When I was 10 I met the greatest baseball coach there ever was. If you ever had Mr. Larkin as a coach you probably agree. I got picked by him in the draft for that year; his team was called Pond Plain. We were green and yellow for colors. I knew nothing about the league and nothing about the coach. I just knew that from all the games we played in my backyard from 6 or so to 10 my friends and I would be able to play in this league.
Mr L started off my first practice with getting to know us, putting as at every position, seeing if we could hit or field. He then gave EVERY SINGLE KID a nickname. I was called The Shark. It was a dumb nickname; just cause it rhythmed with my name. Practices were fun, and games were also fun. He wasn’t a scream at you type of coach, he was more of a rah rah have fun, you make the plays if you are having fun, type of coach. Of course he taught the basics. We were learning the game, even if we thought it was just a fun game we played. He would do these other cool things, like bring a certain color drink to the game depending on who we were playing. Since we were also green and yellow he bought these little shamrock stickers, and if you did something good, or something to help the team, he would give you one to put on your hat. It was such an honor playing for Mr. L. Looking back now some 28 years later I’m not even sure he loved baseball, all we knew at the time was he was there for us. We played really well for him, our team was good. We weren’t the best team in the league all the time, but I know we had the most fun.
The last year, or so I thought, I got to play on his team I was 12. He made sure we taught the younger guys all the important team lessons we learned throughout the years. It was by far my favorite year of baseball I ever played. My younger brother was on the team, and he could hit. He was a way better baseball player than I was, and it was cool to officially be on the same team as him. Cause for years and all the backyard games we were always against each other. My Dad worked a ton, but weirdly he was at every single game we ever played. I couldn’t tell if he was skipping out on work or working extra when we didn’t have games, but I didn’t care at the time. After I popped out to end the series to one of my best friends in the championship series I thought my life was over. He still reminds me when I see him, and it’s been over 25 years. Coach was quick to remind us that we were one of the two teams left, and what we did was awesome. He never let us sit in sadness, he was quick to do something to get us out of that mood. He was good like that, a super positive coach. A big reason when I reflect back on my life why I try to be so positive now, cause it reminds me of how good it felt when I was just a young dumb kid all those years ago.
When I was 13 I thought about trying out for basketball but when it came to tryouts I wimped out. I faked being sick or pretended to forget about them. I wasn’t confident enough. Then on the day the teams were announced I got a call from Mr. L and he said “I saw your name was on the list to draft but you weren’t there, so I drafted you in case you wanted to play”. He wasted a spot on me because he wanted to make sure I wasn’t left out. To that point, he had never seen me with a basketball in my hand. He didn’t know if I was horrible, or that I just didn’t want to play or what. He just saw my name and made sure I got picked. He probably didn’t think twice about it, saw my name and just picked me. That’s what made him great. You KNEW he cared for you. He probably has no idea how cool that was for me. Gave me confidence that someone outside of my Mom and Dad actually thought I was alright. I wasn’t the best basketball player, but again, he made it fun. I look back and think about how grateful I am that I got to play, that I got to meet some cool people and expand my friends to more than just the neighborhood I was growing up in.
I had plenty of success in sports. I’ve also had tons of other great coaches, coaches who got the best of the guys on the team, kids who put the team over themselves almost always. But, I never had more fun than when Mr L was my coach.
28 years later I still have friends who call me Sharky. I’ve been super lucky in life to have lots of the same friends. Sometimes it’s like I live in the movie Good Will Hunting. I have those friends who would murder for me and I for them. If I called one of them and said I needed them, they wouldn’t hesitate or ask why, they would just grab a 30 pack and meet me. We just don’t have the genius janitor in our group…
I wasn’t the best baseball player, wasn’t even close to good at basketball, but I had tons of fun playing. I look back at that time as most hopefully do, with a smile. The more I get to write about all the good stuff that happened the luckier I feel.
Hopefully everyone has a Mr. L in their lives growing up, someone who believed in you not because they had the same last name as you, but because they actually BELIEVED in you. Someone who gives you the boost you need, even if you never knew you needed it. If I had to guess I would say that lots of the kids on that team or who were coached by Mr. L at some point, look back with that same smile I have as I am writing this. There are good people in this world, be someone‘s Mr. L.