Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Will little league be the death of High School Baseball?

I love baseball! Always have. I grew up playing ball in the local recreation league. I started in T-ball and worked my way up to pitching machine and then on to real live pitching. I made all of the all-star teams and traveled at the end of the season playing for those teams. I got older and started playing high school baseball. Two years on the JV and then my last two years starting on the varsity. This was a pretty normal baseball life for a slightly above average kid with a lot of love for the game. Our parents supported us, took us to practice, made the trips to the game, made sure we were there for the next practice, etc.. Our coaches coached us. They were the boss. We did what they said. We worked hard and hustled or you did not play. They ran the team and if you didn't like it then you could run some fences. Times have changed!

Reid and I went to the ball field last night a little early. It was our first 7:00 game so we have not really had the opportunity to watch any of the other games being played at Lions Park. Lions park is made up of 4 ball fields, all of which can be seen from a central location. As I stood there and watched the 4 games that were being played I couldn't help but notice the fans that were yelling for their team. These people are nuts!! Keep in mind that these kids range from ages 7 to 12, some of which have probably never played the game before. They are being coached by someone who has graciously volunteered their time. They are equipped and provided a nice field to play on by our local DLS, the umpires are paid way to little, and admission to the game is free. You would have thought it was the 7th game of the world series and that the lives of these young children were on the line. Parents were yelling at the players. Parents were yelling at the coaches. Parents were yelling at the other players. Parents were yelling at the umpires. Parents were yelling at other parents. It was really a little hard to believe.

Hank Braddy, who has been a long time little league coach in both football and baseball, and I have talked about this some in the past. He told me to come watch a 9 and 10 year old game in which they actually start keeping score. This is still a pitching machine league. He told me to watch the crowd when a kid strikes out. Sure enough it happened. A kid for the other team strikes out and the fans go crazy. Now let me ask you something. What did your team do that helped that kid strike out? The pitching machine struck that kid out. Unless you are the father of that said pitching machine, shouldn't you encourage that child to try again next time even if he is on the other team? Aren't we trying to teach our kids to love the game?

One of my favorite movies is The Sandlot. It is a baseball movie about some neighborhood kids that played at the local sandlot everyday. It reminds me of Ms. Judy's backyard that I blogged about earlier. They played baseball everyday and took the new kid on the block and turned him into a ball player too so that they could field a team of 9 men. My favorite scene in the movie is when a team of "preppy" ball players ride up to the sandlot on their polished bicycles wearing their matching clean baseball uniforms and new cleats. They challenge the sandlot boys to a game but refuse to play them on the sandlot field because it was not good enough for them. The sandlot boys show up the next day at the "preppy" ball field and can't help but notice all of the shiny new bats, new balls, fresh chalk lines, white bases and manicured grass. The "preppy" boys had been equipped by their parents with everything that they could possibly need to be successful in the game except for one thing. They were never taught to truly respect and love the game. All of the glitter could not beat a team with heart! The Sandlot gang beat those "preppy" boys like a drum and sent them home crying to their mamas. I want those kind of kids on my team. I want kids that don't need the shiny new bats or the latest in baseball gear. I want kids that love the game because it is a great game!

The game of baseball can teach us a lot about life. My pastor, Mike Ruffin, who is a big baseball, fan told me the following in a blog that he wrote to me last summer. I had asked him to give me some guidance on what I should teach Reid about the game of baseball when all of its heroes are either on steroids or money hungry. He offered the following among other things...

"Teach him about the value of teamwork, about how in baseball it’s really difficult ever to give one player the credit or the blame for a loss because it really takes the whole team to win or lose. Teach him that in baseball size doesn’t matter, that some of the greatest players ever to play the game were not great big guys but were in fact really small guys. Teach him that some of the most valuable plays in baseball involve a player giving himself up for the sake of the team—the sacrifice bunt, the sacrifice fly, and hitting behind the runner—and that the players who can do such giving of themselves are just as valuable as—and perhaps more valuable than--the big bashers."

I think that sums it up pretty well and that is the kind of coach and parent that I want to try to be. I want my kids to love the game in every aspect. Sometimes you get to hit a home run or make a big play. Sometimes you are asked to bunt or support your teammates from the dugout. Both are very important to the team!

