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The Mighty Ducks


Fri, Jul 13th, 2001
Posted in

Monday, July 9, 2001

It has been quite awhile since I was a volunteer coach. My first opportunity came in my early twenties when Bob, a friend of mine, and I were coaxed into coaching soccer to a mixed group of six and seven year olds in a YMCA program.

Neither one of us had ever played soccer before in our lives. But in the end, it didnt matter, the kids hadnt either.

When it came time to hand out the team T-shirts, the Kings, Lords, Princes, Mavericks, and Musketeers all came forward and quickly put on their gleaming blue, green, red, purple, and yellow shirts. Almost magically the jerseys transformed the kids into a motley crew of short-legged Peles.

When our turn came, the kids were smiling at the anticipation of putting on their spanking new turquoise uniforms laying in the box. But soon after donning their jerseys their happy faces quickly changed to confusion and sadness.
Instead of the regal sounding DUKES, a noble name worth defending in the goal if there ever was one, a printers error had turned the team into the DUCKS.

There were several, Well, I aint going to be no Duck, making the rounds of the rebellious group, when Bob, a perpetual five year old, quickly turned the scene around.

Well, who wants a poopy name like the Dukes, anyway? my colleague asked. What kind of sound does a Duke make? Huh?

The silent kids looked up at him quizically. There was no question that Bob had their attention. Mine too, for that matter.

What kind of sound does a Maverick make? he continued.

None of the kids had an answer for that one.

What kind of sound does a Prince make? he followed.

Again silence.

Well, then tell me, what kind of sound does a Duck make? he asked, knowing that he had the crowd in the palm of his hands.

Eleven kids let out a QUACK, QUACK, QUACK.

He did it again. What sound?

QUACK, QUACK, QUACK.

Somehow, Bobs ingenuity had transported the team from the lowly what kind of name is the ducks into WE ARE THE DUCKS.

And that became our cheer.

Who are we? we would incite our team before every game.

We are the ducks, the kids would yell.

What sounds do we make?

And the kids would bellow out QUACK, QUACK, QUACK.

We didnt win a game. In fact, we only scored one goal the entire season. But with this group of kids, it didnt matter. They were the DUCKS. And the day that one of the kids scored a goal, our entire team piled on the little shaver as if he were Diego Maradonna and Argentina had just won the World Cup.

Those kids are now adults. I hope they remember two things from that experience. That the Dukes is a poopy name. And winning isnt everything.

***

Knocking-in the Winning Run

My second chance at coaching came a few years after the Ducks experience, when another friend of mine and I were coaches in a baseball little league with kids 12 and 13.

Tim and I took over coaching the Eagles from Pete, an older man who had been with the team for several years. And he offered this simple advice as he turned over the bats, balls, and catching gear to us at the ball field.

This is not about winning, he said. Oh, the kids think it is, but it really isnt. The team that makes the least errors and has a pitcher that throws strikes is going to win. Thats a given at this age.

Pete leaned against a fungo bat and kicked the dirt before continuing.

What really matters is that you give the kids a chance to succeed and a chance to fail, he went on. And they cant do that if they dont have the chance to play.

Tim and I looked at each other out of the corner of our eyes, wondering where Pete was going with all this.

At this age, every kid on the team should have at least one chance to start a game, Pete said. It makes them feel like Mickey Mantle.

And every kid should play in every game, whether they pinch run, pinch hit or just play in the field, he explained. It reminds everyone that this is a team sport.

Tim and I thought, Well, why not. We took Petes advice and let the kids know at the start of the season that every kid would play in every game and that we would rotate starting assignments..

The Eagles were 3 and 12 that year. But we beat the league-leading Elks when Franky Pierzinsky knocked-in the winning run.

Thats what Franky called it - knocking-in the winning run.

Gods truth: Bases loaded with two outs in the bottom of the seventh and last inning, Elks up by one run.

Franky, the shortest kid on the team, had not gotten a hit the entire year. From my third base coaching spot I called Frankyover and told him that the pitcher was a little wild and that he might want to take a strike. (In other words, Franky should wait until the pitcher threw at least one strike, and maybe, just maybe, the pitcher would throw several balls and walk in the tieing run).

Franky nodded back to me. Sure coach, he said.

When the pitcher threw the first pitch, low and behold Franky swung at it, sending a feeble dribbler out towards the mound. While Franky takes off for first base, to the amazement of everyone, the excited pitcher, knowing that this is the final out of the game, throws the ball over the first basemen's head. Both kids on second and third score giving the Eagles the win.

While I watched the team swarm around the little bugger, I had a metaphysical moment as I finally realized what Pete had meant about giving the kids a chance to succeed and a chance to fail.

I dont doubt that a 40 year old Frank Pierzinsky, living who knows where on Gods green earth today, still feels a chill run down his spine when he recalls that day so long ago; the swing of the bat, the wind blowing in his face as he ran toward first base, and the roar of his teammates as the winning run crossed home plate.

By John Torgrimson

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