When I started 8U Travel it was meant to be an outlet as I rediscovered baseball through the eyes of my son and as I gained an understanding of what my old man experienced and a backdrop for his behavior when I was a young ballplayer.
What I “discovered” was a world where the kids, you know, the ones actually playing, are secondary to the needs and power trips of the adults. We all see the headlines every day, everywhere in every youth sport. And so 8U Travel often turned to attempts to wrap my head around that.
The more I wrote though, the more I came to see there were three undeniable truths which made the writing feel pointless.
It’s Truly Hopeless
We like to believe the crazy behavior we see on the sidelines of our kids’ games is something that has been born out of the explosion of the club/travel scene. We like to “remember” how much better it was when we were little leaguers. Well, the nostalgia has fogged our memories. The behavior has been going on since someone first got the idea to take kids games from the sandlot and organize them.
It’s 1979 and I am ten years old. It’s my second year in kid-pitched, organized baseball, and I play for the Gold team. My dad is a coach, we are the best team in the league and I am the best player in the league (I’m not being conceited – I was, but as I’ve said repeatedly being the best at ten means just that and nothing more. I would have much rather have been the best when I got to college.) The next best team is the Orange team. There has been some sort of feud between the coaches since the season began though, at ten, it’s beyond my grasp. It’s a playoff game and I am pitching and, it being 37 years ago, I cannot remember the details other than there is a play at the plate and I am covering the plate and I get barreled over. Perfectly legal play, but I can’t breathe. The wind has been knocked out of me. I have no idea what is happening and I’m scared. As my dad is rushing over to me, the opposing coach yells out “We got him! We got him!”
An isolated incident in a meaningless game in the long history of youth sports? It would be nice to believe so, but who are we kidding?
It’s the adults. It always has been. And the behavior of some has always been atrocious. We just didn’t have the internet or social media or mobile phones, let alone mobile phones which are mini-supercomputers, to publicize the lunacy. So we can tweet about it and blog about it as if it’s all new, but it’s been going on forever and it always will. I ended up going to school with that coach’s kid the next year and we got along famously.
So sure I could have written about the tournament game in which coaches were jumping all over the umpire on every pitch that wasn’t called their way or the four of them who came out to argue with that lone umpire a call on a tag-play at second base or their parent in the stands who berated the umpire in a game we were winning by 15 runs.
But to what end?
As for the fact we’ve gone over the top with “elite” travel t-ball teams and playing 600 games a year. I don’t agree with so many aspects of it, but it’s hard to deny there are some benefits. Giving kids a chance to play into the summer as opposed to the “April, May and see you next April approach” is always going to help kids improve. Moreover, travel-mania is here to stay. You just have to figure out how best to navigate it and not get caught up in the hype – your ten-year-old doesn’t have to play baseball year-round to “succeed.”
Fast Path to Pariah
As much as I remove names and specifics and anything else I think might give a hint as to the identity of anyone or the location of the events, it’s not too hard for anyone close by to decipher the what, where, when or the who. I live in a “small town” when it comes to baseball.
It was all too clear I would be calling out more and more people and putting out an even greater “air of superiority” (basically a “my [expletive-deleted] don’t stink” inference) the more I wrote. I am going to see those very same folks for years to come, our kids are going to interact and I am likely to coach their kids at some point.
There was a post back in the spring which I edited down to the point where it became fairly meaningless as far as I was concerned. But my wife and a friend a trust both kept telling me the original draft was too much. Knowing they were right didn’t make it taste any better, but I still don’t like it.
So I could have written about the sublimely comical time an opposing parent told a parent of a player on my son’s rec team before our game, “We know what you do. We’ve scouted you. We know you bring Johnson in to pitch the last two innings.” Leaving “scouting” 9U rec teams alone, Johnson faced 75 batters over the course of the season, getting 72 outs on 71 strikeouts. Coaching isn’t exactly rocket science when he’s on your team. But anyone in our “baseball family” could easily discern who Johnson is and which game I’m talking about and instantly know the backdrop.
I’m No Different
Mamma bears protect their young fiercely. I’m no different. I am going to do everything I can for my kids and everything I can for my players. And I’m going to react if I think someone is pushing them around. I think the same things any parent or coach thinks when there is a bad call or I feel like someone is taking advantage of them.
I think it is insane to spend anything north of $100 on a bat let alone $280 for a Mako, yet there is a Mako on its way to my house as I write this. I got it cheap enough for sure, but it’s still a Mako when I sincerely believe a kid who can really hit can hit with a broom handle. The bat doesn’t make a difference and if it does the kid isn’t that good a hitter to start with.
When I coach, I am going to use every inch of the rule book bound only by what I believe is fair play for the age level.
In a rec game, an opposing third base coach sent his runner home on an overthrow on a steal of third which is not allowed by our league rules. As the runner was slowly making his way back to third, I had my shortstop tag him. The umpire called the runner out, game-over and that set off the aforementioned post-game incident which I watered down when I wrote about it.
I’ve thought about that play a lot in the intervening time and whether I did the right thing. And every time I ended with the same conclusion: I would do it exactly the same way if we did it another 1 million times.
So I’m no different than anyone else though perhaps I’m a bit better at keeping my mouth shut.
And the point? The point is it’s been a huge drag knowing I am only going to continue to witness and to have to deal with the insanity of youth sports as my kids continue their journey wherever it make take them and for however long they can or choose to stay on the ride. But it’s also been a drag not writing about it. So despite knowing it’s a losing battle and knowing it’s a battle I have to not lose within myself, it’s time to start writing again. After all, just because it’s been going on forever doesn’t make the world in youth-sports-ville any less surreal.