Tuesday, July 18, 2023

More All-Stars on the List

A week ago today, Major League Baseball played its annual All-Star Game. I've loved this game since I was a kid, but I couldn't watch it this year. We had tournament baseball happening. As a follow up to my last post, both of my boys won their city championships and advanced to compete at the state level. My older boy's team (the one that I was coaching) performed well. We finished second in our group during pool play, but then hit a juggernaut in the first round of the elimination bracket. Our opponent came into the game undefeated and left undefeated. In fact, our 6-1 loss was the closest game they played all year until the state semifinals, and we were the first team to hold them to single digits. They ended up losing in the final four and taking third. So our Pony League season ended in the Sweet 16 of state, if you will. My younger son rolled through the regular season and city championship undefeated, then won every game at the state tournament into the finals. There they met their Waterloo, falling 7-2 in the championship game. My son was a bit disappointed (he really wanted that T-shirt!), overall satisfied with a one-loss season and a second place finish.

My point is, I had one kid playing in one city while another was playing (and I coaching) in another at the time of the All-Star Game. I didn't get to see it. But that doesn't mean it didn't affect my collection.


By my count, there were 31 players who made their first All-Star team this year. That means I'll need to track down cards for 28 new players for my All-Time All-Star project. I found these three already in my trader boxes and moved them into my collection. Well, Steele was in my Cubs binder, so I moved one of his cards over to my All-Star project.

And, of course, I always add the All-Star Game MVP to my collection. I only own one card of this year's MVP, Elias Diaz, so his page will take awhile to complete. Welcome to the collection, Elias! And thank you for finally getting the NL a win!

One of the downsides of rarely buying packs anymore is that I don't have many cards of these new guys who are turning into stars. But the chase is on now!

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Allow Me to Introduce You to the Salem Rangers

Growing up, I was always a football guy. I played other sports, including baseball, all throughout my youth, but I lived and breathed football. It was the one that I truly understood all over the field. When I was in high school, I wanted to become a coach. In fact, one of the reasons I became a teacher was that I wanted to coach high school football. Alas, I still have yet to teach a single day in a high school, and I've had no opportunities to coach athletics. 


But when my boys started playing baseball, I started toying with the idea of coaching them. After my oldest passed through t-ball, I thought, "There's nothing to this t-ball thing. I'll coach the next time around." Two years later, my second son started t-ball and I volunteered to coach his team. I didn't really expect to go much farther than that in baseball coaching, though. My days as a player ended when I was 13, right after my 7th grade year. At that age, with the competition I'd faced and the coaching I'd received, I hadn't really learned much strategy to coaching or practice drills or anything that gave me enough confidence to go and teach others to compete.


My oldest son started his Little League years with two outstanding coaches in three years. These were guys who taught the game well, hyped the kids up, and gave them a great experience playing ball. I learned a bit about coaching Little League from them, but I still lacked the confidence to volunteer myself as a head coach. I wanted to help out and get involved, but as the assistant. I resolved to offer to help the moment a coach asked for an assistant, but no one ever needed help. 

Until last year. My second son's coach asked for help, and I jumped on the chance. He was in 5th grade, playing Pinto League (12U). I spent the season helping coach my son's team. Meanwhile, my older son was suffering through an abysmal season. They won only two games and the coaches were kind of a nightmare. They didn't say anything to the kids during games, but berated them when they lost. They offered incentives, then backed out after the boys reached them. So with a season of assistant coach experience under my belt, I decided I was going to coach the Salem Rangers Pony League (14U) team this year. Half of the boys on the team, including my son, had played baseball longer than I had. Almost all of them certainly had received more coaching than I had ever received. But I could learn the Xs and Os and technique along the way. I could handle 7th and 8th graders and give them a good experience. That's what I do for a living, after all. No other parent could/would help out, so I recruited my 22-year-old brother-in-law as my assistant. I think it was good for a young guy like him to get the experience of working with those kids.

We had our ups and downs this year. We hit a particularly bad week when we had six boys all gone for summer camp. It resulted in a loss to a team that only beat us in the entire season and another team we had already beaten mercy-ruling us. Too often, we had players missing and it resulted in a tough city tournament seed. But I knew if we could ever put together a full team, we could compete with anybody.

When it came time for the city tournament, we managed to field a full team--almost. (We still had one person gone--our cleanup hitter). But it was enough. Coming from a low seed--and aided by a forfeit against the undefeated #1 seed (they only had four players show up)--we worked our way through the tournament to the championship game against the city's #2 seed. I told the boys they could beat anybody and they proved me right. We rolled to a 9-2 victory in the championship game to take home the city championship!


There was one major drawback to winning the championship, however. Both the Pinto and Pony Leagues had their final at the same time. So while I was coaching my oldest as he won his league, I missed my younger son winning his city championship. It was a good night at the ballpark for us. Two boys, two teams, two leagues, two champions. 

I was told that my younger boy made a catch in right field and then gunned the runner out at home to end the top of the final inning and preserve a 4-4 tie. His team walked it off in the bottom half of the inning. Wish I had been there to see that!

I made these cards for each player on my team. I designed a uniform back with each player's stats. This is my own kid's stats. I know, just over the Mendoza line. Unfortunately for him, he hits like his old man. But at least he walks a lot! Next week we play our state tournament. At the conclusion of the tournament, I'm going to give each player their own card and a small lot of Texas Rangers with it. I'm also going to have the boys vote for a team MVP. The chosen MVP gets this:

I'm not sure who the players will choose. Luke, our ace pitcher? Kien, our versatile center fielder/3rd baseman/pitcher who seems to hit nothing but doubles (except for the game when he hit everything else and came up just a home run short of a cycle)? Jaxon, our shortstop with the most power on the team? If I were choosing, I would vote for Jordan. He made some outstanding plays at first, handling line drives and wild throws that saved several games for us. I don't know how much his peers recognized it, but his defense and leadership were difference-makers on the team.

In the past few months, I've made custom cards for my colleagues and work and my Little League team. I realize that probably nobody who has received a card from me cares as much as I do, but that doesn't bother me at all. I've had a blast making them.