Curveball: Chapter 6| February 17, 2021
“You think he’ll let me switch to a different team? There’s no way I’m playing with those crybabies anymore”
"I’m sorry, Rafi, but the other boys and their parents have requested that you not play in Little League this year,” said Coach Kahan.
Rafi stared at the phone in shock. “What? What are you talking about?” He began rambling, without giving the coach a chance to respond. “How could they say that? You all know that I’m the best player on the team!” Rafi looked toward his parents for support.
Rafi’s father looked at him sympathetically and Rafi’s mother approached him with arms outstretched to hug him. Rafi waved them away and ran up to the phone to shout into the speaker. “No, you know what, Coach? Actually, I don’t care what those boys say, because I’m playing baseball this season! And if they think we can all just handpick our own teams, then let’s do this! Fine! I don’t want to be on a team with a bunch of whiny boys who can hardly catch a ball — I don’t want to play with them either! I’ll pick some real players from the Bears and we’ll make our own team! Who needs them?”
“Mr. and Mrs. Marcus?” asked Coach Kahan. “Can one of you please pick up the phone and take me off speaker?”
Rafi’s father picked up the phone, while Rafi’s mother glanced nervously between her husband and son.
“Yes… uh-huh… I totally agree… No, it’s upsetting, obviously, but no, it doesn’t come as a total surprise to us… Okay, that sounds good… Tomorrow it is. Thank you so much, Coach… You too. Good night.” Rafi’s father hung up.
Rafi had been listening carefully to his father’s end of the conversation with his arms crossed tightly in anger and frustration.
“Look, Rafi, Coach and I agreed that you need some time to let this information sink in. We decided that it would be best if we meet with Coach tomorrow afternoon after school, so that the two of you can have a conversation about this.”
“What’s to talk about?” responded Rafi. As much as he was trying to look tough, Rafi’s parents could hear Rafi’s voice crack as he tried desperately to hold back tears. “You heard Coach… the boys don’t want me. They’ve kicked me off the team and that’s the end of it. I’m not going to talk to Coach tomorrow so he can rub it in. I’m off the team and that’s it.” Rafi put his head down in his hands on the desk as a tear began to roll down his cheek.
Rafi’s mother leaned over and hugged him.
“Rafi, don’t cry,” began his father. “It’s not as bad as that. Coach Kahan assured me that no final decision has been made. He wants to talk it over with you tomorrow when you’re hopefully more calm and able to listen to what he has to say. Coach is confident that together you can come up with a solution that will allow you to play this year.”
“Really?” said Rafi, picking up his head. “You think he’ll let me switch to a different team? There’s no way I’m playing with those crybabies anymore.”
Rafi’s parents exchanged a look of concern and then Rafi’s mother said, “Why don’t we all just wait until tomorrow to find out what Coach has in mind. Until then, Rafi, I hope you can try to think about what would be best for both you and the other boys on the team. I want you to go into tomorrow’s meeting with an open mind. If Coach offers you a chance to stay on the Lions and play baseball this season, you’ll have to find a way to make that work.”
“Or I could just switch to the better team,” responded Rafi matter-of-factly. He stood up and headed for his room.
Rafi felt like the end of the school day would never arrive, but eventually four o’clock came and there was his mother’s car at the head of the carpool line. As Rafi, Noam, and Dina all piled into the car, Rafi’s two younger siblings chattered on as if today wasn’t the most important day of Rafi’s life — the day that would decide his future as a ball player.
As Rafi’s mother parked in their driveway and his siblings hopped out of the car, Rafi turned to his mother. “Okay, so Coach said to meet him at four thirty?” Rafi asked for what must have been the tenth time that day.
“Yes, Rafi, that’s right,” answered Rafi’s mother. “Why don’t you go in and have a snack before we head out to Coach’s house?”
“Eat? Nah, I’m too nervous,” responded Rafi.
“Really? Too nervous for brownies? I made them especially for you,” said Rafi’s mother. “I even made them with frosting and sprinkles.” Before she could finish her sentence, Rafi had jumped out of the car and zipped into the house.
A little while later, Rafi found himself parked in front of Coach’s house and looking nervously at Coach’s front door.
“Okay, Rafi, I’ll be right out here in the car, waiting for you. Just come out when you’re done talking to Coach Kahan.”
“Okay,” mumbled Rafi.
“Good luck, sweetie,” added Rafi’s mother as Rafi got out of the car.
“Thanks,” said Rafi as he waved to his mother and then slowly headed to the front door. Before Rafi knocked on the door, he straightened his shoulders and lifted up his head, determined to appear confident.
The coach opened the door wide and ushered Rafi in with a smile. “Come on in, Rafi. Have a seat here on the couch. Would you like a drink?”
“No, thank you,” answered Rafi quietly, as he waited for Coach to begin.
“Rafi, don’t look at me like that,” Coach said with a smile.
“Like what?” asked Rafi.
“Like I’m the judge and you’re on trial waiting to hear the verdict. I’m not deciding anything here. You are the one who needs to make a decision.” When Rafi looked sufficiently confused but also interested, Coach continued. “Look, Rafi, as I told you yesterday, some of the other boys as well as their parents don’t want you on the team this year. Now before you start getting all upset,” said Coach, holding up his hands as if to physically block Rafi’s potential tantrum, “hear me out. I told the boys and their parents that in our Little League we don’t just kick boys off a team. For any reason. Little League is about having fun, but it’s also an opportunity to grow and develop.”
“Well, most of those boys sure have a lot of room for developing as ball players,” muttered Rafi.
“You’re right, Rafi. They do need to improve in their baseball skills.” Rafi was surprised to hear the coach agree with him. “But,” and here the coach paused for emphasis, “you, Rafi, need to improve in your ability to be part of a team, to be sportsmanlike, basically… to be a mentsh.”
At this point Rafi lowered his eyes and let out a big sigh.
“So as I said before, Rafi, the decision is up to you. Do you want to stay angry and give up the chance to play baseball this year? Or do you want to put in the hard work and learn how to be a team player? Well, Rafi, what’s it going to be?”
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 849)
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