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Coaches have my admiration

Standing on the mound at the ball field at the Kingston Community Center Wednesday night, I stared at my son at home plate and thought, “How hard can this be.”

After all, the goal in coach-pitch baseball is simple — throw a 3-inch ball over a 17-inch wide plate somewhere between the knees and midsection of a player standing 46 feet away.

Sounds easy, right?

With a bucket of baseballs, Gibson, my wife and I ventured out to old ballfield at Kingston for a little batting practice.

Braving the onslaught of buffalo gnats, Gibson stood ready at home plate to take a few swings.

Just a few days earlier, I sat in the stands of Sprague-Gousset Field in Duncan Park watching the real coaches toss the ball toward home plate.

In the coach-pitch division of Dixie Youth Baseball the pressure position is on the pitcher’s mound.

No one else on the field is sweating more profusely than the coach standing on the mound.

Compared to the youngsters having fun on the field, the coach on the mound knows how critical it is to throw accurate pitches. After all, the goal is not to strike out the youngster behind home plate, but to throw pitches that can be hit — no matter where, just hit.

No walks are granted in the league and each batter has five pitches in which to hit the ball. No matter whether the batter swings and misses or swings at all, he’s out on the fifth pitch (unless he fouls). 

While a no-hitter may be the ultimate goal for pitchers in any other league, a no-hitter in coach pitch baseball is no honor. A no-hitter, after all, means every player on the team struck out.

Last week started Gibson’s second coach-pitch season. Last season I probably watched more low, high and outside pitches than strikes. I felt sympathy especially for the coaches (there have been a few) who could only apologize after throwing a wild pitch on that fifth and final swing or after accidentally hitting their own son waiting at the plate.

As much as I try to adhere to my personal rule of not being overly critical of the umpires and the coaches, I caught myself Tuesday night questioning how hard it is to throw that ball.

So when I stepped up to the mound in Kingston on Wednesday, I did so with a bit of swagger.

Ready to throw, the space between me and home plate seemed more like the Grand Canyon than a Little League ballfield.

Ready to set the tone for the evening, I threw a ball only a giant could hit. The ball sailed high over Gibson’s head into the backstop.

Out of all of the pitches I threw, maybe two or three were true strikes and none of them hit Gibson — although he may have had to jump out of the way a couple of times.

Several buckets of baseballs later, I walked off the field with my tail between my legs and a greater understanding of how deceptively difficult a simple baseball pitch is.

I gained an appreciation for the hard work coaches — in every sport — put in to teach area youth about the rules of the game, the value of practice and the importance of sportsmanship.

Hard how hard can pitching be?

I will leave it up to the coaches.

BEN HILLYER is the news editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3549 or by email at ben.hillyer@natchezdemocrat.com.