The Have’s-n-Have Not’s

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.

Ah but John you do…you fit, it’s just that without you and the love and respect that you show the humans you touch…surely despair would creep in…I know where you are at, I look at the totality and just kind of say why bother…but then I meet up with some kid I coached…or see a Ben Brewster pitch for Maryland…and I know that no matter what…I’m fighting the good fight, we have to hold fast and look behind us and know, the kids want leaders who are unafraid to believe, they need to know those who have sacrificed so it can be better. It’s so ironic that just today, even though I’ve not field coached in a few…I’m check listing in my head how I’d practice a squad…say 13-15 yr olds and how I’d develop their skill sets in an effective way…laughing to myself and wondering if I’d see that kid or couple…who get it…saw their brother or dad since day one…and nothing on earth will keep them from being there. I know if I placed myself on that field…it would have the pitfalls…mom and dad stuff…league politics…all of the “bad”…but I’d do it all just to see that look :wink:
I want you to trust me on this my friend…the gifts you leave are necessary…it may appear in this instant world, that it matters little…but that’s just a facade…there will be many who look and one or two will know…and that’s all that matters.

The game is still the same game. It is still there, waiting to be played on sandlots all across the country. Some that haven’t been used in years.

The unstructured game…it awaits to teach lessons of pride, humility, confidence, leadership, innovation and a host of other characteristics that make children into productive adults.

That game can be found but like a species on the endangered list, you have to know where to look. For now, the unstructured game has given way to the organized sport. The organized sport is the “better” way to do things - so they say. They who can make a buck off of organizing, for their organization’s sake.

Let them organize. It’s not that it is a bad thing. It’s just a different thing.
I did it. Perhaps with a nod toward life experience not winning at all costs. Maybe that was a throwback to the unstructured days of my youth.

Perhaps I could see that too much organization leads to less passion about the game. PASSION. We need more passion for the game.

In some ways the current trend of organized or structured baseball leads to greater passion. Like boiling maple sap down to syrup. Plenty of kids are left behind because they lose their passion, squeezed out of them organized pressurized game after game. But those who are left with the passion…well they kept it despite the micro management.

No one can take their passion once they make it to the other side.

With all this structured play, you’d think we’d be the best in baseball worldwide. Not so. It is the poor unstructured that seem to make the best ball players. But then those areas are teaming with passionate kids. They are passionate about the right thing…the game itself. All before ever making a dime on the game.

Back home, the game is still waiting on that barren sandlot. Waiting for kids to return with a tapeball, a stick and a cardboard glove. The lessons are still there to be had. Unstructured - somehow the kids learn the life lessons on their own. Without parents, adults, umpires, coaches to get in the way.

Leisure has allowed alot of this to happen. That and welfare. Our adults have so much time and money at their disposal that they can’t help but structure their kids lives into oblivion. Which is fine if you want a bunch of structured clones.

This all will change. If our economic situation with the poor and middle class deteriorates any further their will be less and less time for organization. More chaos, more time for work and the kids will go back to unstructured play. That’s when the game - remember it has been waiting - will be there for them.

Check out Mario Rivera’s passion for his cardboard glove.

I’ve gone from a kid of this game to a witness. A witness with a very narrow focal point and a script so defined by others who have absolutely no other purpose in life than the promotion of their business.

I’ve sat in … oh, I don’t know, my fair share of parks and fields, watching this one and that, saying to myself … no, no, no … this young man doesn’t have it. Doesn’t have the staying power to be in the business. Oh, he can hit, run, throw … man can guy bring it. But, when it comes to heart, that thing that lights the fire in the belly… IT … just isn’t there. A flash in the pan with nothing more than muzzle velocity and little else.

I’ve gone back to my motel for the night and think to myself … what on earth were the bright-lights thinking when they wanted me to see this guy? So I’ll flip through the papers and see MVP high school, captain travel team, AAU or some other accolade of honorable mention… and so on. The guy looks good on paper … but still, no heart in live time … not to me anyway.

But, five months later, here he is, on the payroll and cracking leather. Then, after about eight weeks his true color come through. Nothing but a pain in the backside, complain, complain. This is too hot, too cold, don’t like this, don’t like that.

Now I could get philosophical and go with the “here’s one for you kid,” but like I mentioned in the beginning here - I’m a witness, not a philosopher.

Then I think of the countless kids who could have been here over this piece of meat.

