Little league coaches stress ‘FUN’damentals

  • Published
  • By Brandice J. O'Brien
  • Tinker Public Affairs
It was a cloudy and windy Thursday afternoon that threatened torrential rains. But no spirits or clothes were dampened. Instead, players came to the field dressed in matching Orioles uniforms -- gray pants, orange uniform shirts and black-and-orange ball caps. Clutching their personal bats and gloves, one by one they beamed up at the larger version of themselves, their coaches, awaiting direction.

The Tinker Youth Center little league team practiced for their big game against the Twins May 19 at the baseball fields behind the building. Twelve 5- to 8-year-old boys and girls assembled on the field, practicing catches, throws, fielding ground balls and tagging bases. Fits of laughter, tears and frustration followed, but few, including those in the stands, were deterred.

"This program is about teamwork, sportsmanship and fun," said Coach Mike Hagan, a senior airman assigned to the 72nd Security Forces Squadron. "It's about finding balance, teaching them the fundamentals and having fun at the same time."

Hagan and Ricky Andrews, also a senior airman with the 72nd SFS, volunteered to coach the team the start of the season. Having grown up with a love for the game, they talked about coaching a team together. When the two saw signs around base, their fate was sealed.

Even though neither coach has children of his own, they weren't deterred and won their team's trust by being patient and working with the kids at their individual paces.

"They're all good kids," Andrews said. "They're very respectful, have a will to learn and have shown improvement."

The Orioles practice twice a week -- Wednesdays and Fridays -- for roughly an hour.
"That's pretty much all you can get the kids' attention for," Andrews said. "After that they just want to run the bases."

The Orioles play one of three other teams in their age group twice a week -- Tuesdays and Thursdays. Games alternate between a 5 and 7 p.m. start.

Following the basic rules of the baseball, the machine-pitch games allow the kids to hone their skills while emulating their baseball heroes.

Neither 8-year-old Christian nor 5-year-old Connor Dong is stranger to the game. Their father, Capt. Brandon Dong, of the 965th Airborne Air Control Squadron, introduced them to the sport and they're hooked. In the past, the deployed captain has played on Tinker's varsity baseball team.

"I've learned the right position and putting my hands together," said Connor, a rookie to the team. "I'm happy to have our team and great teammates. Some have good throws."
Connor and Christian's mother, Amy Dong, agreed.

"They're good coaches. They're doing a great job. They're very encouraging," Mrs. Dong said. "I'm very happy."

Christian emulated his brother's thoughts.

"We have great coaches and I've learned to keep my eye on the ball. If it goes like this and down to the ground, you don't to swing at it. If it goes this way, you swing," he said, using hand movements. It's Christian's third year on the team. "Keep your eye on the ball, don't look at anything else."

During the game, Christian caught a pop-up fly ball and Connor attempted to bunt, later asking a parent coach, "Is bunting allowed in this league?"

Though the Orioles lost the game by two runs, Andrews said he is proud of the team.
"We did awesome," he said. "Parents really need to get their kids involved in the league. The more kids that are involved, the bigger the league will be."