I’ve spent so much time telling y’all about my pretty cool holidays that I haven’t told you the next part about my being hired as a “baseball tutor” to a kid in Pasadena who wants to make the team at his high school. His parents, who know me through their older son Carter, who hangs out at the Volcano and knows Keaton, made me an offer to help Lucas out, and I agreed. Partly so I could use their pool, partly because the money was good, and partly because I wanted to see if I’d be any good at coaching.
So the kid’s name is Lucas, he’s 16, and he goes to a fancayss school in Pasadena. They’re only in Division II, but a varsity team is a varsity team, and Lucas wants to be on it. I can totally get that.
I didn’t get a good chance of getting to know Lucas the first time we met, because his parents were there, and they were making it awkward for both of us. I went for my first “tutoring” session the next afternoon, and that’s when I got to know Lucas a little better.
First thing you need to know about Lucas: he’s crazy about baseball. Like nearly as crazy about baseball as me and my two best buddies were at his age. Of course, he’s got a big-market major league team to concentrate on, while I had the Smokies. Don’t get me wrong: I lived and breathed the Smokies, but it wasn’t like we could watch every one of their games on the TV the way you can see Dodger games. (If you get the Dodgers channel lol.) There’s also a whole lot more Dodger gear to decorate your room with than they made Smokies gear.
There’s also a lot more sports coverage and information and stats on the internet than there was when I was in high school.
In other words, there’s a lot to keep a baseball crazy kid busy these days.
So Lucas is the kind of kid who can quote every player in MLB’s batting average. Ok, maybe not every player in MLB. Just every player in the National League lol. He’s kind of amazing that way, having all that room in his brain for numbers. And he told me he sucks at math, too. He told me he and his parents are fighting about his getting into AP calculus. I have a feeling that his getting to work with me depends on his grades. If that’s true, maybe I need to be helping him with his math homework as well as his hitting lol.
So loving baseball is Lucas’ main reason for wanting to make the team. That’s really cool. I did ask him if he thought making the team would help him with girls. Boy did that ever make him blush. I almost felt bad I’d asked him. Then I told him that, if he really wanted to get girls, he should be playing football lol. Not that any kid his size stands a chance of surviving football, even in Division II. Lucas is about 5’7” and maybe 135 pounds if he’s lucky. Like I wrote when I first saw him, he’s the kind of kid who’ll probably grow three inches overnight.
It would be really awesome if he did that between now and baseball tryouts. He’s pretty strong for his size, so he’s not a total wimp, but he’s gonna be hitting against 17 year olds who are a lot bigger than him.
When I took the job, the thing I was worried about most was that he was gonna suck. I never did anything like this before, and I know I’m no miracle worker. I reckon I know enough to help make a decent player better, but I can’t turn a total klutz with no hand-eye coordination into a ball player.
So how good was Lucas?
To tell the truth, he was a little better than I thought he might be. He can make contact with a ball, not that my pitching on the tennis court was gonna get confused with Clayton Kershaw. He may be small, but he’s definitely got a good arm. He’s not Puig (at least not yet), but his arm could get him a spot in the outfield. (I thought about it for a few seconds, but I don’t think he’s got a pitcher’s arm. Besides, he’s really locked into being a position player.)
The arm is probably the best thing he’s got, which is good, since it’s the thing I’d have the most trouble teaching. His catching isn’t as good as his throwing, but that I know how to work on, so we were gonna be good there. His biggest problem, believe it or not, is his running.
The kid runs like a girl. I guess that’s better than running like he’s gay, but barely. He seemed pretty surprised when I told him he ran like a girl, but I was surprised nobody’d noticed it before me. Maybe it’s because he’s got some speed, even if he runs on his tippy toes. It’s like his heels never touch the ground.
So I decided that was the first thing we needed to do something about. I know it’s only 90 feet to 1st base, but you gotta run to make catches too, and the more stable your body is, the better your throw is going to be. That applies at 2nd (which is I think where he really wants to play) just as much as it does in the outfield. And standing on your tippy toes doesn’t exactly make you stable.
The problem was that I never really thought about how I run. Mom says I just did it almost as soon as I learned to walk. And I reckon I ran well, since I was never caught in all the games of duck-duck-goose I played as a little kid. (Outside of the MVP trophy my last year in college, that’s my favorite record lol.) So I had to figure out what I was doing and explain it to Lucas…I couldn’t just say “stop running on your tippy toes, use your whole freakin foot!”.
Turns out I did say it after I got frustrated with myself for not explaining what I wanted. And it worked. All of a sudden Lucas had a stride that looked like a stride. I measured out what looked like 90 feet and used the stopwatch on my phone to time him. There was an improvement right away. He wasn’t going to beat Cody Bellinger in a race, but he was moving better and faster. I did have to keep reminding him (“use your whole freakin foot” became a catchphrase), since he’d been running funny since he was 3, and you always fall back into old habits if you’re not real careful about learning new ones. Anybody who’s worked on his swing knows that very, very well. And it can be frustrating as heck.
So I felt good after the first three afternoons we spent together. I was making a difference. (There must have been kids who made fun of the way Lucas ran. Now they’d have to shut up, so I reckon I did Lucas a major solid there. I think I helped him some more than that, too.)