Paying Forward My Debt to Mr. Preda.

Sep 24 2007 Published by under An Incomplete Autobiography, Personal

When I was a kid, baseball was very important to me. It was very important to most of the boys growing up in my neighborhood. Almost all of the boys (and a handful of the girls) at my school signed up for Little League most years. The season started with a parade - and what kid doesn't like to be in a parade - and ended with everyone getting a trophy. It was great.

The only problem was that I wasn't very good at baseball. That wasn't much of a handicap the first couple of years, but as games got more competitive I found myself spending less time playing, and more time sitting. And sitting takes a lot of the fun out of the game. Little league went from being something I loved to something I didn't care about. But then I wound up on Mr. Preda's team.

Mr. Preda coached Little League in the Bronx for quite a while, usually for the 10-and-under age group. He volunteered his time year after year even though he didn't have a kid of his own in the league - or, for that matter, a grandkid. I remember hearing that he had a grown-up daughter, and I know he was old enough to be retired when he was coaching, but aside from that I don't really know a lot about him. What I do know is that I learned a lot that one baseball season.

Mr. Preda wasn't one of the coaches who tried to make every kid, no matter how clumsy and inept, feel like a valued member of the team. Every kid on his team was an equally valued member of the team. In an age group where winning was starting to matter, Mr. Preda cared more about making sure that we were all learning than about winning. All of us got to play, and all of us spent time on the bench. The less-coordinated kids (like me) weren't always banished to right field. We got to be awkward and slow at a wide range of positions, and we got to learn a lot more baseball.

In a classic story (especially a coming of age story), the year with Mr. Preda would be one of those Moments that changes everything. The team would go from the cellar to first, and I'd learn to excel at the sport and go on to fame, glory, and possibly the Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, life often forgets to follow the script. I got better after my year on the team, to be sure, but I never had the drive to practice that you need to get really good at the sport, and my baseball-playing days wound down within a year or two. I can remember a few moments from some of the games, but nothing that really stands out. I can't even remember whether we finally wound up winning more than we lost that season.

I don't remember a lot of the details from that season, but I do remember the fundamentals. I remember learning the fundamentals - how to throw, how to run, how to resist the overpowering urge to slide into second about 50 feet too early. I remember Mr. Preda spending a lot of time throwing ground balls at me, helping me get over my fear of the ball, and helping me learn to get my body in front of the ball.

We all learned teamwork that year. We learned how lose a game with dignity, and how to win gracefully. We learned that the team is what's important, and that it's better to throw the ball to the cut-off man than to try for the big play by ourselves. We learned baseball.

I've gone wandering down memory lane for a reason. I'd almost forgotten what an effect Mr. Preda had on me in that short time, and how much of a difference he made in the way I saw and enjoyed the game. I remembered all of it on Thursday night, and all at once. I was sitting on a bench at the parents' meeting for the fall baseball league my son is in, and the head of the league announced that they still needed volunteers to fill the head coach slots for a few teams.

So, watch this space in the coming weeks for updates on the exploits of the (as yet unnamed) Team #5 in the League City Coach-Pitch Baseball League. I've got no idea how we're going to do, but I can tell you this much: all of the kids are going to practice the fundamentals, all of them are going to play every game, all of them are going to play different positions during the season, and all of them are going to spend time sitting on the bench.

It's not much, but it's a first payment on what I owe Mr. Preda.

12 responses so far

  • Scott Belyea says:

    Lovely post ...

  • Rasputin says:

    Why don't you call the team the Predators and tell them this story and maybe 20 years from now one of them will pass it on.

  • dan says:

    Remember that year when Dad coached Ben's team? How he'd come home (extremely uncharacteristically) hoarse?
    If you can just do that, then you're doing alright.
    And if you need someone to explain things, give me a call.

  • QA's Mom says:

    I saw Mr. Preda today. He's somewhere in his late 80's or even 90 by now and frail. I told him about your memories and how you're coaching now, and about the post you'd written.
    Needless to say he was pleased, but much more by the fact that he had had an impact than about the fact that he was going to be written about.
    He wishes you great luck with your team.

  • J-Dog says:

    Congratulations! I will always remember helping coach my daughter's softball teams, and my son's baseball teams.
    I have found this link to be very helpful- maybe you will too.

