By: Ken Boone
It’s Wednesday, September 19, 2001 and I’m sitting at my desk after a week of terror and uncertainty. The nation was still numb from the tragic events of 09/11, so we were literally going through the motions. I happened to be living in New York City, commuting to work in Central New Jersey by bus. I can still remember the audible gasps coming from the passengers each we approached the Lincoln Tunnel toll booths. You see, that’s about where we’d typically get our first glance of the Twin Towers. Now, it appears as though someone took a giant eraser and made them go away.
Back at my desk, I started reading my emails when I noticed one from the Edison Midtown Little League. The message said that President George W. Bush wanted the youth baseball players of America to help lead the country back to normalcy. He wanted us to resume playing Fall Ball on Saturday, September 22, 2001!
As the coach of one of the teams in the Edison league, all that was required of me was to be there ready to coach anyone they put in my dugout. There were still a number of parents who were not willing to allow their sons and/or daughters to socialize just yet. I was fortunate in that all of my parents and players were chomping at the bit to get back on the field.
We arrived at the complex at 8:30am Saturday morning to find the outfield fences draped in red, white, and blue buntings. The dugouts had American flags on each end. And if I’m not mistaken, everything at the snack stand was free! The resonant voice coming from the P.A. system kept welcoming us to America’s pastime. All that was missing was the apple pie. I’m sure there were dozens of Chevrolets in the parking lot, and the hot dogs were free. A sense of excitement took over the complex as we stood to sing the National Anthem. And I think just about everyone there sang the hearts out!
We played four games that day. I had the honor of coaching more than half of the kids that showed up. Those kids were gung ho to play. Most of them were on the rosters of teams that needed a bit more recovery time. Who could blame them. Our guys welcomed them with open arms and a lot of new friendships were formed.
Coaching those kids that day was the second most important event of my marginally successful youth coaching career. Number one, by far, was when I signed my son up to play baseball in the first place. My reason wasn’t because I thought I had the next kid who one day would grace a Wheaties box. I was in desperate need of putting him in an environment that would help socialize him.
A little over two years earlier, I was sitting in yet another emergency parent-teacher conference. Once more, I had to take time off from work to hear that my son, my name-sake, was suffering from oppositional defiance disorder. While he was, and is, extremely stubborn, didn’t they have enough experience to realize that this kid was a pawn in a nasty game of tug-of-war between his parents?
The “professionals” at the table all chimed in with different possible remedies for this situation. One suggested putting him in a special school, while another suggested medicating him. While being forced to face the fact that they deemed him more trouble than it was worth, I’d been to enough of these sessions to know that, by law, I would be offered a chance to rebut. I had to think of something really fast, or they were going to railroad him into “the system.”
“So, Mr. Boone, what would you suggest we do with your son?” The woman who asked me that question was a well-meaning, but overworked public servant who seemed to generally care about her students. Not trying to be a smartass, I adjusted my tone and said that they didn’t have to do anything with my son. I stuck my chest out and said, “I got this. I’m signing him up for Little League”!
That bought me a little time, and boy did it pay off. He took to the sport like a duck to water! His fierce competitive streak was fine tuned there. He learned all of the life lessons that are buried in the rules of baseball. And he had fun. Even though his first team had a record of 1 win and 15 losses, he was ready to get out on the field for another game. Even though he was a victim of Daddy Ball, he kept practicing, playing, and leaving rivals in his rear view mirror.
By the time we played that quadruple-header on Saturday, September 22, 2001, Kenny was one of the elite 11-year-old players in Central New Jersey. What’s more important is he was one of the most popular kids as well. To this day, many of those players are Facebook friends with him! I know that because from time to time, I get a friend request from one of them, asking “How’s it going, Coach Ken? I'm now coaching myself. Thanks for the life lessons and teaching me that winning isn't everything, but it's not a bad thing either!”
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About the Author
As owner of the Descant Music & Media Group, Ken is a creator and producer of several podcast shows. He is also a music producer, as well as a writer and an accountant for small businesses and nonprofits.