In three years of coaching the Fort Myers (Fla.) American Little League team, Josh Morfis has experienced the peaks and valleys, the highs and the lows with his senior (ages 13-14) softball team.
The 2013 season ended with a loss in the regional finals in what he describes as a "tear fest."
The next season ended with a win in the regional finals and a trip to the Little League World Series. Then 2015 returned to a low with a loss in the state finals in their backyard, DeLeon Park.
Morfis had a lot to say to his players. He didn’t want to give them the impression they underachieved. He knew how hard they had worked in the six weeks they were together. But there were those on the team, including daughter Kaylee, who thought they should’ve won the game.
So when Morfis spoke with the players, he winged his speech.
“It was basically, ‘Keep your heads up,’ normal coaching stuff,” Morfis said. “I talked about what we could’ve done better, like not doing the small things needed to win the game, like getting base runners over.
“But we also were No. 2 in the state of Florida and won our previous five games by 10-run rule. It was a great experience. I enjoyed it.”
For the past six, seven, eight years, Morfis had bonded with these players. He not only coached them but many hung around the house with Kaylee. He financially helped those players who couldn’t cover some of travel costs.
“I treat them like my own kids,” he said.
“And if they’re better than my daughter, they play,” Morfis continued. “I don’t play daddy ball; you have to earn your spot. Kaylee plays shortstop on her high school team, but there is another player better here so she plays third. In one tournament, she struggled hitting. Her fielding was good. So we had a designated hitter for her.”
Morfis had a lot of experience returning, so he and his players had high expectations. They had practiced almost daily for five weeks.
“They worked their butts off, day in, day out,” he said. “I told the girls if we lost, it wasn’t because we were not prepared. We would get beat by the better team. We definitely put the time in.”
Morfis and his team were thrown a curve ball when administrators ruled that Fort Myers had to play in states, even though the regional hosts often don’t have to. Morfis treated it as an obstacle to push past, much like a bad call or a third strike on a high pitch.
“There’s a lot of life lessons, a lot of stuff they learn that they can apply the rest of their life,” he said. “Never give up, don’t hang your head, work harder, try to overcome it.”
What is most impressive is that his players will return to DeLeon Park this weekend to cheer on the team who beat them.
“We’re not poor sports,” Morfis said. “And we want to keep the regional championship. It was a great run, hats off to the other team, they deserved it.
“We’ll come back next year and go back at it again.”