A tale of two steals of home

As a basecoach, I’m pretty aggressive and pride myself in being able to exploit defensive mistakes. But this story isn’t about my acumen, rather about two different opposing coaches’ reactions to a similar situation.

The first event came during a baseball game, several years ago, when I was coaching my middle boy’s Majors team. There were runners on first and second and we got a base hit to the outfield. My lead runner scored as the throw got away from the catcher and rolled to the back of the backstop. The runner from first got to third and rounded it as the catcher retrieved the ball and covered the plate. The pitcher was there too. The catcher handed the ball to the pitcher and the pitcher walked back to the mound, glancing over at my runner who was still leading off.

However, their catcher’s mask was laying at the base of the backstop, and he headed back to get it. As he and the pitcher walked in opposite directions, home plate became increasingly vulnerable. I quietly coaxed my runner off more, and when the time came that I knew neither player could get to him, he took off. The pitcher and catcher each took a desperate step towards home, then stared helplessly as he scored easily. It was a back-breaking play to surrender defensively.

From the third base dugout, the opposing team’s assistant coach tipped his cap by complimenting me on the play. The manager, who has since become one of my good friends, did what very few coaches would do. He stepped in and took the blame. He came out of the dugout, patted his chest and said loudly enough for players and fans alike, “That was my fault. I should have called time out. That one’s on me.”

Fast forward to just last week. Now I’m coaching my daughter’s softball team and have a runner on third with two out. It doesn’t look like we’re going to drive her in conventionally, so I take a chance. I tell her to get a huge lead on the next pitch and then listen to what I tell her. The pitch comes in and she jumps off base, almost halfway down the line. The catcher has the ball and her coach, as I’d hoped he would, yells, “Get her!” The catcher throws the ball to third and I tell my runner to go. By the time the ball reaches the third baseman and is thrown back home, we score easily. I see the other team’s assistant coach react with disgust and the manager, who told the girl to “Get her,” blamed his catcher. He said, “When I said to get her I meant run at her. When you throw the ball to third she’s going to score.”

How easy would it have been for the coach in the first scenario to yell at his players for leaving home plate unattended? I believe many coaches would have been embarrassed and made the kids accept responsibility by telling them they should have seen that coming, or trying to cover for themselves by saying, “We’ve talked about that before!” But I wonder which coach inspires more confidence in his players and which coach’s players are always nervous and afraid to make mistakes. It seems that the coach who has the self-confidence to be willing to step up and take the blame for his team’s poor performance is the one who will ultimately get the most out of his players.

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