Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Got a kid ready to play ball? Don't be an idiot

Every spring I used to take a break from writing an original commentary by re-publishing a column on youth league baseball that I wrote some 20 years ago after my brief stint as a coach.

With a little updating, I could put that piece back in the can in about 20 minutes, far less time than it would take to write something from scratch.

Readers didn’t seem to mind that I was recycling old stuff because every year there was a new set of idiot parents who were trying their best to ruin the game for the kids even though all of those parents had the best of intentions.

This year I offer a totally new version of my youth baseball/softball league rant.

The youth league game has evolved not only from when I was a kid but also from when my kids were kids. At the risk of alienating some of those new parents in the baseball pipeline (here comes the cliché), when I was a kid parents weren’t really involved. In fact, we were lucky if our dads got to see us play one or two games a season.

Here’s how it worked back in the day: A group of pals, taking a break from playing ball, would decide to form a team. The guys would pick a “captain” from the group who then would collect a dollar from each kid who wanted to play on the team.

Team members then would vote on a name chosen from the names of current major league players. Cleveland Indians players were the most popular, and one year I was lucky enough to play on the Rocky Colavitos. Rocky was the best Cleveland Indian ever, at least in my mind.

Anyway, when he got enough money, the captain would hike across the street to the city’s recreation office, plop down the team fee of $15 and find out when the jerseys would be available. (Jersey Distribution Day really was a great day in the neighborhood.)

The league would start after school recessed for the summer and be played – get this – mornings and afternoons at various parks in the city. Kids got to their games by riding their bicycles. How novel is that?

Do you get it? Fathers couldn’t be involved in the process because they were working.

And moms? Well, they were too busy tending to the house to pay much attention. If they did come to the games, they sat quietly in the stands and clapped at inappropriate times because, well, it was the ’50s and ’60s and moms didn’t much pay attention to baseball back then.

Baseball was everything to me. Maybe that was because a fun Saturday was riding a bus with my pals to the Rapid Transit train and then walking a short way to Cleveland Municipal Stadium to catch a day game with the Tribe. Two bucks was all you needed, but you couldn’t be in the doghouse with Mom or Dad because if you were, wrangling money from them was nearly impossible.

The sport so captivated me that I used to dream about finding an abandoned semi-truck trailer full of Reach baseballs, which were the official ball of the American League.

I also coveted the Wilson A2000 baseball glove, which by all standards was the best glove in the world. The price tag, if I remember correctly, was $35 and not within reach of the Farrell family. One of my life’s regrets is that I never owned one. (They are still being made and now cost more than $200.)

Anyway, I’m getting away from the purpose of this commentary, which is to lay into parents who are bent on killing the game for their children. For goodness sake, let them play for the sake of playing baseball (or softball).

Chances are the kids in Dover or New Philadelphia or Sugarcreek or wherever are not headed to the big leagues anytime soon and frankly they aren’t that good and won’t be. Oh, maybe one or two or even three. But that’s about it. So, the odds are that your kid better study.

Seriously. They’re not that good. Sorry to burst your bubble.

And you know who doesn’t care how your 9-year-old did on the diamond last night? Mostly everyone. They’re just not interested, so don’t bore your friends with the intimate details of your star’s Little League game.

Today, the games are played not for the kids but for the parents. Now there are travel teams for kids in coach-pitch leagues – you know, where the score is 25 to 12 after two innings. And you traveled two hours to the game to see that? For goodness sake, get a grip.

Think your 5-year-old wouldn’t be happy playing a game up at the park with an ice cream cone later at Softies?

Oh yeah, ever notice what the losing players do after a close game? They head right to the parent in charge of snacks. Having been a coach, I can testify that snacks will always ease the agony of defeat. They don’t even have to be good snacks, like Snickers. They can be generic potato chips.

I don’t know about all the leagues, but I heard at least one is offering teenagers $25 to umpire youth league games this year.

Think about that. That’s about $10 an hour. Is it because few teens want to umpire games and put up with idiot parents yelling at them about subjective ball/strike calls? Of course that’s the reason.

I have a couple of words about all-star teams. Hate them. Want a real all-star team? Let the kids pick them. Don’t ask the adults/parents to pick the all-stars. Ask the kids. You’ll get kids on those teams who deserve to be on them.

And for goodness sake, don’t openly criticize your kid from the bleachers when he drops the throw from third or forgets to tag a base or strikes out. From my experience, public humiliation never works. I’ll bet it doesn’t work for you, Dad.

Not every kid wants to or needs to play youth league baseball/softball and some of that has something to do with their lack of hand/eye coordination. Please don’t force them. There are plenty of other alternatives.

The best thing you can do for your kids is play catch with them. Hit balls to them. Explain the rich history of the game. But stay out of it otherwise. Leave them with good feelings about their youth, not some forced play-the-game-so-dad-can-be-happy remembrance.

OK, there’s my 2012 version of the rant. Play ball, kids.

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Mama Bean said...

So funny you would write about this today. I just talked to a client about this exact topic. My son is a very good baseball player, but he doesn't like Little League. He started too young and was bored to tears. Now, after 2 years of not playing, he's worried that at 9, he'll be behind. My daughter is 6 and doesn't "have a sport" yet- we are clearly terrible parents!! What happened to playing and then when you're in junior high or high school playing seriously? I can't imagine that kids are done with a sport by 7 because they don't make the traveling team- but that's how it works these days. It's sad.

Jonalee said...


Anonymous said...

Mr farrell, thanks for your weekly columns.