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Saturday was another day, but Friday night would not stop. Eyes forgot how to close. Teeth chattered. But there is one avenue to select in times of confusion. It is not Panic Place. It is Game Face Boulevard. So the next day we got mean, realizing bats worked much better when swung. Colorado air is remarkable in that it is nearly off limits to gravity. Birds flap once a day. People coast. Head-high curveballs met squarely home in on Pikes Peak. I hit one out, our catcher hit one that bruised the top of the left field fence and bounced on to heaven and, at the end of three innings there in Boulder, the score was Oklahoma 10, Colorado 0. Dale Mitchell, the former major-leaguer who made certain Don Larsen's perfect World Series game stayed perfect, congratulated me through the screen.
So when we lost 13-12 it was difficult to explain. Colorado began hitting. Baseballs were ricocheting off fences like cue balls. Everybody wonders what players talk about during peace negotiations on the mound. I remember once calling time-out and telling our pitcher that I would kill him if one more of their people got on base. The umpire warned me about swearing on the field.
So we lost the championship by a fraction to Oklahoma State, and when we flew back to Norman somebody had turned the airport lights off. My father, a fair man, hung up on me. Wrestlers, fellow "O" club members, threatened us with assorted hammers and locks.
So what does a competitor do when defeat sneaks up like a mugger who never cares how much you worked? Do you look back at luckless, caught line drives? Sure, and you hurt and pout and alibi and kick doors and feel as if you just broke into some kid's CARE package because you wanted a between-meal snack.
And maybe later you will learn that feelings you had out around second base are similar to feelings that you will have again. Maybe you cannot define defeat. But maybe you can define athletics as a game, a warmup for feelings and other thinking parts, to see if they work.
Coaching is as vicious as any possible circle. Coaches are like vice-presidents. There are thousands of them, all promising a record year if only they had a shot at being boss. A coach is employed to provide V-I-C-T-O-R-Y. Developing character is said to be important, but I have a hunch that if a team of off-season pickpockets finishes 10-1, it will find a place in somebody's heart. If a coach wins, he may keep working until he loses, or dies. People say coaches are paid a lot. People say businessmen would get fired if they finished 5-5 on big deals. Yeah, sure. Try it sometime.
I am coach. Big shot. Walk around the gym in peachy-keen blazer, rain-catcher cuffs, and Mickey Mouse watch. Wink at the girls, mothers mostly, also some daughters. Hello, how are you? No, your son is not going to start; he is more valuable coming off the bench. That is sweet talk. Come on Harry (referee), that boy is about to put my center's eyes out with elbows. There, good call, Harry. You busy next Thursday for a game, Harry?
And then the blazer is a heap of wrinkles; the shirt collar is loosened without regard to the button that was buttoned; somebody asks what idiot is coaching this team; the coolness becomes a chill; all of a sudden I am responsible for these 12 boys, their parents and pals. That is more than you bargained for. Where did I go wrong?
We are better than the other team. Quicker, stronger, taller, prettier uniforms. Despite logic, they are one up at the minute mark. Time-out. Harry, we tried to call time-out 10 seconds ago. I hope you don't cause us to lose this one Harry.
Five baby faces are looking at me. They are too young to stay out past 10 p.m., except on Saturdays. They change razor blades each season. They read Mad and listen to guitar seizures. But they are mine, an extension of my dribbling, free-throw shooting self. That's what the coaching book said. At times like this you wonder who wants them. Me. I do.