A simple game that use to occupy the afternoons of kids in the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s without elite, travel, higher-level, only if you could afford it, baseball. I was part of those generations where most any father, neighbor, pastor/priest/rabbi could coach the best qualities of this game.. and at any position, and pass on the sprit of “just play”. Baseball was for kids back then, kids that that could play the game, and/or, make it up as they went along. I was a kid, like so many, that idolized the men who played in the Major Leagues. We looked up to those men because they were reserved, polite, aware of the impacts that had on young men like me. We collected their cards, their bats, gloves, heck even the soda pop they held in their hand. We also collected their values of what was fair, honest, and in step with teamwork and sprit. Showboating was left to the fools and the cartoon artist on the local sport’s page.
Over the years all this has changed and not for the better. There’s no real progression of learning this game, the craftsmanship in a position – any position, the play, the nature of the game itself. All progression comes at a price to pay in dollars and cents, not in the spirit of all those that went before, with sportsmanship and reserve. Men like Al Kaline, Roger Maris, Walter Johnson, Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, and Bill Mazeroskie to name just a few. Today, a winning record of a coach, not his players, is the mark of a good club, every club. Win, win, win coach, not learn, learn, learn coach is the marque above the doorway today.
The title "coach" use to mean something to me many years ago. In fact, the very first time someone called me by that title, and I deserved it, was one of the proudest moments in my life. Now, I see nothing but babysitters, schedulers and self-imposed journeymen in job security and self-perpetuation.
So I see the trend that this game is following with youth baseball and I ask myself – where’s all this elite, travel teams, and showcases heading to? What are the driving forces that channel youngsters into this pipeline? Is this for the benefit of mom and dad, for college scholarships, for bragging rights on some high school campus, church league, what? I don’t get it.
In the process of all this, a ton of kids are shut out to the finesse of this game, it’s closeness to the common man’s sport, and the separation of the very nature of baseball itself. The process to emulate the professional game, to keep stats on a kid till it’s coming out his ears, the want and desire to be better and better on one’s own time with a hefty checkbook, is just contradictory to the learning process and the rights of passage of a kid left to his own devices for which baseball was truly meant to be.
I'm glad I'm not a youngster in today's baseball. I'd be missing some of the greatest men who help shape my life, my values, and my respect for the game. I just wouldn't fit in today.