfortable sense of belonging. Shaya's father approached one of the boys in the field and asked if Shaya could play. The boy looked around for guidance from his team mates. Getting none, he took matters into his own hands and said "We are losing by six runs and the game is in the eighth inning. I guess he can be on our team and we'll try to put him up to bat in the ninth inning."
Shaya's father was ecstatic as Shaya smiled broadly. Shaya was told to put on a glove and go out to play short centre field. In the bottom of the eighth inning Shaya's team scored a few runs but was still behind by three. In the bottom of the ninth inning Shaya's team scored again and now, with two outs and the bases loaded with the potential winning run on base, Shaya was scheduled to be up. Would the team actually let Shaya bat at this juncture and give away their chance to win the game?
Surprisingly, Shaya was given the bat. Everyone knew that it was all but impossible because Shaya didn't even know how to hold the bat properly, let alone hit with it.
However, as Shaya stepped up to the plate, the pitcher moved a few steps to lob the ball in softly so Shaya should at least be able to make contact. The first pitch came and Shaya swung clumsily and missed. One of Shaya's team mates came up to Shaya and together they held the bat and faced the pitcher waiting for the next pitch.
The pitcher again took a few steps forward to toss the ball softly toward Shaya. As the pitch came in, Shaya and his team mate swung at the ball and together they hit a slow ground ball to the pitcher. The pitcher picked up the soft grounder and could easily have thrown the ball to the first baseman. Shaya would have been out and that would have ended the game.
Instead, the pitcher took the ball and threw it on a high arc to right field, far beyond reach of the first baseman. Everyone started yelling, "Shaya, run to first. Run to first." Never in his life had Shaya run to first. He scampered down the baseline wide eyed and startled. By the time he reached first base the right fielder had the ball. He could have thrown the ball to the second baseman who would tag out the still-running Shaya.
But the right fielder understood what the pitcher's intentions were so he threw the ball high and far over the third baseman's head. Everyone yelled, "Run to second, run to second." Shaya ran towards second base as the runners ahead of him deliriously circled the bases towards home. As Shaya reached second base the opposing short stop ran to him, turned him in the direction of third base and shouted, "Run to third." As Shaya rounded third the boys from both teams ran behind him screaming, "Shaya run home." Shaya ran home, stepped on home plate and all 18 boys lifted him on their shoulders and made him the hero as he had just hit a "grand slam" and won the game for his team.
"That day," said the father softly with tears now rolling down his face, "those 18 boys reached their level of God's perfection."