Win Every Inning

14-3.

That was the final score of my little guy’s game this past weekend.

Joey really did have a good game.

Joey really did have a good game.

And we weren’t the 14.

And yet despite the blowout, if you had looked out at the two teams at the end of the game, you would have thought that it was my Blue Wahoos that had won the day.  Actually, in a sense I think we did.

The Wahoos are “playing up” this year as my kids had shown both enough interest and aptitude for pitching to move to the first year kid pitch division.  Most of my kids are in 2nd grade and we’re playing against teams of almost all 3rd graders—and that extra year makes a BIG difference in size, strength, and coordination.

After competing well the first couple of games, we finally came up against the big, bad Riverdogs.  In the first inning, a boy the height of my 11-year-old son launched a towering drive 20 feet beyond my outfielders.  It probably would have been a little less than that, but all three of them just stood in place to watch the majestic drive, one of them yelling “WOAH!” as it sailed over his head.  After getting a good look, my center fielder decided he’d go ahead and run after it.  At that point, all semblance of baseball order was lost.  Four other players ran after him, leaping in the air and yelling “Throw it here!” and subsequently, “No, here!” The runners trotted home as my outfielder decided whether to throw to door #1-4, and I began to hear Toreador playing in my head.

I think I'll stick with post-game juice boxes.

I think I’ll stick with post-game juice boxes.

After they reached their five run max, our little guys got shut down quickly by their flamethrower.  Ian, one of my always questioning players looked up at me, his freckled little face swollen with dejected blue eyes, and asked me the score.  “Zero-zero,” I responded promptly.  “Are you nuts, Coach?” his continued gaze clearly implied.  “It’s a new inning, isn’t it?” I replied.  He nodded.  “Then the score is zero-zero.  Let’s go win this inning.”  He grabbed his glove and immediately trotted out to second base.

Now, Ian didn’t just “get it.”  What I told him was based on a philosophy that I began to impart to my kids since my big boy started playing games where we actually kept score.  The motto is simple:

Win Every Inning

I had first heard this from the ringer (aka the Methodist firefighter) on our synagogue softball team about a decade ago.  The underlying philosophy was that to win a game, you have to be relentless.  You never settle for holding onto your lead.  Instead, look to dominate each and every opportunity.

Of course, ole’ Coach Hippie began preaching this philosophy to my players for a very different reason.  Back when Gus was in his first season of kid pitch, we started out horribly.  Lots of errors, lots of strikeouts, and even a mercy rule or two.  In order to keep the kids (and parents) positive, I pivoted on Win Every Inning by not looking at victory, but at loss.  Oh, did I mention we ended up winning a championship that year?

Our championship year.

Our championship year.

The beauty of baseball is that it is not played in large blocks, but in the most discrete segments of any major team sport: the inning.  Even at the lowest competitive level, you’re talking five innings, more segments than soccer, basketball, football or hockey.  So, more than any other sport, the notion of looking at each inning as its own independent segment allows coaches to help instill short memories into their players.

And so I began to preach the fact that, no matter whether we were up 10 or down 10, the score at the beginning of each inning is 0-0.  Each inning is a new chance to improve on what you did, and to score a victory in the game within the game.

Now, that might sound good in theory, but when you’re down 14-1 going into the last inning, you might be thinking my little mantra might be played out.  But, actually, that’s when it works best.  I gathered the team before we took the field.  Pointed out the great plays we did make during the game, and simply said, “Let’s make our last inning our best inning.”  And when our pitcher struck out the “Tall Guy” with runners at 2nd and 3rd to complete a shutout top of the 5th, we had our first chance to win an inning.  And I can still hear the Wahoos wailing in joy as that “winning run” came in to score.

After some concerted effort at Sunday’s practice to curb our Monty Hall cutoff plays, we were back out there on Tuesday.  This time, we managed to be on the other side of the score, and entered the last inning up 10-6.  As we went to bat, I asked the team what the score was.  In unison, they cried:

“Zero-Zero!”

Not a bad way to think about baseball.

Or life, come to think of it.

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