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.


  1. This is awesome! Great recap and cool Topps customs.

    I've been coaching baseball and softball for the past six years. It's a great time. I'm an assistant on my son's 11u travel team, and a head coach on my son's rec baseball and daughter's rec softball. There are many parents who often attend everything, but never step up to coach. At the lower levels it's more babysitting and field coordinating/communicating. With the rainy northeast springs we get, most of the time is spent working around rainouts and time/field changes. I think my son is a little tired of me in the dugout, but hopefully he appreciated it one day.

    Amazing story that you got a 'full enough' squad to win the city championship. I'm sure the boys and parents appreciated the attitude and outlook you brought, especially those who had a negative experience the previous year with the coaches. Congrats on a very successful season for both of your boys!

  2. Congrats on the championship, and very nice customs! Landon J. with the mountain in the background is my favorite here.

  3. Great job on the customs and congratulations to you and both of your sons for being champions. It was sad to read about the bad coaches. I feel like a bad coaching experience could ruin the love of the game for a kid. I guess the same can be said for students who have really bad teacher experiences.

  4. Excellent work on the customs. I used the Topps site for cards for my kids and their cousins a few years ago and then gave it to them for Christmas. They all got to autograph a few and gave them to their relatives. It was fun.