But then again, reality is what it is … win, that’s the American way, and has little or nothing to do with baseball, the nature of the game or anything close to it. Winning and success is not homogenous with the spirit of the game … ahhh … but here’s where the promoters come in. Promote the warm and fuzzy stuff and everything else will take care of itself.

As you can probably guess… Coach B has a lot of time on his hands. You’re right, I do.

Lots of true stuff there. I had put a blanket invite to all the 13-15 year olds in town to come to a field I had reserved where they could just play an unstructured pick up game–for fun. Five boys showed up–one of them was mine. I was very disappointed. The ones who did show up were the ones who may not have been the best players in the organized leagues but you would never doubt their level of effort. From the parents I heard lots of excuses via email why this kid or that kid couldn’t make it. Mostly related to not having rides to and from. I then offered that service as well (not to mention the field is centrally located and this is summer break from school–the kids could have just ridden their bikes to and from). Still the participation level was lack luster. The same core group of kids showed up. I continued to reserve the field in hopes that it would catch on so we could have a true pick-up game even just one time like the ones we had daily as kids. No luck.

The kids who did attend got more individual focus than any kid could have paid to get from a private instructor. I got one kid who would always field grounders off to the glove side of his body to finally get behind the ball properly for the first time in his life. Instead of the ball skipping off into the outfield and his regular coaches just shuffling him to the outfield, I worked with him. He got plunked in the chest a few times but realized he would survive such things, so he got more confidence to stay in there and even when it did bounce off him, he would finish the play. He hated always having to play outfield, but he would play anyway because he loved the game. Another kid had a horrible swing and was making little or no contact. He was even slowing the bat down just to try to put the bat on the ball making things worse. His coaches’ solution–bottom of the batting order and sharing a slot in a continuous batting order. I got him to swing hard with balance and try to hit the ball as hard as he could. We got his hips involved in the swing–drastically increasing his bat speed. He hit a baseball out of a full-sized infield for the first time in his life. Bear in mind that the kid is almost 14 years old. No one spent any time with him. Another kid could not track fly balls. Another parent took one of my 70 ball buckets and just kept hitting the balls to him while my son talked him through each ball. The kid went from catching about 10 balls from the first bucket to catching over half of the second bucket. One day of effort. Dramatic improvement. We helped each kid get decidedly better in at least one aspect of their game over the course of just three sessions. I’m letting kids tell us what they want to get better at and then the parents and older kids are helping them work on that one thing.

When I was growing up we always learned from the older kids as much or more than from our parents, who while they loved the game, were not perhaps as skilled or able to present skills to us as they would have liked. Today’s parents are turning to professional instructors instead of setting up or coordinating time for their kids to play together and learn from each other. I didn’t learn my curveball from a coach or from my father, I learned it from another kid with a sick hammer.

I really don’t want to see the game continue down the path it’s on. I guess I will continue to fight the fight in my own way. I have these sessions as often as work and other commitments allow, but it’s not nearly enough. The kids need to do this on their own. If and when that happens, the game will improve because the kids will be working together to improve as a team and developing bonds, social skills, and strengthening their character and not acting as 9 individuals performing to boost their own personal stats.

This got longer than I was aiming for and I’m not sure I really got my point across, but oh well. I got it off my chest.

I don’t see that well. As I started to read Coach Paul’s comments … especially this part…" The kids need to do this on their own. If and when that happens, the game will improve because the kids will be working together to improve as a team and developing bonds, social skills, and strengthening their character and not acting as 9 individuals performing to boost their own personal stats. " I couldn’t help but think to myself, " now here’s a man who is a mentor, a man who knows baseball."

I called my Mrs. over and asked her to read the entire posting for me. My eyesight skipped over a lot and I got bits-n-pieces of the main theme.

I was so impressed with what this man is trying to do, I had my Mrs. print it out. This morning I joined some friends of mine for a cup of coffee, who use to be in the business, and they read over Coach Paul’s comments. The common remark from everyone was…" right on," along with the second round of remarks … " let’s ask for world peace."

It’s a shame we don’t have more Coach Paul’s, willing to do what he did/does. I know a group of “has-beens” here in Springfield, Massachusetts that would pitch in, in a heartbeat to help.

Coach Paul, you have my deepest respect. I only wish I could do more for your contributions to this game.

Coach Baker (retired)
Springfield, Massachusetts

Thanks for the kind words and consideration. I really try to pass along an appreciation for the game to the kids. There is no place I’d rather be than a ball field except at a ball field with my family. If people try to corrupt the game or cheapen it, I take offense. It’s good to know there is support on a forum like this. Thanks again.