A few weeks back, the Millburn Patch, the local online news and information service, put out the call for bloggers and I figured…what the hell. Earlier today, my most recent blog for The Patch went up. In it, I recall one day on the Millburn Little League field. You can take a look at http://millburn.patch.com/blog_posts/little-league-daze
I got a very interesting response from my fellow SU ’82 Dean Stevens, which I’d like to share with you all because it so closely mirrors what I and so many parents that I know have gone through.
An Open Letter To A Little League Coach
“Dad, I love baseball.”
And with those words, I took my boy, then 3, to the local batting cage and started him on his way in America’s favorite pastime.
Three years old, and hitting 25 mile per hour fastballs was quite a feat I was told. The other kids and parents would surround the cage and watch my little guy take his swings… several comments from the onlookers made Dad feel proud. The kid had a smile on his face that would last the next 7 years…
“Dad, I love baseball.” Then on to Little League we go son. You’re doing so well, we’ll even skip T-Ball and go straight to the big time… live pitching by a coach! I’ll even offer to be the coach… teach the other kids the love for the game that I’m teaching you. New friends for the both of us… lots of fun.
Five, six, seven years old, and hitting up to 40 mile per hour fastballs became the norm for the kid. Batting cleanup with a .700 + average brought more annual accolades from the other kids and parents. “Hey coach, your kid’s got something special!” Dad’s still feeling proud.
The kid turned 8… the fastballs at the batting cage were 50 mph and still being hit hard with regularity. The fielding started to kick in too… the kid played third base and shortstop with a good arm. A good arm that help the kid develop into a relief pitcher for his 9 year old team. More friends… more fun.
Then the ultimate season… 10 years old, a starting pitcher and shortstop in a new league (Dad relocated), batting cleanup with a .650+ average, a regular season first place finish and a post-season playoff championship. The kid was on the mound for the season’s last out and is lifted up in Dad’s arms and carried off the field in celebration. Teammates are congratulating each other… parents making plans to reminisce next month poolside. Who’s having more fun now… the kid or Dad?
“Dad, I love baseball.”
Congratulations, kid… you made the post-season All-Star team. You get to enjoy the game for another 2 months. “Great, Dad… you gonna coach?” No, son… I’ve coached you for 7 years now… worked with you to make yourself an All-Star… your new coaches are bigger, better, brighter… going to help make your dream come true; show you what it takes to be a major leaguer…
Seven years of loving fatherly advice, counseling, monitoring, instructing… instilling a desire in the kid to win and to improve, striving to impart as much baseball knowledge as possible to the kid and his teammates, shaping acceptable behavior patterns whether the team wins or loses. Time now for Dad to sit back and enjoy his boy’s heroics. “I could make a million dollars with the Mets, Dad.” Dad’s got a big smile. The kid’s got a bigger one; great anticipation.
Summer All-Stars… More new friends for the kid and Dad… new coaches in a new town; new learning experience on a new team… more baseball; more fun… %$#@&*! For the Summer of ’96, hope turned into despair; excitement into disappointment; the kid’s smile into a frown. Even Dad shed a tear.
Experience the sudden shock of coaches who manage the team as a personal showcase for their own sons… coaches that accentuate the negative without any praise for the positive. Coaches who ignore the young egos, tirades, moodiness and unfriendly teasing amongst the pre-teens on the field with no understanding of the emotional needs of the age group they supervise. Coaches (and their sons) who show no appreciation of the philosophy of the Little League in making the program of mutual benefit to all.
Dad’s all for competition – as long as it’s fair. Your kid plays third base? Tough… my son’s there. Shortstop? Sorry, that’s the other coach’s son’s position. Pitcher? First base? Those kids’ fathers are on the Board Of Directors. No rudiments of teamwork and fair play here. Good sportsmanship and discipline? Not an attainable goal this summer… not with kids who demonstrate anti-social, destructive and immoral behavior… not with Coaches (and their sons) who in 8 weeks can negate the love for a game the young kid had developed for 7 years.
Inning upon inning, hour upon hour, game upon game, the former 3 year old phenom sat his quick bat, fast feet and competent glove in the dugout… left out, confidence wading, with family and friends traveling the State to sit in the stands without a glimpse of the kid emerging from the dugout. A couple of summer tournaments and a dozen games later, here are the kid’s stats: One (1) at bat: one (1) base on balls; two (2) innings playing out of position in the outfield: no attempts, no putouts… in a League that is supposed to provide an opportunity for each youngster to participate in every game.
“Dad, I hate baseball.”
Tough summer, son. Breaks my heart.
Hey managers… hey coaches… Little Leaguers are children, not professional players, and need encouragement, not criticism… from you and your sons (it’s a team sport, remember?). You can exert a wonderful influence upon your players – an influence which can be as fine an educational experience as any youngster might undergo – or you can be a menace to our children.
Let our kids enjoy the game for what it is. If it isn’t fun… it isn’t Little League!