"Nice try!" they say, encouragingly, when the throw to first base hits the dirt in front of the second baseman, or beans a spectator.
"Keep your eye on the ball!" they repeat 10,000 times over the course of a season.
"Keep your head in the game!" they urge the boy who's hunched over in left field, watching an ant lugging a dead roly-poly across the dirt, and another boy who's making honeycomb designs with cleats in the short-stop dust.
They pack, unpack, load, and carry 30 pounds of bats, balls, bases, and equipment three times a week. They make 15 phone calls every time it rains to let parents know if the game's been cancelled. They create line-ups and game plans; they calculate batting averages and ERAs; they organize snack schedules.They make time to play with and teach and put their arms on the shoulders of other people's children. Sometimes they make good players out of them. Sometimes they make not-so-great players feel like Honus Wagner. They give every kid a chance to shine in the field.
They stand behind your child and mine in the batter's box: they position his hands on the bat handle, tap his elbow up, and demonstrate how to step into the pitch. "Step into the pitch," they remind the batter. "Don't step out of the box." When my son swings wildly, like an ambitious lepidopterist, the coach hollers optimistically, "Good try, A. The next one's yours!" They give every kid a chance to shine at the plate.
(It's hilarious that some coaches can't compartmentalize as well as others, and their day job lingo creeps into their coaching. "You got a taste of it," said Coach Paul, a chef, to a batter who hit a foul ball. "That was an appetizer. Now go for the entree." The fans on the sidelines looked at each other and shrugged. "Yeah, eat it up!" I screamed, because, hey, it doesn't really matter what you holler for encouragement, just so long as you holler.)
They're heroes because they're patient, they're kind, they're engaged. They stand with the sun in their eyes and the sweat dripping down the back of their necks, persuading an anxiety-ridden nine-year-old who changed his mind about playing baseball and would rather be home sorting Pokemon cards to stick it out because his team needs him.
They're heroes because they gather the boys in the outfield after a grim 19 - 2 loss, and remind them of everything they did right. They're heroes because they shrug off a bad call, and the kids get an object lesson in frustration management and keeping things in perspective.
Coach Lou, Coach Bob, Coach Paul, Coach Ben, Coach Matt, Coach Neil, and any coaches I've forgotten -- thanks for being a hero this summer.