Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

La Russa, you big lump of lead

MLB managers can't hold an Easton to pee wee mentors

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MAJOR LEAGUE managers make millions coaching the game, yet many are seemingly emotionless as the innings unfold before them. The coaches at the City Pee Wee Baseball Championships, held this weekend at Little Mountain Sportsplex, refreshingly, are polar opposites.They're the men and women who sling the bag of aluminum bats and catchers' gear over their shoulders while holding up an end of a cooler brimming with sports drinks and quartered oranges.

They're the volunteers who snag the ice for bruised shins and crouch behind home plate to warm up the relief pitcher.

In any given game, they can be master strategists, equipment managers and sports psychologists.

But what happens off the field is as important as what happens on it, says Aime Grenier, coach of the Dakota Lazers AA team.

"You're mainly responsible for player development, player relationships, and keeping the players focused during the course of a game," said Grenier. "They've developed mentally as far as being able to understand what goes on with baseball, and also physically, as to what they can do on and off the field."

Pee wee baseball is a step up in difficulty, as players are allowed to lead off their bases and pitchers are allowed to try to pick them off. Many of Paul Buchanan's Fort Garry Giants in their first year of pee wee adjusted to the new rules quickly, capturing the Winnipeg South A division zone championship.

"It's like real baseball," said Buchanan. "I thought the kids wouldn't be able to figure it out, but they're better than I am. I'm the coach, and they're better than I am.

"They play a lot more real baseball with a lot more intensity, and they're having fun."

Winning isn't the only fun part of the sport, but it can help. Even though the kids aren't pressured to win, they unanimously agreed that becoming zone champion was the highlight of their year.

Chris Reutlinger wasn't coaching this weekend as rain prevented his mosquito A team from competing for the zone championship. The top two regular-season teams advanced, and his Maples squad wasn't one of them.

Still, Reutlinger was in tow to cheer on his nephew's Vince Leah Pirates and to keep his eye on the competition.

"We were here at 8 a.m. and didn't get out of here till 6:30," said Reutlinger. "We're watching all four games at once, watching different diamonds."

For Reutlinger, memories of a surprise playoff run a few years ago flooded back.

"We never won a game all season, and then it came to the playoffs, and we only lost one game," said Reutlinger, 36. "Then we went to the cities and came in second, and then we went to provincials. We ended up third."

Four different divisions are competing to advance to provincials July 17-19. The mosquito (ages 10 and 11) and bantam (14 and 15) AA provincials will be held in Brandon, while the pee wee (12 and 13) AA champions show down in Altona. The midget (16 through 18) AA provincials take place in Morden.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 6, 2009 C4

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