This summer I quit my job at The Daily Sentinel as a designer and graphic artist and traded it in for a ballcap.

And although this statement is entirely false, you wouldn’t know it if you asked one of my softball players.

“How much do you get paid for being a coach?” asks Alina, 11, before one of our softball games. “Nothing,” is my reply.

“Wait, so this isn’t your real job?” she says, confused.

No, no it’s not, Alina. She asks, “Then why do you do it?”

Why? Being a coach and mentor for young kids is among the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had. It’s the reason I keep coming back.

My journey as a volunteer with Grand Mesa Little League began four years ago as an opportunity to help coach my daughter Anna’s T-ball team. Her love for the game has grown as the seasons have passed, making it apparent where we’ll be each spring: just a stone’s throw away from Texas Roadhouse on 28¾ Road.

Only this time, we weren’t there until summer.

AN INTERESTING SEASON FROM THE START

Little League registration often happens in early February, and most teams were already formed before the COVID-19 pandemic changed life as we knew it.

When Little League International suspended play in March, I grew skeptical we would get to play this season. It became a waiting and guessing game. Would we play? When would we play? What would it look like if we did?

When Mesa County transitioned into Phase 2 of the state’s public reopening variance in late May, organized youth sports activities were able to resume.

Finally, it was time to play ball! Colorado District 1 Little League players dusted off their mitts, broke out the bats and observed safety protocols for COVID-19 with each player bringing their own helmet and water bottle.

We were ready for air high-fives and elbow bumps.

WATCHING THE TEAM AND MY DAUGHTER’S GROWTH

This year, my daughter Anna, then 8, and I decided to make the leap from the Coach Pitch Baseball division to Minors Softball, which includes girls ages 8–11. With Anna on the low end of the age spectrum, we knew it would be a challenge, but we’re glad we made the jump.

I was reluctant to take on a lone head coaching role, but I couldn’t have ended up in a better situation, making a new friend in co-coach Rebecca Snyder. She was the glue that held our team together.

We were given the Red Team jerseys, but quickly adopted the Red Diamonds moniker and our brand was born.

Our team came into the season without a player who had pitched before, which was a tall task to overcome in just a couple weeks of practice. Several girls stepped up and embraced every challenge we faced.

Anna practiced and helped fill the void as one of our team’s pitchers, and the emotions of watching her record her first strikeout forced me to bite my lip.

And her first hit? An overwhelming feeling of pride in seeing her hard work pay off. Being both coach and dad is a tedious juggle of emotion.

HEAT, SMOKE AND DROUGHT

With COVID-19 on our minds and temperatures quickly pushing beyond 100 degrees as the season started, we knew this would be a season unlike any other.

We equipped each player with her own water fan mister for the dugout and our team wore shorts and knee-high socks instead of pants.

We played games in Fruita, where we were stationed behind the dugout rather than facing the sun from the west.

And just when we started to find our groove, the nearby Pine Gulch wildfire added more challenges for our gritty girls to meet. Smoke and poor air quality forced the cancellation of some practices and games, but eventually we were able to play on, with all 20 games in the record books.

It was a long and very fun season. COVID-19, smoke, heat, fires and a lack of rain made for some tricky evenings. But a great group of kids and parents banded together to make the season a great success.

Although I didn’t make any cash along the way, I am now rich with plenty of memories.

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