Strikeouts sting, especially when you’re 10-years-old, go down looking and make the third out.
Yet, assistant coach Sloan Wyatt, who watches from the dugout, shows no reaction as the player returns to the bench. Sloan, 17, helps coach the Blue Bombers of the NYO Minors fastpitch softball league. As one who has played the game since she was 6, Sloan knows there are no words to console the little girl. And she knows the worst thing is to express her disappointment in words or body language.
Sloan also knows things have a way of evening out, sometimes very quickly. The little girl goes to shortstop and promptly records the first two outs with snazzy plays that showcase her defensive skills. Sloan is the first to greet her with a gentle hug — nothing more, nothing less — as the inning ends. It’s how little ones should be coached. Sloan, a rising senior at Pace Academy where she plays varsity fastpitch as well as lacrosse, represents the cadre of NYO alums willing to return to the Chastain fields to give of themselves.
It’s not as if Sloan needs one more thing to do, another credential to attach to a college application. In addition to her sports at Pace, she is the life-style editor of the student newspaper and will serve as news editor next fall. Sloan wants to major in journalism in college, and the University of Missouri and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, each with high-quality journalism programs, sit atop her list. Sloan assists Brad Glenn, manager of the Blue Bombers — 11 girls ages 8-10. They practice once a week and play two games. That’s 10 hours Sloan could spend doing high school things. But the little girls with nicknames on their jerseys like Sparky, P. Dawg, Goldilocks, Hammer and Jare Bear are ‘my girls. They make me so happy. When they get a hit to the fence or make a catch it makes me really excited.’ They also remind her why she plays a game that can be exhausting with three-to-four hour practices and 30 games during the fall high school season.
Sloan grew up in a baseball family. Her brother plays for North Springs High School, and her dad plays in an over-40 men’s league. Her first few years at the Murphy Candler recreational program were spent playing baseball with boys. She made the move to NYO when she was 11 and remembers her first fastpitch tryout with Stan Jones. ‘He was screaming, and I was shaking,’ Sloan recalls. It didn’t take her long to figure out that Stan’s intensity was borne of love for the game and the girls.
‘When I think of NYO, I think of Stan,’ she says. ‘He fosters talent and has a way of getting everyone’s attention.’ Sloan played for Stan’s all-star team over three summers. She rates him as her most memorable and impactful coach.
When Sloan expressed an interest in coaching this spring, Fastpitch Commissioner Brian Raley placed her with Brad Glenn. A longtime baseball coach, this would be Brad’s first fastpitch team. His daughter Jaren (Jare Bear) is one of the team’s younger members. ‘The girls light up around (Sloan),’ Brad says. Perhaps it’s because they feel Sloan’s commitment to them and to the game. Perhaps it’s because they pick up on her intensity.
‘They’re not little girls in skirts,’ Sloan says emphatically. ‘They’re players.’ Even so, the dugout rings with songs and chants like this one: ‘Mickey, Mickey, Mickey Mouse. We are gonna rock this house!’ Notwithstanding the team name, the lettering on the girls’ shirts is pink and the coaches all wear bright — VERY BRIGHT — pink tee shirts. On this Sunday afternoon the Blue Bombers win, 13-4, bringing their season record to 7-2-2.
As the season has progressed, Sloan says she has learned a lot from Manager Brad. ‘I never see him without a smile on his face,’ she says. ‘He tells (the girls) how proud he is of them, he never yells and he’s always optimistic.’ He also makes ‘me feel like an equal. He treats me like a coach, not like I am 17.’ It’s enough to make Sloan vow that she will be back to coach next spring.
(Jay Smith, who writes Dugout Doings, knows young coaches like Sloan occupy a special place in the hearts of their players. They become the older, caring sibling every child craves.)