For many years now, I’ve been listening to coach after coach tell me about the importance and life changing potential of the “trip to Cooperstown”.
So it should be of no surprise that with my son turning 12 this year, my heart began bubbling with anticipation right around February when we first starting dusting off the glove an bat.
Well, just yesterday, I returned home from my “once-in-a-lifetime” pilgrimage and so I feel compelled to transcribe my thoughts and we will talk about it on the show Sunday morning as well so get ready to dig up your best (and worst) memories, recants, anecdotes, etc.
On day one, we arrive in Cooperstown and the air is filled with nervous anticipation as an ocean of young boys begin to feel out the environment. A few emboldened individuals start to break the ice by trading team pins (an entire discussion in and of itself). A quick tour and then we are introduced to “the Barracks”…the place where the boys will sleep, watch TV and bond. Then off to the opening barbeque where cafeteria style dining allows more interaction amongst the various teams from around the country. The food really wasn’t bad at all but we all had a little trouble digesting because we learned something. There was a team from California there that was funded by a wealthy individual who had scouts find elite players and offered them a free ride to play for this team…a pretty compelling tool if you want to build an elite team. Also, we saw one of these players and I simply couldn’t believe it.
You may have heard coaches joke that some 12 year old players shave? Well this kid FORGOT to shave. He literally stood 6′ 2” and had a beard!!! A real beard!!! Aren’t you even going to try to fool us about faking a kid’s birth certificate? The only good news is that this team was not in our bracket…WHEW!!!
The next exposure is to the rows of batting cages where it’s harder to get a reservation than if you were trying to get into the Rainbow Room on a Saturday night. After a long day of new experiences, I expect the boys are shot and ready to fall asleep…YEAH RIGHT! This is where 12 yr old boys become 12 yr old boys. The farting contest lasted until about 30 minutes past lights out. Next we begin to hear about the inequities of each of the players’ moms. I have to admit I enjoyed the adolescent humor and was happy the boys were relaxing and enjoying the experience.
The next day and it’s down to business. It’s game time and every kid is crapping in his pants in front of a national crowd (in theory). After the first inning, the boys’ colons are on empty and they all settle in and go back to simply playing baseball. Final score doesn’t matter because all the coaches seem to have their priorities in order and focus on teaching the kids and allowing them to enjoy the experience. (We WON!!) We win the next game as well and I’m thinking that this is going to be a page out of “Field of Dreams” or “The Natural”. I can almost hear the soundtrack as Coach Tony leads these young ballplayers through a magical experience of childhood bliss. Surely this will be a week to remember.
How right I was!
The very next game is a great game against a team from California and stays close the whole way through. One of our boys even hit a home run and had a light in his eyes when he gets to the plate for a later at bat with the bases loaded and us losing by 2. Sure enough, he lays into another one for a grand slam. This is truly a magical moment that will stay with this boy and his parents forever, right? Well, yes but not for the reasons you’re thinking of. The opposing coach says to his pitcher, not once but TWICE, and loud enough for everyone to hear…”YOU SHOULD HAVE BEANED HIM AFTER HE HIT THE FIRST HOME RUN…YOU GUYS NEVER LISTEN!!”
HUH?!?!?!? Did I hear that right?
My partner as well as the umpires gather at home plate to discuss this….DISCUSS???? What is there to discuss? Amazingly, this idiot coach tries to use this excuse…”I meant to say something else.” He thought that everyone was going to buy this line. Even more amazingly, the umpires actually DID buy it and let him stay in the game! One of the umpire crew too our side on this and took exception to what was going on so when this coach continued to state his case, the ump said what everyone else was thinking, “Hey Coach…SHUT UP NOW!!!” Needless to say, this almost started a physical altercation.
What was happening to my magical Hollywood moment? While the ump said what we all wanted to say ourselves, it was still inappropriate and now even the good guys are looking like bad guys and ALL the boys are seeing and hearing this. What’s more, this coach insists on continuing to try to engage me in dialogue about how he didn’t mean to say that.
Finally I had had enough and so I decided to tell him exactly what i was thinking and so I said, “Hey Coach, if that kid gets to bat again, what do you think is going to be in his head? I know exactly what you meant to say and if these kids were in college, I wouldn’t even mention it…but you just let everyone here know that you wanted your pitcher to throw at a 12 year old kid. Do you see that?”
The point was made because at that point, there was no more talk about this disgusting incident. Oh and by the way, we won, AGAIN!
I won’t bore you with our undefeated streak throughout the seeding rounds so let’s talk about the playoffs because as a coach, this is what made me most proud.
Our first game was against a team from South New Jersey. They had an AMAZING pitcher who had incredible stuff. He threw a no hitter against us, can you believe it? A no hitter! So why am I so proud? Because every one of our kids was doing everything right. When we got a walk, we hustled on the bases and took advantage of the other team’s mistakes. One of our runs resulted from our big hitter striking out but staying aware when the thrid strike was dropped. Two stolen bases and a past ball later and the score was 3-0. Our pitcher threw a gem himself and we showed that if you never give up, you can always win a game.
In the quarterfinals, our opponent came out hitting the snot out of the ball and we were quickly behind by quite a bit. We were in danger of invoking the dreaded “Mercy Rule” that we had so proudly unloaded on other team during the week. Again, why am I so proud? Because without being told, a few of the boys started saying things like, “C’mon guys, this isn’t over. We can still do this! Although we still lost, we made the other team sweat with several rallies and took the game all the way to the end. We had simply lost to a team that was better than us…at least they were better than us that night.” They all got this concept and held their heads up high.
Looking back, I think my partner and I did a good job of balancing the competitive nature of the week with a notion of soaking in this amazing opportunity. We brought the team to the Hall of Fame and made sure they took note of what the place was really all about. We sat in the stands of Doubleday Field watching guys in the 40s and 50s play in their fantasy camps just knowing they’d trade years of their lives to have even just one more day of the innocence they took for granted when they were in their playing years. They watched losers like me with tears in our eyes as we remembered how special our adolescent years were and how desperately we wanted to make sure that they would somehow benefit from our experience and treasure it NOW instead of wishing for some of it back when it’s too late.
I was fortunate enough to have my wife and girls join us for a few days. My wife, who wasn’t given the opportunity to participate in sports as a kid, finally understood why youth sports is such a big part of my life. She even said to me while watching the old guys, “I guess baseball is something that stays in your blood once it gets there.” It was at that point that I learned something…baseball and youth sports in general are just that…something that stays in your blood once it gets there. The problem is this. The asshole coaches and over the top parents just never got it IN their blood in the first place and so they just don’t get it. Even my girls, when we got home, asked me to rent “A League of Their Own” and we watched it together and they wonder why I had tears in my eyes.
Finally I could explain it to them and I truly hope it makes sense to you all. If you get the true meaning of sports INTO you blood, it will stay there forever and your kids will be much better off for it.
I hope you listen on Sunday and call me with your experiences.
Great review. You moved me emotionally in the last part.
Also, sorry to hear you ran up against another coach who has lost perspective on what it’s all about. Even though smaller in number their negative impact is felt far beyond the field of play. So sad.
Glad you had a great time. Sent you one story on FB per you note. Have others. Will try to listen in on Sunday.
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