Mistakes can be rectified and losses can be rationalized, but grudges are a bitch to shake. I know this because in my four years as a baseball coach, I made mistakes and lost more games than I care to admit, all of which I have come to terms with. But four years after being forced to resign, I tend to refer to the school's athletic director and a handful of helicopter parents with a word my wife would not approve of me using here or anywhere else.
Coaching baseball in my early twenties didn't make me the man I am today, but it motivated me to cease being the man I was before I got involved. It began, appropriately enough, on a friend's couch after a long night of drinking, near fights, and a delightful late night burrito - often the salvation of a sad Friday night routine. While contemplating the amount of hypothetical money I would pay for a toothbrush and a Gatorade, a friend asked if I would be his assistant coach for 7th grade baseball. I said yes, provided he could give me a ride to my car.
I didn't arrive at the first practice with any intention of making a real impact, and I certainly didn't expect to be impacted. I love baseball, but truthfully, I just needed a daily activity for the summer that didn't revolve around a case of cheap domestic beer.
Over the course of the summer I realized something; I didn't simply enjoy coaching, I absolutely loved it. My connection with the kids inspired me to make improvements in my life. I didn't want to be someone who demand more of the teens I worked with than I did of myself. I enrolled at the University to get my degree and started making plans for life after graduation.
Everything was going well as I entered my fourth season with the program. Our teams made two trips to the state tournament at the junior high level, and in my first season at the high school level, my JV team finished above .500 despite key freshman and sophomores playing at the varsity level due to a lack of upperclassmen. What our program lacked in experienced talent, we made up for with youth and momentum. On top of that, one of my best friends was named varsity head coach.
I went into my fourth season with every intention of making it my last. I was about to graduate and my desire to move was no secret. I figured I could stick around, and use my familiarity with the existing players to help ease the transition for my friend as he took over the program. I never imagined the shit show that ensued...
Losses piled up for the varsity team. Fast. As things got worse, the best players on my team were called up to try and provide a spark. The more we lost, the more upset the parents got. It should be noted, parents are the fucking worst. Except the ones who liked me, they were cool.
By the end of the season, the varsity team had managed to win only five games. My team lost more than they won by a fair margin, the roughest stretch around the time a 500 year flood hit Iowa that summer. That is exactly what it sounds like - a flood, the degree of which is so great there is only a 0.2% chance of it occurring in a given year, and the most appropriate meteorological metaphor for a baseball season in the history of baseball...or water for that matter.
Mistakes were made. The losses were painful and relentless. I told people in the off-season I would consider returning for one more year. I had done some good work and was not too keen on going out a failure. I am a competitor, and as such I needed to avenge a poor season. Not to prove it to myself - I knew I was a good coach, still do - but to all the people (read: parents) whose opinions I pretended not to care about. I did care about their opinions, but apparently my boss cared even more...
The news of my "resignation" was delivered to me by my friend, who was also ousted as head coach. He met with the AD and she informed him that he would have the option of remaining on the staff in an assistant capacity, but due to some complaints from parents I was not welcome back, and she would appreciate it if he would let me know.
Upon hearing this, I went to the school for an explanation. She reiterated there had been complaints, though her descriptions were vague and, of course, no names or details were revealed. Among the complaints that rendered me black-balled after four years of blood, sweat, and tears - some people think you had too much influence on the varsity line-up.
Translation: I am friends with a couple moms that think you're an asshole, so you can't ever coach here again.
After four years - two of which were volunteer - of pouring my heart and soul into the program I was out, for reasons unclear, without the respect of receiving the news first-hand. Grudge. Locked. In.
I met my wife shortly after that final season. We moved to Dallas and have done some pretty damn cool things over the last four years. The mistakes I've made have faded from my consciousness and nothing could possibly feel more arbitrary than teenagers losing baseball games in a town of 2,400 people. But my grudge against a handful of people in that same little town, people that have absolutely no impact on my life, wouldn't subside. Stupid pride, I suppose.
The lens of fatherhood has given me a fresh perspective on most of my personal interactions. This personal interaction actually prepared me for how I intend to approach at least one small aspect of fatherhood. If my son chooses to pursue sports, I will give him as much instruction as I am capable, but my primary role will be as a fan. Let the coaches coach, because I know how difficult the job is even without unsolicited advice. All bitterness aside, I am grateful for that lesson.
Driving home the other night I saw a message on my phone stating the program I used to coach had made it to the state tournament, a dream I had shared with them a few short years ago, ultimately replaced by utter disdain.
I was surprised by the feeling the news triggered within me. I didn't give a damn. I expected to be jealous or disappointed, maybe even embarrassed that the people who ran me out now had the ultimate scoreboard justification for their actions. But I didn't feel any of those things.
My family occupies all the space in my mind and heart I had previously wasted on unnecessary anger. Each and every second I spend with my son is better than the last, and I have no intention of wasting a single opportunity by using that time to look back at past disappointment.
I have no room in my heart for grudges. That space is spoken for.
So, what the hell - Go Bears!