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Gullixson: Sports and the price of high expectations

Expectations bloom like mustard this time of year, and that's a good thing. Unless you happen to be a Little League coach, many of whom have probably put away those lesson plans about executing squeeze bunts and double plays in exchange for simple prayers that, come opening day — today for some local leagues — their players, upon hitting the ball, will run to the correct base.

And for those players who have forgotten their belts — or never got around to buying one — special graces are sought for arrival at their destination without suffering a potential rally-killing wardrobe malfunction.

Expectations, like pants, sometimes need adjusting.

I'm reminded of one time when my coaching hopes were calibrated for a group of 9- and 10-year-olds not all of whom, I discovered, knew their left field from their right. But there was one young man in particular who was tall and excelled at gloving the ball, so, as any winless-season-fearing coach would do, I put him at first base.

It came as a surprise later when the boy's father took me aside and said he did not want his son to play that position anymore.

“Why?” I asked. “He loves it.”

“He's not left-handed,” the father said. “He'll never make it at first base.”

The inference was clear. Most of those who play first base in college and the major leagues are left-handed, the advantage being they're already turned toward the infield when they move right for a ground ball, and they can more quickly apply a tag on a pick-off move. But these fractional advantages matter little at an age when most players don't know their cut-off man from the team mom and don't really care other than the latter is supposed to bring snacks, and that's important.

When you're a coach whose only remuneration is a season-ending slice of cake, you don't argue with parents. And that wasn't the only time I've heard parents talk like that. But looking back on it, there are some things I wish I had shared with that father.

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