TEATICKET – The timeless American ritual of fathers and sons at a Little League practice happened at Teaticket School for the Chapman, Cole & Gleason team on a Thursday afternoon in the middle of April. The season starts in two weeks.
“Number one, you get to spend time with your son,” said Greg McDonald, an assistant coach, whose 11-year-old son, Max, is on the team. “And it is fun to see the new kids really progress from day one to the end of the season.”
All involved got something out of this day of Infield practice, running drills and the true advice from the manager, John Gagnon, who, with a bat in his hand and grabbing from a pickle bucket full of baseballs, said loudly to his lines of infielders, “Ninety percent of this game is mental!”
The team first fully assembled two week ago, after the draft. Yes, there’s a draft. Chapman, Cole & Gleason picked fourth in a seven-team league. There used to be 12 teams but McDonald said more kids seem to like lacrosse. In fact, in the outfield at the Teaticket school was a lacrosse game. Thus, no batting practice or outfield drills for this Little League team. Usually, they practice somewhere else, but all the other fields were taken.
Still, the season is a mere two weeks away and the infield practice was needed and helpful, said Gagnon. It sometimes appeared, the mental preparation was especially needed.
Gagnon admitted to being more animated than usual at this practice. But his feedback was all positive. At one point, after hitting the ball to shortstop, he yelled out, “These are bang-bang plays. Good! Turn and fire.”
Over and over, he and his three assistants, including his father, Ray Gagnon, worked with the boys, ages 10 to 12, on what to do in various situations. “All right guys, the situation is first and second with one out. Where do you think we’re going to go with this ball right now?,” yelled out Gangon befoie hitting yet another infield ground ball at one of his players.
Practice, they say, makes perfect. “I have an older son, Johnny,” said Gagnon. “I grew up as assistant coach for his teams. So I figured after four of five years of being an assistant coach, that I’d try to get a head coach job. Plus I am good friends with the two guys that were already assistants on the team.”
Those two are McDonald,whose 11-year-old son, Max, is on the team, and Ray Bourgeois, whose 12-year-old son, Nolan, is on the team. Gagnon’s 10-year-old son, Nico, is on the team.
It was not just fathers at the practice. One mother, Heidi Egloff came to watch her son, 11-year-old Liam Winters. “This embodies the whole community,” she said as she watched the four volunteers work with the 12 boys on the team. “There are so many volunteers in this town,” she said.
After an hour or so of infield practice that started at 5:30 PM when the temperature was a sunny and windy 44 degrees, Bourgeois said to Gagnon, “They’re cold. Let’s run ’em.”
And so they did. Half the team lined up at second base. Half lined up at home plate. And a relay contest was started, first team to lap the other won. It took five laps for each player on the team, but finally there was a winner.
There was one more precious ritual left. Everyone walked to the parking lot for the all-important, once-a-season passing out of uniforms, hats, and most importantly, uniform numbers from the back of a truck.
“What’s Pedroia’s number, Dad?”
— Brian Tarcy