In all my years of coaching I have always tried to leave a positive impact on the players I have coached. I have always thought about the future and how I am not just showing someone how to hit and field but I am also attempting to show my players some traits to get them through life. Whether it be a lesson on discipline, teamwork, laughter in the face of what on the surface seems serious, focus and so much more. I am always acutely aware that my players will outlive me. Maybe that’s why I am so sad that one of them hasn’t….
Today I learned that young Susan Baird had passed away around 4:45 this morning. Susan was a kid I coached that I will remember forever. She was sweet, funny, hard working (extremely hard working) and my friend.
Susan was one of only a few Third graders who played on my 3rd and 4th grade team in the summer of 2012. We were the Puma’s and we were good. By good I mean division winning good. I mean so good that most games were not even close. In fact if it weren’t for a really good team from Rochester we would have been undefeated.
The team was mostly 4th graders. Some like my daughter moved up to the division in 2nd grade so it was their third year playing in the division. The 4th grade girls were very talented and it was hard for any of the 3rd graders to get any traction early on in practice. Some of them were just learning the game and they were on the team with
these girls who were really advanced. It must have been hard to learn in the presence of such girls so far more advanced. I imagined it would be frustrating. But then I met Susan. She was the kid that had the least amount of experience. She was the player who would watch the other girls with a look of awe and desire to one day be that good. She was someone who realized in order for her to gain notice it was gonna take a lot of hard work. Man, did she work hard. She ran full speed every time the team was told to take a jog around the field. She threw as hard as she could when the team was told to play a light game of catch. She cheered hard for her teammates when she wasn’t in the game. She swung hard every time on every pitch in batting practice. She listened and watched other people be told how to do things that she hadn’t yet learned.
She went from the youngest and most inexperienced player at the beginning of the season to a player that I would put into the game during any situation. In fact one of my favorite coaching tales involve her. It was one of our last games of the season in a game we were losing Susan was in the game. She had not had much success against really good teams. She had struck out a few times in a row. It was a point where most kids would have gotten frustrated but not Susan. She was possibly going to bat in the inning. Our lead off hitter got on with a hit. The next batter struck out. Then the following batter took four balls and had to hit off the coach, she got a hit. two runners on. The next girl gets strike two and Susan is on deck. There was a thought that went through my head to take her out of the game and let another girl bat. I was considering it because I thought that she might be really upset if she made an out to end the game. I went to talk to her in the batting box and asked if she was okay. She looked at me the way she always did. That look like she really didn’t want me looking back. It’s hard to explain but that’s how Susan was. I asked if she was good to go and she simply said “good to go coach” then she smiled. I knew right then that even if she struck out she was going to be fine. She might be upset but it wasn’t going to last very long. I also knew one other thing at that moment… She was going to swing hard or at least as hard as she could because that’s what Susan always did.
Do I even need to finish the story? She got a hit. I hope as the years go on the story becomes that it was a hard line drive to the outfield and she got the walk off hit. What it actually was though was a hard hit ball that bounced to third base, Bella (my daughter) and a girl named Kylie (our pitcher) scored to tie the game when the third baseman on the other team threw the ball away. Susan swung hard and we eventually won the game. She smiled and did a little bounce on first base which she stayed on because she was too scared to run to second even though the first base coach had told her to go. The rest of the coaches laughed because Susan had gotten a hit. A big hit. Even though she could have turned it into a double she stayed at first because of excitement. She then while standing on the base did some weird dance thing with standing on her toes and doing some type of Dance stretch thing. I just laughed. I had seen her do the dance stretch thing in practice before. I remember teasing her and asking if she was gonna dance or practice, she always smiled. Eventually we won the game. Susan scored the go ahead run. I wish it was more exciting but we ended up scoring the max of 5 runs that inning and 5 more the next including a HR by Sophie (our 3rd baseman). Because of that hit it would have been easy to forget about Susan’s hit but the girls didn’t. They congratulated Susan and patted her on the head when she came back to the dugout. I remember the look on Susan’s face when Julie and Hailey (two forth graders) told her good job. She was so happy to be “one of the gang” and to contribute. She got to count out the 1-2-3 before we yelled PUMAS. She was really happy.
I saw Susan a few weeks later when I was broadcasting live at the Illinois State Fair. I had brought my daughter Bella with me that day and she was bored wile I was broadcasting. She was slouching in her chair waiting for my show to end when suddenly she perked up and said “Susan’s here”! Susan was visiting the fair with her grandparents and she invited Bella to walk around the fair and ride the sky ride with her. I remember the two of them waving to me as they passed over the area from where I was broadcasting. They were both smiling so much. It was the same smile as the hit. It’s the smile I will always remember Susan Baird having.
That was Susan.
I will miss you Susan. Rest in Peace