Playing Ball

One the more pleasant surprises I’ve encountered in Williamson County is the Franklin Baseball Club (FBC). This is a non-profit vehicle dedicated to facilitating good baseball for the youth of the city. Almost three years ago I put my youngest son William into the 5-6 age group, took a deep breath, and signed up to be a coach. Deep down, I suspected I would get an email saying “Thank you for your willingness to coach but…” I’ve enjoyed coaching William for 3 ½ years now.

Williamson County is an exploding area of Middle TN. Literally, we’re 7th wealthiest in the nation (as of 2017), we have a robust education system, and have a booming jobs market. We’re growing by leaps and bounds. With this influx of talent and growth, it is no surprise that the FBC is run like a machine. I’m amazed at the level of maturity/talent I see in the coaches on the field and the men who govern the board. From schedules, to uniforms, to overall management, the FBC is delivering. And…this is largely a volunteer organization.

Another positive aspect of this FBC culture is the level of male-involvement. Dads have taken a hit in the last 30-40 years, in the US. It is not my purpose here to document that trend but suffice it to say, males often lose their identity and subsequently do not know how to manage their strengths. I’m not seeing that dynamic in this baseball culture. To the contrary, fathers are working with their sons, taking a keen interest in the character/skills development of their boys. They volunteer to coach, provide assistance in running operations and help out where they can. Moms are very active too. What I see is entire families coming out, participating and enjoying this baseball culture.

Yes, you do see tension break out here and there as parents get emotionally engaged. Sometimes I don’t know whether to go LOL mode or be embarrassed. Yes, you do see coaches go over the top. Perhaps a teenage umpire makes the wrong call. Yep, we have all that too. In spite of these realities, the baseball culture is still excellent, at least, so I maintain.  Below is a helpful reminder to anyone who, shall we say, gets a little to zealous.

Baseball Rules

Another aspect I thoroughly enjoy is the friendships that develop among coaching teams. In studying winning teams, it became apparent to me early on that those teams that did very well had great coaching teams. It wasn’t a matter of having one superstar, it was a matter of having a coalition. There are other dynamics that go into a winning team as well: talent among the players, team chemistry, a positive hard-working ethic, and discipline. It also helps to get that player nobody knows about, who turns out to be a game-changer. For instance, last season our final draft pick ended up being the home run leader of the league…!

This season we play as the Brewers in the 7-8 league. It is the Fall season which means we focus more on developing inexperienced players. It is less competitive. We have a good team and I see us getting better still. The coaches, however, are what make the difference. If the coaches do not know how to manage talent, the team wanes. If the coaches know how to manage -and- develop the talent, an inexperienced team can become a power-house.

We have Derek Owen. Derek has the most baseball experience and can size up a given situation very quickly. He is a natural leader and is able to motivate our boys to greater levels of productivity. Derek can go beast-mode in a game and move an entire team forward by his will alone. He is our pitcher, we’re still in a coach-pitch league. We also have Jon Holmes. Jon has developed as a coach and leader immensely. He is the first coach our players see after they hit the ball. He stands guard as our first-base coach and patrols the right side of the field as a defensive coach.

We have two newer coaches, Greg Hagler and Clint Hill. I’m still getting to know both these men but they are solid coaches. Greg coaches 3rd base. 3rd base coaches have to know when to take the risk and send the runner home or when to hold runners at 3rd. We’re playing super aggressive right now and I love seeing Greg send our runners towards home. He also patrols the left side of our field on defense. Clint is the silent one, necessarily. He shags balls for Derek and is technically not allowed to engage the players on the field. He is good with details and I have a sense that his capacity has not been reached.  Me?  I run the dugout.

Jon Holmes is on the far left, then myself, then Clint Hill, and Derek Owen.  This pic was taken early on a Sat. morning…we’re all still waking up.

In addition to the coaches, we have parents who help with organizing snack schedules, practice, and moral. This level of parental affirmation and support is invaluable to making a team work. Parental support is one of those intangibles that adds texture and ambiance to this league.

I tell our coaches each season that we too are developing. We too are adding character and competence to our persons, just as the players do. Most of the lessons I’ve learned have been from my mistakes. I also learn a lot from fellow coaches on our team as well as opposing coaches.

One of the ongoing challenges we face is to properly assess our players. Some players need and can handle direct challenge very well. Some are wired differently and do not respond as quickly to challenge. Our coaching staff is more on the challenge side and time after time, I’ve seen players rise to that challenge. As I see it, little boys need challenge, they respond well to challenge. This is how God has designed them. However, that challenge has to be framed within the context of relationship.

I’ll close out with some thoughts on the intersection of faith and practice. As Jesus followers, we want to do more than take up space in our cities and consume goods and services. We want to “represent” the King in the way we walk out our faith. That is, we want to serve the city, seek its welfare, and promote its well-being. An isolationist and consumeristic policy does not accord with the gospel. We practice our faith and one expression of that faith is service, service to the city. We help it function well, we bring life to it. I find coaching baseball as ‘one’ outlet to that calling.

On another note, coaching baseball helps me know the people of Williamson County. As a minister of the gospel, this matters. How can I, or our fellowship properly make disciples in Williamson County if we have no clue about the culture? In spite of Williamson County’s great wealth and booming economy, there is still much need here. We are human and regardless of our circumstances, we need the gospel, we need Jesus to give direction to our otherwise rudderless and chaotic lives.

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