Keep Youth Baseball in Perspective
By Bryan Powers
I was all geared up today to put together a post on the centennial anniversary of Boston’s Fenway Park. But in lieu of something I saw earlier this week, I am going to pass on the Fenway bit and go a little off the major league path today. The usual Stat-O-Matics and Horsehide History tidbits are still at the bottom of the article, but please bear with me as I get a little something off my chest today. I assure you that tomorrow your regularly scheduled programing will return with the Sunday Stat-O-Matics.
The odds of a child who plays elite level travel baseball making it to the major leagues are roughly one in a thousand. Please read that again before going any further.
I love baseball. Some would say, and some have said, that my love for the game is rather unhealthy. Sadly, they are probably right, at least to a certain extent. One of the things I love most about the game is the time I get to spend at our local ballpark with my son, helping to coach his PeeWee league team. For those of you who are unfamiliar with PeeWee ball, lets just call them seven-year olds.
I love everything about it, too, especially the little things. I love when our utility man, Levi, smiles from ear to ear after hitting a one-hopper off the fence when he had never before realized that he had the power to do such a thing. I love watching one of our outfielders, Parker, excitedly put on the catchers gear when we give him an inning behind the plate. I love when Brett, our second baseman, learns what it means not to have a “10 cent head”. I love seeing Brock, a platoon player, puff out his chest while admiring the stitch mark on his forearm where he was plunked with an errant heater, realizing that the pain does go away pretty fast and there is no need for an amputation. Most of all, though, I simply love spending time with the kids, seeing them develop, teaching them how to play the game the right way, and to at all times understand and apply the value of good sportsmanship.
In our game Thursday night (keeping in mind that most of these kids are seven years old), one of our better hitters put one over the fence in left field. This is quite the accomplishment, as there are only a handful of kids in this league who have ever managed this feat. At least we thought he hit a home run. The ball did go over the fence and roll into the parking lot, mind you, but instead of a home run, the batter was called out. Why? He was called out and his home run was taken away because the opposing coach appealed to the umpire that while running around first and high fiving his dad (the first base coach), he missed touching first base by a few inches. Yeah, a few inches. A seven-year old kid, in all his excitement, while watching his proud father reach out to touch him and share the glory, missed the base. And while technically the rule states that he must touch every bag, no advantage was gained by missing the base. No harm was done. No one was even looking at his feet while he ran…except for the other coach. The opposing coach, who has known the hitter for some time now and even coached him in All-Stars last summer, took a home run away from a seven-year old kid. Have I mentioned that part yet?
I have been coaching youth sports for over 20 years. In doing so, I have always taken pride in not being the guy who must win at all costs. I do not want to be Vic Morrow’s character from “The Bad News Bears”. I try to go out of my way to make sure that at the end of the season, every kid is better than he was at the start, that every kid has fun and wants to return the following season, that every kid learns a respect for the game and playing it the right way. Now I am no angel, I assure you, and I am far from perfect as a ball coach, don’t get me wrong. I do, however, have the ability to keep the great game of baseball in perspective. And I am fortunate enough to work with three other coaches and a great group of parents who also hold these values.
I could not tell you without looking it up what our teams record was last fall, or where we placed in the end of the season tournament. I simply don’t remember. But I bet you there are coaches that do remember. The reason that I don’t, though, is because winning is not everything to me. The old, corny saying that many of us grew up hearing ad nauseam is true, “It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game”. I didn’t learn this until I became and adult and a coach myself. But I did learn it.
Go to Youtube sometime and search under “little league fight” and you will see an endless video scroll of parents and coaches who have no ability to control themselves, who cannot separate the athlete they never were with the athlete they want their son to be. They have as much if not more passion for the game that I have but they simply cannot process the thought of failure. And when they base their delusional definition of success on the actions of a group of kids who would be just as happy playing X-Box as they are playing baseball, they often lose the ability to use good judgement. This is what led this coach to take a home run away from a child. He took this kids glory, his pride, his self-esteem, and his childhood away from him Thursday night. And he did it only to improve his chances of winning a PeeWee baseball game. Unfortunately, every park in the country has this guy, Mr. Overzealous Coach.
The funny thing is that I feel sad for this coach. I am saddened that he has let his ego get so far ahead of him that he can no longer enjoy the fact that his kids idolize him, and that they have as much fun spending a day at the park with their dad as they do playing the game. I am saddened that they cry every time they make a mistake, not because they performed poorly, but because they feel like they have let their dad down by not being as perfect as he expects them to be. It hurts me that most children who have fathers with overblown expectations and distorted perceptions of what youth baseball is all about often take on that same attitude and disregard for the game when they become adults.
Kids, this next part is specifically for you. Baseball is the greatest game on the planet. It combines athletic ability with cerebral strategy (ask your parents to explain that one). But baseball is only a game, and it loses its luster when you fail to play it with class and respect. When an opposing player makes a nice grab and robs you of a hit, give him a pat on the back and go get him next time. If the guy on the other team hits one out, high-five him as he runs the bases instead of watching his feet. If you strikeout or misplay a grounder, get over it and keep your head in the game knowing that you will make up for it the next time. If you lose a game, shake the other teams hands and be confident that you did your best. As I have told my son Ethan before every game he has ever played, there are three simple rules of baseball. Listen to your coaches. Have fun. Do your best. Kids, obey these three principles and baseball will always be something you enjoy.
If you have a respect for the game and your opponents, if you appreciate the opportunity you have to play, if you keep it in perspective and accept your imperfections, baseball will be as good to you as it has been to me. More importantly, by respecting the great game of baseball, you will learn to respect yourself. Sadly, some people never learned that.
- Matt Kemp is the first NL hitter with 8+ HR in team’s 1st 14 G since Carlos Lee (8), Adam Dunn (8) & Albert Pujols (10) in ’06.
- Jamie Moyer has now beaten 4 pitchers who weren’t alive when he debuted.
- Josh Willingham is the first player since Kirby Puckett in 1994 to have a hit in each of the Twins first 13 games of the year.
- Curtis Granderson’s 14 total bases on Thursday are the most for a Yankees player since Joe DiMaggio had 14 on Sept 10, 1950.
- Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier of the Dodgers have more RBI’s than the Phillies and Pirates do.
- The Yankees swung at 51 pitches from Red Sox Clay Buchholz yesterday and missed only 3 times.
- Last day MLB had 2 Inside Park HRs AND a triple play on same day: May 31, 1980. Until last night.
- Alex Presley Inside Park HR to leadoff was the Pirates first leadoff IHR since Omar Moreno in 1980.
- 2012 Red Sox – 23 HR allowed in 13 games. 1912 Red Sox – 18 HR allowed in 154 games.
- The No. 5 starter in the Nationals’ rotation has an ERA under 1.00 after his start last night.
- Red Sox starters’ ERA since Sept. 1, 2011, including today: 6.72. Their record in that time is 11-29.
- If you just counted Nolan Ryan’s Ks at Home (3,270), he would rank 12th all-time.
- 1904 – Ty Cobb makes his professional debut for Augusta (South Atlantic League), hitting a double and home run in an 8-7 loss to Columbus.
- 1957 - Jesse Orosco born
- 1982 – The Atlanta Braves beat the Cincinnati Reds 4-3 for their 13th straight victory to open the season.
- 1994 – Indians first baseman Eddie Murray hits home runs from both sides of the plate in a game for the 11th time in his career to break Mickey Mantle’s record.