It is 11:30 p.m. on Sunday night. Another fun, but jam-packed weekend. A rec league baseball game, an ice skating class, and a pre-travel-team-tryouts open practice sandwiched between two soccer games are in the books. Next week softball gets added to the mix. I’d like to go to bed, but I finally have a free moment and with three rec games in four days next week, I am making the lineups and field positions. Or at least trying to.
We’re only playing our third game of the season but I’m already on v13 of the lineup. Figuring out field positions in rec league is one of the hardest coach’s duties for me. And the one I dread the most. Pick your pleasure – balance innings in the field and on the bench, give everyone a chance at various positions but keep the kids from bouncing all over the place like ping pong balls, rotate enough the lineup so at bats are fairly distributed, show not even the slightest hint of “Daddy Ball” or favoritism to the coaches’ kids. Do all that while putting the kids in a position to win each time they step on the field? It’s harder than teaching the kids baseball.
There are shortcuts available. There are boilerplate lineup templates on the internet. They would be so easy. A fellow coach has just beta-launched freebaseballlineups.com, a lineup generator website. At least this site has an algorithm created by someone who coaches the sport. Still, I haven’t tried it. We’re working with very young athletes and they deserve a little effort on my part.
The lineups are hard because, in the end, they are a judgment of whether am I staying true to the principles I espouse. Are the kids having fun? Are the kids improving? Are the kids learning how a team works? Am I doing everything I can to put them in a position to win? A boilerplate or lineup generator can’t do that.
It’s why I am making the lineup on Sunday night. I make it. I stare at it. I make some changes and stare at it some more. I make another change or two. I stare at it. Then I check what the overall playing time and IF/OF opportunities for the season would be if, by some miracle, the game unfolds the way I’ve laid it out. Then I make a couple of more tweaks and stare at it some more.
I tweak and stare until sometimes it starts to look to me like one of those posters with a 3D image hiding inside if only you could get your eyes not to focus on the poster itself. Every now and then I do see the 3D image, but even if I can’t, the lineup as good as I will get it. Then I send it to my fellow coaches who send me back the obvious improvements which I had no hope of seeing.
Three games in four days. It’s going to be a long night.