The Tillicum Crushers lost just the other night, again, to the team they beat in the championship game last year. Of course this year it’s literally a whole new ballgame.
Both teams have stepped up into what approaches near-major-league-baseball status. In fact, for rules not covered in the PONY (Protect Our Nation’s Youth) league – the one to which the Crushers belong – the coach is referred to the “Official Rules of Major League Baseball.” I have a 234-page copy. It’s mind-numbing.
No more pitching machine. Whether they can throw 46-feet – with any accuracy – or not, the nine-and-ten-year olds now are the machine. A machine that occasionally sputters, frequently splatters (hit three batters and you’re gone) and sometimes throws the ball to all parts of the backstop. It’s not uncommon to watch despairingly from the dugout walk, after walk, after walk. After hit batter after walk. Fortunately, to stop the bleeding, five runs are the maximum allowed per inning.
We’ve left the batting circle of tee-ball – where grandson number two has just begun his baseball career – and in just three years find ourselves in the batter’s box where older brother faces the hard-throwing, side-arm sweeping, hardly never erring, high-heat fastball delivering Felix-Hernandez-look-alike.
Tee-ball is for little tykes who if they miss the ball – the soft-rubber white thing sitting there on the adjustable stand, adjustable to account for the height of the small little fellow in his cute little uniform addressing the ball, a ball that doesn’t move, let alone curve, undulate, or nail you in the ribcage – get another chance. And another. And another until – yet again whacking the stand – the batter is ecstatic, not to mention the coach, to see the ball at least dribble onto the field of play whereupon the coach smiles and declares ‘Fair ball!’ – maybe even if it’s not fair given we must move the game along here – followed by ‘Run!’ Maybe the coach even runs with the batter just so they both go to first base and the little guy – or gal – does not take off wherever.
This is not that. We are not Shetlands in this PONY league anymore. Nope, we’re Mustangs. Ride ‘em cowboy! Wait till were Broncos!
Mustangs don’t get a chance to keep swinging until they hit the ball. Of course the chances of actually hitting the ball go up dramatically by in fact swinging. Too often (ten times in our latest game) we were called out just looking.
Even with balks (not a reference to not wanting to face a high-heat fastball), and rules regarding ‘fielder’s choice’ (also not a reference to whether or not, or where or not, the player wants to play), and ‘team indifference’ (once again no reference to apathy, although maybe), and a plethora of other such rules, we’re still in the developmental baseball stage where, hopefully, we’re learning the game while at the same time learning about life.
Things like character.
Which you would assume – character-development – would matter later in life. But, then again, maybe not.
In an article published this past February 5 by Chris Yuscavage, writing for “Complex Sports,” In anticipation of the NFL Draft, which event took place just this weekend, Yuscavage poses this question in the title to his piece: “Does ‘Character’ Really Matter? A Look at the Careers of NFL Draft Picks Experts Warned Us About.”
If you were a talent scout, would “40-yard dash times and reps on the bench press” matter more to you than “criminal records and bad attitudes”? Your answer may depend on whether you want to win games or not.
Take Cam Newton as Yuscavage’s first of many examples. Drafted first overall by the Panthers in 2011, Newton had “pre-draft ‘character’ issues.” Like being “arrested in 2008 while playing for Florida after he stole a laptop from a fellow student.” Like “his ‘selfish, me-first makeup’ and ‘enormous ego’.” So? Surely leading the Panthers to “two straight playoff appearances over the last two seasons,” make up for any character flaws when he was younger?
And here, foolish me, we thought we were trying in baseball to teach our kids that you can no more expect to advance in your education or career while ignoring your homework or shirking your responsibilities than you can expect to hit a single, let alone a double or triple or homerun, if the bat never leaves your shoulder. You know, you actually swing the thing. Make the attempt. Take the initiative. Commitment. Determination. Give it your best. All that character sort of stuff.
Because what if winning really isn’t the most important thing?
Alice Nelson says
Once again, I reflect on UVA’s basketball coach, Tony Bennett. Unpopular and criticized, Bennett, undeterred, demanded strict adherence to hard-line discipline, kicking key players off the team when they broke the rules or conducted themselves inappropriately. He stuck by five biblically-based core values: humility, passion, unity, servant attitude and thankfulness.
Bennett had chosen these values as a reflection of his faith, even though he always coached at public universities where outward expression of religious values was deemed not appropriate. While at WSU, his players had these initials displayed on their jerseys: ISAW – standing for “In Such A Way” and taken from 1 Corinthians 9:24.
So, keep your players tuned into the character-building aspects of the sport, which is, after all, a foundational teaching tool to help them throughout their entire lives. And they will be winners. Big time.
Oh, and btw, Bennett took those Cavaliers from a 10-18 squad to the NCAA over the past five successive years – his team was in the Elite Eight this past March. Discipline and discipleship have rewarded this coach and his players. Nuf said.