Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Mentors


We buried my baseball coach yesterday.

Bill Phillips mattered in my life.

Like lots of kids my age, I grew up playing baseball.

More accurately, I lived, breathed, ate, slept and drank baseball.

Mickey Mantle was my hero and all of the New York Yankees were my team. All of this dates me as a kid growing up in Dallas, pre-Rangers. I still have a hard time being against the Yankees, even when they play our hometown boys. Sorry, Brandon!

I was a terrible baseball player, when in second grade I first signed up for Richardson's Boys Baseball, Incorporated (BBI). To this day I can remember selling the little, round lapel pins to raise funds for the leagues. You saw them all over town: BBI.

I played rightfield for two summers for the infamous, cellar mat Blue Birds. What adult in their right mind would name a boys team "Blue Birds"? It's a question for the ages if you ask me!

I was fairly tall, gangly, uncoordinated and terrible as a player. But then, we all must have been. I remember losing to the Braves 45-0 before the merciful advent of the 10-run rule.

Worst of all our coach was a real jerk.

He must have been one of those dads who tried to live out his unfulfilled sports aspirations through his son. We weren't helping him much there. And boy, did he let us know about it! He yelled at us, ridiculed us and berated us before and after every game. A real motivational genius this guy.

I was miserable standing in rightfield, but I refused to quit. But the worst thing was I began to believe my coach's assessment that I would never be a ball player.

BBI had a rule that you couldn't change teams unless the coaches worked out an agreement.

Somehow in my third season the "trade" was arranged and I went over to the Mustangs, coached by Bill Phillips, my friend Barry's dad.

Coach Phillips encouraged us, taught us, believed in us and rallied us, even when we lost. He made me believe that I could play baseball and he taught me how.

When he died last week, Barry called to ask if I would officiate at the memorial service.

Only then did I learn that he was enrolled in night school at SMU School of Law during those summer days over forty years ago. Somehow he found the time to coach his son and the rest of us.

The first season on the Mustangs under Coach Phillips we played the Blue Birds at Terrace Park. It is a night I will never forget. I hit two home runs. Coach was proud of me. I can get back there in an instant, like it was closer than yesterday to my memory and my senses.

I know Coach Phillips is one of the main reasons why I've coached inner-city teams of 4th and 5th graders in the Texas Rangers Rookie League.

Mentors matter. Parents can't do it all.

Coach Phillips changed my life--that may sound over the top, but it is true.

Mentors help you believe that things can work out. We need mentors in the city, lots of them. Just like Coach.

4 comments:

Chris Field said...

Great post, Larry. I had a couple of coaches that also taught me a great deal as a kid. They really do matter. Especially to young boys and girls from the inner-city that have no one else they can count in. Blessings.

Janet said...

Thanks for being the same type of coach as Bill Phillips. All of the kids in the Ranger Rookie League still very fondly remember "Coach Larry" or just "Coach." I know it's because of your encouraging words and belief in what they could do that pulled that team together. (We were quite rough at the beginning, if I remember correctly. :) ). They have not forgotten.

Thanks for being that awesome and encouraging mentor...to all of us.

Anonymous said...

I don't think we can simply overlook your love of the hated Yankees.

Have you no shame?

Down with the evil empire.

Brandon Bob

PS. Topic idea for a future post: impact of the designated hitter on poverty. I think if you do the math, America's poor started really getting screwed behind about the same time the American league started that abomination.

Larry James said...

Brandon, jealousy/envy is a cruel taskmaster, Brandon Bob!

I'm not sure about your theory regarding poverty and the DH.

No doubt unchecked major league salaries have contributed to the gap between rich and poor, while dangling stardom before poor, inner city kids to their dteriment and to their commitment to sticking with education.

Of course, no team has done more to worsen that reality than the Yankees of late under George!

So, you may have a point because America loves the hitting--thus, their love affair with the Yankees.

Sad fact is though that the Yanks would do just as well with no DH. Pitching is a forte as well.

Like I said in the post, sorry, Brandon!