Monday, June 30, 2008

Sandlot Baseball.. A Distant Memory.

When was the last time you drove through an American neighborhood and witnesses a group of kids playing a game of pick up baseball?

While I didn’t realize it at the time I consider myself fortunate when I was growing up to have a ball field five minutes walk from my house. When I was a kid I remember riding home on the school bus getting my homework done so I could ride my bike to “The Park” right after I checked in with Mom. During the trip I would prepare myself for the daily selection which determined if you were picked to play with the big kids on the big field or if you were sent down to the so called “minors game” which was played on the grass field with the younger kids. It was baseball until sundown. And when school was over in mid june.. it was baseball sun up to sun down.

Every day you honed your skills and perhaps dealt with the harsh reality that you needed to improve to play with the big kids… and this drove us to improve… on our own… without $45 per half hour instructors and Elite baseball camps. We learned from the older kids, from the pro players we watched on TV, from our little league coaches, from our older brothers. We learned by playing… every day… without parental supervision.

Our neighborhood would challenge other neighborhoods to games. We'd ride our bikes to the visting field and play for bragging rights. The older kids would captain us and would decide who pitched and who played what positions. It had sort of a perfect harmony to it now that I think back about it. We went to bed each night thinking about the next day's game. And if we weren't playing hardball we were playing whiffle ball or pitchback ball.. or countless other baseball related games we made up.

I don’t know when this type of baseball “experience” became extinct in our country but it seems to be long gone. For one, planned neighborhoods generally don’t have a ball field as part of the master plan. In order for most kids to play ball they have to be driven to a ball field. I guess this closed the door on sandlot pickup games and made way for the purely organized baseball life today’s kids experience.

In today’s youth baseball society the adults make the rules, evaluate talent and pick the teams. The kids are merely participants who have no real say over what positions they play or who they play with. Maybe I’m in the minority but I think there’s something to be said for kids picking teams and playing the game on their own. Baseball is a survival sport… back in the day those who fended their way through the maze of peer pressure to be part of a “big kid” sandlot game earned and learned something truly unique.

I wish we as parents would slap ourselves in the face and remember the great life lessons we learned during those pick up games. No.. I don’t want to abolish organized baseball.. but bringing back “kid baseball” as part of the experience would go a long way to help mold and shape well rounded kids with not only baseball skills but life skills.

Coach Bob

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

An Article Every Baseball Parent Should Read...

Here's a great article that I came across today. Every baseball (sports) parent should read it. No additional comment necessary...

Hey, it's just youth baseball - don't be that parent

Saratoga News
06/24/2008 08:06:33 PM PDT

Oh, please tell me I was never that parent ... the parent that I saw over the weekend at my grandson's all-star baseball game.

Please tell me I was never like the mom who screamed at her son each of the three times he struck out--louder each time until the 8-year-old was finally in tears.
Please tell me I was never the dad who commented on everything his son did, hollering out helpful "tips" and offering words of encouragement, but also dealing out negative comments about the play of others.

And please tell me I was never the guy who orchestrated his son's every move, even to the point of positioning him in the outfield, like he had any idea where the kid should be playing or why he should be playing there.

So please tell me I was never that parent when I was a "parent-coach" for the combined 15 or so years that my boys were playing youth and high school baseball.

"Oh, sure you were," said my youngest son, Kevin.
"I was?" I asked in disbelief. "Which one?"
"You can't be serious," said Mike, the oldest. "You were all of them!"
Well, that truly hurts. Here I always thought I was that supportive, reassuring parent who encouraged and nurtured his boys through the youth sports experience.
"Are you kidding?" asked Mike, unsuccessfully fighting back a hearty laugh.

OK, so I do admit to making Mike cry just about every time we drove home from practice during his first year of real baseball. But as any pushy baseball parent knows, that 8-year-old season is critical in the drive to the Major Leagues.

That must be what the parents at Anthony's game were thinking last weekend. After all, any kid who strikes out in an 8-year-old all-star game (uh, did I mention it was only a practice game?) certainly will drop a couple of rounds in the amateur draft.

So as any good parent-coach knows, it's important to get through to the child immediately by screaming at him--even better, have his mother scream "swing" after every pitch. And what kid doesn't like having his mom call him out behind the dugout to yell at him face-to-face after a strikeout? Hey, this kid must have been too young to know that there's no crying in baseball, because the tears were falling faster than the pitcher's earned run average after that third strikeout.

Well, I must admit that I learned my lesson a few weeks into Mike's 8-year-old season and we enjoyed another dozen or so tearless years where he experienced more than his share of success. And it must have been a pretty positive experience for him, because he's now a high school baseball coach.

Hopefully, the mom of Anthony's teammate will soon learn a similar lesson, though (as any self-respecting nosy newspaperman would do) I discovered by eavesdropping that she had other sons playing elsewhere. I sure hope they're swinging.

And as for the dads, their sons would be much better off if they'd just let them play and leave the coaching to the coaches (hey, there's a novel thought!).

It's the negative comments, though, where the line should certainly be drawn. There's no reason for a parent to criticize any player on the field--his own son, his son's teammates or even the players on the opposing team. It's youth baseball, for crying out loud--8-year-old youth baseball in this case!

I bring this all up now for a couple of reasons. First of all, I just saw these parents in action on Saturday, and from the perspective of a grandfather sitting in the bleachers I was appalled by their actions and I was embarrassed for them. Secondly, the all-star season is starting in full swing this week for Little League baseball players of all ages, and maybe this can serve as a wake-up call.

And finally, from the point of view of someone who's been through it before, my advice is for parents to enjoy every moment from the stands and cheer on your children and their teammates with encouragement, not criticism. You will all have a more enjoyable experience.
"Sure, Dad, until the ride home," said Kevin. "We never wanted to ride with you because if we had a bad game you'd lecture us all the way home."

"Yeah," I said, "but remember--if you had a good game, you got ice cream!"
Performance incentives. Now there's a subject for another day.