Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Scott Martin


At the age of 12 and playing Little League baseball, our coach invited a friend and former major league baseball player to one of our practices. In the days leading up to the player’s arrival, our coach only told us that the man had played in the outfield and said nothing about him playing in the majors with only one arm.

After a brief introduction, the player approached us to shake our hands but offered his left hand which caught our team off-guard as most of us presented our right hand first and then clumsily switched to our left.

As we watched the player rip ball after ball from corner to corner as our coach pitched to him followed by the former pro shagging balls hit to him in the outfield, without any loss of time between catching and throwing, my teammates and I stood in shock. We quickly switched from viewing him as disabled to being a former professional baseball player.

I don’t remember our coach talking about this being a life lesson, but maybe that was his point. This was baseball. I had no idea of the importance that practice session would play in my own life.


I stand with my weight balanced on both feet, arms at my sides. A posture of calm confidence. At least that’s what I’m going for.

Behind me rises the empty stand of bleachers bordering the soccer field. Before me is a small army of twelve-year-old boys and their families. I’ve been in front of such groups before, but since the illness, I always freeze and start sweating.

But something seems different inside me. I chuckled to myself and thought about my first youth team in Oshkosh; a team that wore the name of a local realtor, Freid Werner (other teams tagged them as ‘Fried Weiners’), on the front of their forest green jerseys. And just like that first team that was winless the year before I took over from a good-hearted soccer dad, no one expects much from these kids. That team went undefeated during our third season together. Can I expect the same with this scraggly, mangy group?

I’ve got the bottom of the barrel: A team of seventeen twelve-year-old boys still a couple years away from pimples and twice as many from growing their first whisker. Boys who have already been passed over by not only the top team in the club but the second team as well. This is the scrap heap, the third tier.

Never, in all my forty-plus years of coaching youth, high school, and college teams, have I inherited a winning team.

Thankfully the air is a cool sixty degrees, so I don’t seem too out of place or too suspicious wearing my blue coaching jacket. Even with the long sleeves, I can feel everyone’s eyes on my hands. I must resist the urge to pull them behind my back.

A little girl with blonde pigtails tugs on her mother’s hand to ask a question. Her mom purses her lips and makes a shushing motion. Behind them, a dad is doing the same with his kid. And another mom with hers. I want to tell them not to bother silencing their kids; the ones who aren’t asking are thinking it all the same.