  • fusilier says:

    "this video is no longer available"
    bummer - but that's OK, I know the song, and I spent lots of time in right field.
    James 2:24

  • eewolf says:

    I managed a team (9-10 year olds) with my brother before either of us had any children of our own. We weren't much more than kids ourselves.
    Anyway, we just had a few rules.
    Everybody plays and gets to play different positions.
    Everybody will have bench time.
    The games belong to the kids: coaching and instruction happens at practice.
    Coaches coach, kids play, parents watch and cheer.
    Umpires are respected by all.
    A walk is definitely not as good as a hit!
    Good luck with your team. Just enjoy the whole thing. I have great memories from those times. (Those kids must be approaching 40 now)

  • Doc Bill says:

    We all have a baseball story.
    Mine is that I was nearsighted but hadn't been diagnosed yet. I was also small with not much of a throwing arm. And, I couldn't bat. So, I played center field and right field year after year.
    One game, though, our second base man got hit with the ball and had to go to the bench to cry for a while. Coach pulled me in to play second base.
    I remember that game vividly because it was my best game ever. I made several plays at second and first and threw the ball accurately in the infield. I had always wanted to play second base and it was like a dream come true.
    After the game Coach came up to me and said that I did a great job at second base and that he was amazed.
    Of course, I spent the remainder of the season in the outfield where I missed every catch, shagged every ball and listened to cat calls from my teammates.

  • Lurchgs says:

    it seems quite a few of us have baseball (or at least summer sports) memories. Of course, not all are pleasant. Myself, I joined Little League in a town where the sport wasn't about teaching kids, it was about winning. Given my size and arm, I was put in center field, which suited me. I can play defense tolerably.
    I can't bat. That kind of eye-hand coordination just isn't in my make up. Dad spent more hours than was good for him pitchign to me, trying to help me get it together. Nothing doing.
    As a result, and because the coach was too busy working with "The kids with promise", I didn't play in a single game all year.
    Later, in high school, I ran into the coach again. He was coach of the basketball team, and the sight of my 6'6" frame made him drool. He actively courted me for the team - and pushed hard. (well, when your center is 6-10 inches taller than any other in the conference, you have an advantage)
    I would have told him no anyway - I was more interested in swimming by then - but it gave me a great deal of pleasure to say it to HIM.
    My boys are in schools where the important things are A) team work B) fundamentals C) training. Winning is something the *KIDS* want for themselves, and after every event (they're in wrestling - I don't know why) the coach or one of the assistants goes over everything with the participants, whether he won or lost.
    As for me, I'll always hold a grudge against that coach. If he'd worked more on the TEAM and less on his favorites, I might have been the first to beat Hammerin' Hank's record.

  • Susan Preda says:

    About Mike Dunford's comments/Mr.Preda - It was beautiful to read that about my dad. He is 83 and relys on a walker since he had a bout with lymze disease 2 years ago. He loves people. He enjoys seeing kids when he goes out. He loves life! It was a very flattering story. Good luck to you with your son's team. I'm sure you'll be a fair coach. It sounds like you have your priorities in order. Adults don't always realize what an impact they can have on children; you obviously do.

  • tom crowley says:

    This is indeed a very nice story about
    mr. Preda.i had the great fortune of growing up on decatur ave. in the bronx .. just a few houses away from mr. preda.circa 1960's thru 1975 when we moved to peekskill. He was so the pied piper to the kids.....we'd flock to his stoup where he rolledhis bugler cigs and played hand ball or off the point with the old spalding...he'd think nothing of taking a group of us fishing on a whim....we'd be gone for hours most of the day sometimes....and not one parent even concerned in the least ...because we were with mr. preda.he taught us alot about respect for each other. right from wrong..and how to have a good time ina good healthy way.we left decatur ave. with alot of those values ... adn we hold those memories of mr. preada dear to us.....i just saw mr. preda at the untimely ;and way too early funeral of my brother jim two weeks preda and his daughter came to the calling hours.. it was great to see them brother kept in touch with mr. preda and would meet him and mr. hollo to go fishing everyonce in a while... he was very fond of mr.preda and was so cool that he , with all his ailments, came to the calling hours...he has always been and will always remain a class act.

  • Nancy Cox says:

    Thank you for posting this lovely story about my Uncle Felix, my grandpa's younger brother. What a beautiful picture you have painted with your words!