Apologies if you came to WFNY on this fine Monday morning expecting to read about the Cleveland Browns with your morning coffee. There will be plenty of coverage of that particular team and the latest non-feats on the field, but there were more important matters to attend to first.
There are many different sounds expected to be heard at a youth baseball game. Thwap! is heard as the pitcher succeeds in his attempts to navigate the baseball to the catcher’s mitt without contact. Thud! happens when the pitcher does the same but in a manner that requires the backstop to halt the momentum of the ball. On contact, a ping off aluminum or clunk! off composite is most often the sound as the ball ricochets off the bat.
Every now and then there is a different sound. The sound of the rounded surface of a cyndrical weapon of blunt force being delivered to the laced leather surface of a ball above the plate. A sound requiring the kinetic chain of the one controlling said weapon to be operating in harmony as energy is transferred from potential to kinetic throughout the chain: legs to core to arms to bat. Everything being done with perfect timing to the incoming pitch on the exact swing plane to deliver maximum force. That is when Clang! happens.
Clang! is special. Clang! causes casual bystanders to look up from their phones. Clang! makes every player goofing off in the dugout stand to attention. Clang! makes every coach’s heart skip a beat as Clang! announces the possibilities to occur over the next several seconds are either euphoric (on the side of Clang!) or devastating (for Clang!‘s opposition).
There are a lot of moments that lead up to such a sound. Truly the origin rests in hitting mandarin oranges, water balloons, and easter eggs filled with candy from the age of four years old. Any external motivation to entice a child to swing as hard as possible; at a slightly upward angle. As the years go by, YouTube videos from Josh Donaldson and diagrams from a book written by Ted Williams help navigate youth towards the the coolness it is to join the Elevation Revelation long past when dad is considered cool himself.1
Within the season, all of the drills and tools utilized have served a purpose helping build towards the occasion. Skinny bats to teach the brain how to swing fast. Heavy bats to teach the legs that they are needed. Heavy balls to force the batter to hit the ball square. Light, bouncy balls because it is fun seeing coaches have to dive out of the way and the absolute limits of gravity be pushed by the players. Many bruises have been earned in the cage when the exit velocity off the bat has exceeded the mobility of the coach.
The sound might seem like an individual accolade, but it is a team award. Each child pushing the others to continually get better through friendly encouragement, ribbing, and competition. Each of these players has put in the work building each other up. Each of these players will have their moment. Perhaps one player had began the season unable to hit the ball at all, but he would keep the team alive with solid contact down the third base line. Another might have overcome his fear of having an erratic pitcher throw a five ounce object near their head to become one of the best hitters on the team. Regardless, each boy had struggled together, worked together, and would feel the joy or pain of each playoff game… together.2
So, it was on the last day of our season, we heard Clang!. A 1-1 count in a later inning of the game to my oldest son with our team down a run and one of our own standing on third base. A pitcher two years his elder had thought it wise to sneak in a change up after having given up two roped line drives on fastballs to him earlier in the day. My son sat back and waited…
At the appropriate time, the weight shifted from back-to-front, the bat spun from its tipped position like a rollercoaster until it came up through the zone to meet the incoming pitch…
The left field line fence marker states for all to see in bold white block lettering against green-painted wood that it takes 278 feet to arrive at this particular spot from home plate. The ball sailed with purpose to meet that marker; well higher than any 100-year oak that dots the walkways between the fields. Distance did not appear to be an issue.
Standing from the coaches box at first base, I might have been the first to notice the tail developing on the flight path. Not a true hook but enough to force an exhale a full second before the rest in attendance would realize the fate. By the time the ball was ready to clear the fence, it had pushed 10 feet or so to the left. A harmless foul in the place of a gargantuan home run. He would foul off the next four pitches (also, one pitch in the dirt taken scored the runner from third), but a rare strikeout was the conclusion to this particular plate appearance. The game would eventually be lost. The team eliminated from the playoffs. The season over.
Still, sitting at Dairy Queen, ice cream in hand, there were laughs to be had as the sound of Clang! was brought to the forefront. “No one in the league even hit that fence on a bounce or the ground this year” he would remark. I quickly retorted that he was correct though he didn’t hit the fence either; he cleared it. Foul or not, Clang! is the most beautiful sound.3
- And also the help of the greater baseball community such as Sean Plouffe, Ryan Parker, Chad Longworth, and many more who share their knowledge and ideas. [↩]
- Biggest hug I got after the season was from the dad of that kid who knocked that ball down the third base line. Love seeing kids work their butt off and seeing results. So many other stories didn’t make it into this story for brevity reasons. Important for anyone out there coaching to remember though- every kid has a story. It’s part of your job to learn it and customize your teaching for them. [↩]
- Select team try outs were this past weekend. Coaches involved in running the drills said hello and went through the drills. My son did well, receiving some raves for his pop time and throw from catcher. He was solidly in the mix before the last drill. Hitting drills were last. My son went last. Watching other people watch my son hit a baseball might be my favorite thing. The eyes on the poor soul throwing the batting practice on the mound, and the coaches snapping to attention. The head coach even had him try a few with a much bigger bat just to see how it would go. He missed on his first swing getting his bearings. He didn’t miss again and all of the balls were roped into the outfield. [↩]