The Wisconsin Historical Society Press published ‘Hope Is the Thing: Wisconsinites on Perseverance in a Pandemic’. In this series, we feature five writers who share their experiences as they explore hope in the era of Covid. Louie V. Clark III contributed an essay to the book.
Louie V. Clark | WIsconsin
I have four sons and they all played Little League. A few years later, one of the fathers of another player on my son’s team, who actually had been drafted by the Cubs back in ’72, asked me if I’d help him coach for one tournament. So I did. And then the next year he asked me if I’d help him coach again, and somehow or other, I ended up coaching youth baseball for nineteen years. For the first few years, I coached like everyone else. Then I think it was in 1996, when I was coaching one of my younger son’s teams, that I started coaching my own way.
My son was a good ball player, a very good pitcher. This particular year our team was out of the running for trophies. So I talked with the coach of the other team and said, ‘Why don’t we use pitchers who have never played before, just to give them the experience?’ And he agreed. But then when we showed up at the diamond that night, he decided to put his number one pitcher against us. But we went with our program, and entering the last inning, we were ahead by one run. One of our players, Matt, was scheduled to pitch for our last inning. I knew that if I put in my son that he could strike out the side and we would win. So I brought all the twelve year olds together and said, ‘Do you want to go for the win? Or do we keep with the program?’ All the kids said, ‘You promised Matt that he could pitch.’ So that showed me that even though winning is important, keeping your promises to kids and letting them all play is more important. So I played Matt, and we won anyway.
My wife was always in the dugout taking care of the kids. Together we developed a program for our team. We had fifteen kids on the team, and the program was that each kid would get four innings a game, no matter how good they were. Over the course of the next eight years, we had two undefeated seasons and three championships. So the kids really bought into it the program that they would all get to play.
I did a lot of reading when I was young. The Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers, Don Quixote. So I knew that there were better lives out there than how I grew up, better ways to live a life. And I wanted that for my family. My wife and I wanted to build a foundation for our kids to be able to fly as they got older. We set our own structure and created our own life the way we wanted it to be. There were a lot of hard times because we were poor for a long time. And being an Indian, unfortunately, there were a lot of doors closed to me. But I went to school at night for twenty-five years and got my degree. All six of our children received their degrees and have successful lives—some of my kids got their degrees before I did.
I started writing when I was a kid. It has always been important to me because it was something that I thought I could do, and I thought I could do it well. I had some tough times in my childhood, and writing made me feel better. Plus, Clark Kent, Superman’s alter ego, was a newspaper man. When I was little, I thought I was Superman. Even though some teachers didn’t think my writing was good, I liked it. So I just kept writing and never really actually tried to do anything with it. I had a teacher who told me I was a good writer in high school. In 2010, there was an advertisement in the newspaper that said if you are a writer, send us some samples. So I did. One thing led to another and a chapbook of my poems was published, and won a few awards. A few years later the Wisconsin Historical Society Press published my books, How to Be an Indian in the 21st Century and Rebel Poet.
When BJ Hollars put out a call for stories about hope for a book he was editing, I got excited. I thought of a story from coaching Little League when I saw hope in a fastball. At the time, my youngest son had come home one day and told us that James, a nine-year-old neighbor, was sad because he felt left out. He had a stroke when he was six years old and couldn’t physically compete with the other kids. So we had him join our team and he was a full member of the team. At his first practice he could only use one arm, and he was lame in one leg and had to wear a brace. I worked with him on catching and throwing.
We had a lot riding on the last game of the season. I am very competitive once the game starts, but I have to follow my team rules. During the game, the kids came up to me and said, ‘Hey, you forgot to let James pitch.’ It just so happened that the other team had a runner on first and Preston, the best batter in the league, was coming to bat. So I put James in to pitch. You could see that Preston was all pumped because he thought he was going to hit the game-winning two-run home run. But James wasn’t very strong so the bottom fell out on his fastball pitch. Preston swung as hard as he could, just topped it, and the ball dribbled to our shortstop. A quick toss to the second baseman and, boom, we won the game. There was a lot of hope in that fastball.