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Behind the Scenes, Coaches Play Vital Role

Softball is a pretty informal affair, something that even the most devoted veterans of the House Softball League will affirm.

[IMGCAP(1)]But these leisurely sessions do not organize themselves. From setting the schedule to keeping their squad loose, coaches work quietly behind the scenes to sustain softball on the Hill.

Most coaches said the pregame logistics represent the most important part of the job. This includes locating a field — whether by obtaining a permit or by sending a squatter to stake out some choice territory — rounding up enough players and equipment, and making sure everyone knows where to meet.

Prior to the season, coaches are responsible for scheduling games, an undertaking everyone described as a maelstrom of e-mails. Most coaches seek out opponents of similar ability and mindset.

“You want to match up with teams that are around your fun level and skill level,— Blue Ballers coach Mike Cherry said. He added that he tries to occasionally “challenge— his team with tougher opponents, while trying to avoid demoralizing or lopsided losses.

Although some teams set a decidedly more competitive tone than others, a difference that shows up in the standings, most coaches embrace the laid-back ethos of House softball.

“I reiterate the fact that I just organize,— Dead Presidents coach Stuart Saltzman said. “It’s only softball. People are just out there to have fun.—

Saltzman’s light touch as a manager reflects this attitude, and to a certain extent belies his team’s status atop the standings. He refuses to let his players refer to him as “coach— and said that he encourages players to decide whether they want to switch positions, rather than go where he orders them.

Still, Cap City Brewing Flyers coach Larry MacDonald described coaching as a “pretty involved job,— shown, for instance, by the care he takes in balancing his lineup.

“I try to get a good mix of solid on-base guys with some guys who hit line drives and guys who can hit for power,— he said.

Insliders coach Matt Anthes said good coaching involves knowing when to let the players play, a role he described as “putting us in a position to win, but not over-managing.—

Anthes also spoke of ways to coax the most runs out of his lineup, from interspersing women with men to knowing how to “hide— weaker players lower in the lineup. But he contrasted the generally relaxed attitude of the regular season with the more intense climate of the playoff tournament, to which only the top 48 teams advance.

“In the regular season, it’s more about keeping people happy than strategy,— he said.

This statement would seem to resonate with most coaches. Their most pressing duties include ensuring that people see enough playing time, and that the manager is able to “nip arguments in the bud— between aggressive teammates, Anthes said.

“It can be a delicate balance— to avoid alienating people, Cherry said. Invariably, someone will resent hitting eighth instead of cleanup, or a player relegated to right field will think his slick glove merits a start at shortstop. Cherry’s solution is attuned to the prevailing attitude of House softball.

“The key is to not take it too seriously,— he said.

Ohio Killer Nuts coach Kevin Eichinger said he allocates the majority of playing time to a “core group— of players who consistently show up at games, with more sporadic participants receiving “token innings.— Similarly, Texas Republic coach Josh Maxwell said seniority and dedication determine how many at-bats a player receives.

In addition, Maxwell often delegates authority to the team’s stalwarts, veterans whose years of House softball experience lends their input more weight.

“I seek the advice and counsel of several of our players who have been on the team for a few years,— he said.

Once players have settled into their roles for the season, Eichinger said that mediating possible disagreements takes a back seat to logistics.

“After a few games, everyone kind of fits into their niche by themselves, so the behind-the-scenes stuff kind of takes precedent,— he said.

Perhaps the most visible task of major league managers is arguing close calls, a show of support for one’s team perfected by the often-apoplectic Lou Piniella. House softball tends to preserve a more civil tone.

“For the most part,— upholding good sportsmanship is more important than arguing a play that could have gone either way, MacDonald said. “You really have to pick your battles,— he said.

Maxwell echoed this sentiment, saying he strives to keep his players nonconfrontational so that they avoid showing “disrespect for the other team.—

Maxwell said he has developed a system of alternating which team comes out on the winning end in close calls. If, for instance, a first-base coach calls a close play for one team, the second close play goes to the opposite team.

“It’s reduced arguments tenfold,— he said.

Saltzman’s method is even simpler.

“I tell my team to shut up, and the other coach tells his team to shut up,— he said.

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