Now it may sound like that winning is not important to me. Trust me, I want to win every game, but I will not sacrifice the teaching of the game to EVERY kid on my team just because I want to win. I hope that I will try and spend more time with the kids that need more coaching than with the kids that need less. Who knows, you may have a late bloomer on your hands that will grow older and become a better ball player because of the time that you spent with him at practice. I just wish that ALL of the kids received encouragement from the fans to do there best and to keep on swinging!

Now that brings me to my thought on why I think that little league is killing high school baseball. Remember when I said that I played two years of JV baseball and then two years of varsity baseball? That was normal 20 years ago. Guess what, you even had to try out for the baseball team and there was a possibility that you may get cut! (oh the horror) Visit the local high school baseball field today. The varsity is made up of a bunch of freshmen kids because they do not have enough players to field a competitive team using only juniors and seniors. Where are the ball players? I'll tell you where I think they are. They are as far away from a baseball field as they can be. If my parents acted like some of the parents that I see today, I wouldn't have played either. When a Mom or Dad yells at an umpire, it embarrasses the kid. When a parent tries to coach their kid from the stands, it confuses the kid. When a parent yells at the coach, it teaches the kid that the coach and leader of the team does not have to be respected. When a parent yells at the other team, it teaches the kid that sportsmanship does not matter and that you should win at all cost. If you were a kid would you want to play baseball???

You never win every game! I think that kids would rather quit playing the game than play with all of the pressure that parents place on them. It is just a game, yet somehow little league has turned into a pressure cooker for kids and the parents are the ones turning up the heat.

Reid, I promise that I will give you whatever you need to play the game of baseball as long as you LOVE to play the game of baseball. If you love the game then I will help you to be successful. If you love the game then I will give you my time and will be both your father and coach. If you love the game I will teach you about team work and respect for your teammates and coaches. If you love the game I will always be your biggest fan! If you love the game then you will respect the game and I will be a proud parent of a baseball player!

But you know what son? If you do not love the game then I will not force you to play it and I will love you still because you are my son. I will support you in whatever you decide to do. Right now I can only hope that I will be a good father and coach. If I can do that, then you will love the game!

Play Ball son! Daddy/coach loves you!


Michael Ruffin said...

Well said. I think that the problem with the yelling parents etc. is exacerbated by the proximity of the stands to the field in baseball. With football and basketball (especially football), the fans are a little more removed and in both cases there's more background noise going on to drown out the sometimes obnoxiousness of parents and other adults.

We need more parents like my father. When I was on the Little League All-Star team I was put in right field (starting, indeed, but still in right field) rather than my customary first base position which was given to the first baseman from the All-Star coach's team. I complained to my father, probably expecting that he would "speak" to the coach. Instead, he looked at me and said, "Seems to me that you ought to be grateful you're playing right field." End of discussion. End of story.

By the way, Willie Greene (the other first baseman) was a much better player than I.

Trey said...

We could use a few more Dads like that. Just might save baseball!!

CHERI said...

Wow! You make me more and more proud as the years go by. This was well written and from your heart. I wish that all parents would love and respect their children the way you do. Reid is a lucky Luckie!

jmluckie said...

I was always proud of you as a ballplayer but I am more proud of your writing ability and your grasp of the reality of life. Keep hitting home runs. Daddy!

Steve said...


From the viewpoint of a high school coach, you hit many nails on the head. We live in a small town, and the players are friends and sons of friends. Some don't talk to me any longer and some do. And as the TV ad says most go on to be pros in something other than baseball.

Baseball is such a great sport because you fail so often. Fail 7 out of 10 times as a hitter and you are considered good. What other sport would that be true? But life, we do fail and we have to move on. Just like baseball. Your pastor gives good advice. Baseball is about helping others so that you all may succeed.

Great post, and for me a great reminder why I coach. I like to say if it weren't for the kids, I'd be out of teaching and coaching because of the adults.

Steve in Central CA

PS As an English teacher, I'd also like to add that I like your writing style.

Steve said...


I'd like to add you to my bloglist. Okay by you?


Trey said...

Feel free to add me Steve and take some time to look around. I have several post about Baseball scattered throughout. Look for the post about "Ms. Judy". Thanks