Alvin Danger’s conference call ran long, so he texted his wife to see if she could bring Angie to practice. Bonnie happily agreed and as she pulled into a parking spot and shifted the car into park promised to be back at some point to watch her practice. Angie smiled and reassured her mother that it wasn’t that important to come watch her. As she closed the hatch of her mother’s SUV, Angie called into her mother, who was peering around her driver’s seat headrest “Mom, just pick me up at 7. That would be the best for both of us.” Bonnie, a little confused, said with a smile back, watching the hatch door slam shut, “okay honey, have a good…” The hatch door had shut and Angie was already marching towards the baseball field before Bonnie could finish her answer. Bonnie waited a few minutes, decided against calling her husband, took one last look over to the field to see Angie arriving and putting her baseball bag down, and exited the parking lot at Prospect Field.
Practice Two focused on hitting, hitting and more hitting. Ferguson didn’t just like the 10 run rule in his Little League games, he loved it. “We are going to score often and in bunches. My team is going to out hit and embarrass the other teams, you will see,” touted Ferguson in his emails to the District parents. On a 12 person District All Star team, batting practice would take both time and coordination. Good thing for the Westfield All Stars, Prospect Field was equipped with a massive six section batting cage. Live pitching with an L-screen could take place in three of the sections, soft toss in another, and batting tees were used in the other sections. Players could rotate from section to section getting a really good hitting session in. Three of the coaches – Ferguson, French, and Sawgrass – all threw live batting practice, while Fernandez oversaw the soft toss and batting tee sections. Players were given instructions on how many swings they would take in the live BP and were encouraged vigorously to help pickup the baseballs and hustle from station to station. Angie, always polite and attentive, heard the instructions loud and clear. Her first station was live batting practice with Coach Ferguson. “Ugh,” she said to herself, “let’s see what today brings.”
One swing after the next, Angie missed the baseball. Ferguson, even at age 45 and certainly when he wanted to, could really bring it. Meaning his arm strength was still exceptional and he could really pepper in fastballs with some sizzle when he wanted to. Angie swung and missed on ten straight pitches and was rudely kicked out of the cage by Ferguson. “Where’s the star I drafted? Where’s this amazing hitter I was hoping for? That was an absolutely sorry display of hitting. Next!!!!” The ever quiet and humble Angie simply picked up the baseballs, placed them in her helmet, walked them over to the bucket next to Coach Ferguson, and dumped them in. “I’ll work on it Coach, I won’t let you down again.” “Uh huh,” laughed Ferguson, “Tommy, show this girl what a real hitter can do in here.” Tommy Sawgrass walked into the cage where Coach Ferguson was and adjusted his helmet and found his spot in the left handed batter’s box. Angie, walking towards the batting tee section, heard “Whommp!” and “CRAAACK!” one after the other. “Holy smokes, now that is a hitter I want on my club!” yelled Coach Larry Ferguson loud enough for Angie to hear. Ferguson had dialed down his fastball to a reasonable batting practice speed for Tommy, thus the hitting display was for Angie to observe and to knock her down a few pegs. But, Angie kept her head up and hustled, as she was instructed to and accustomed to do, to her next station – the soft toss area.
With each hit in Ferguson’s net and each utterance of “Wow” or “Holy Smokes” or “Great Hit,” Angie’s armor of confidence and humility began to crack. Soon, French and Sawgrass were following Ferguson’s immature lead and would yell out something similar in their respective batting cages. Coach Fernandez was the only coach focusing on the task of coaching, not making animal noises or yelling at the top of his lungs every time someone hit the baseball. Fernandez watched as Angie took her place with another boy, Lenny Thomas, for a round of soft toss. “Hey Lenny, why don’t you grab a drink and switch out to the batting tee section. I’ll work with Ang for a bit.” Thomas nodded respectfully and ran over to the dugout area for his water bottle. “You okay Ang,” asked Fernandez “I don’t think I have ever seen you frown.” Angie flashed her big smile and said graciously “yeah, I’m good Coach. I’m ready when you are.” Angie took her place in front of the sock netting and nodded her head so Coach Fernandez could start feeding her soft tosses. “Whoa that is a home run in any park in Rhode Island” yelled Ferguson. Angie shook her head and swung and missed the soft toss throw. “Sorry Coach,” apologized Angie. “Angie, focus on what you can control. Keep your eye on the ball, drive it into the net. Come on, you got this Ang.” And with that Angie took a deep breath and exhaled, refocusing herself on the task at hand. Following the ball out of Coach Fernandez’s hand and hitting it squarely into the loose netting aka the sock netting, Angie regained a small amount of momentum. Then, Angie began connecting time after time, doing as Coach Fernandez had instructed – just focus on what you can control, eyes on the ball, drive it into the netting.
A re-energized Angie moved onto the batting tee and continued to focus on the craft of hitting,the laces on the ball and her swing. She drove 20 straight baseballs with authority into the netting off the tee, and sprinted over over to grab the baseballs where they lay on the ground in front of the net. Seemingly, as soon as she would place the ball on the tee, the coaches would start screaming their “Whoa” and “Oh my God” and “What the Heck was that” cheers for the other players. But Angie could not control them, she could only control the swiftness of her bat swing, the perfect angle to hit the baseball into the net, and the drive to run after each baseball so she could replicate her movements. She was hitting the ball with pace and power and with a tinge of aggression that was coming from an unfamiliar part of her inner self. Whatever happens when she faces Coach Ferguson or French or Sawgrass, she could only control what she could control, not the actions of others.
When Angie stepped in to face Coach French, she made a mental point (closing her eyes and repeating Coach Fernandez’s advice) to quiet the noise and just hit. French was nowhere near the pitcher Ferguson was and Angie quickly made that point 100% clear. Two pitches and two absolute bullet line drives that fired back at the L-Screen. “Whoa, what about those hits Coach, not bad huh?” French just stared at Angie and didn’t say a word back. The aggression had manifested itself into words coming out of Angie’s mouth. French threw a few pitches out of the strike zone that Angie left alone. Then dealt one in Angie’s wheelhouse that she hit like a rocket towards the netting just above Coach French’s head, to which Coach French ducked out of the way like a frightened child. “Oh yeah, oh my god, oh what the heck was that?” Angie was smiling from ear to ear. She was stomping her feet in the batter’s box like a bull gearing up to charge a helpless bullfighter. French, clearly shaking by the line drive, looked over at Ferguson who was disgustingly shaking his head. The mockery of his taunts was not sitting well with Coach Larry Ferguson. “Danger, you’re done for today.” “What did I do Coach? I’m just showing some emotion like you and the other players.” Angie fired back. “You’re done for showing up Coach French. Now, get your stuff and sit in the dugout until your parents arrive.” Angie felt the blood rush from her head to her feet and removed her helmet to fetch the baseballs. “Leave those, you’re done for today” yelled Ferguson agan, this time with a nasty ring to it. Angie put her helmet back on, grabbed her bat, lifted up the netting, exited the cage, grabbed her baseball bag and headed for the dugout to sit for the final 35 minutes of practice by herself and await her mom’s arrival. As she walked out of the batting cage area, the taunts started up, this time the players got into it with the three loud mouth coaches. For Angie Danger, Practice Two (if possible) finished worse than Practice One.
Little did she know that her Mom, who had used her motherly instincts to detect a small chink in her daughter’s armor of confidence and humility, had been watching from an inconspicuous parking space and had observed the entire chain of events of Practice Two.