Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

A Youth Sports Blog

Posts Tagged ‘major league baseball

Youth baseball parents prove easy to sucker out of money for 'elite travel team'

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The saying is that the two dominant emotions on Wall Street are fear and greed; for parents who trades in the futures of their children, the same can apply.

It’s not just sports. Look at the advertisements in any metro area child-focused magazine, and you’ll see plenty of preschools, camps, tutors, coaches and party clowns who sell, implicitly, the promise that time and (lots of) money spent with them will send your little brat on the primrose path to Harvard. Meanwhile, if you don’t shake out all your loose change to pay for these services — well, let’s not even think about that, though let’s remind you that all of your neighbors’ 3-year-olds are getting their Harvard applications under way while you refuse to spend $2,000 on a party clown that speaks English, French, Farsi and Klingon.

So if you’re planning to scam someone out of thousands of dollars, and you don’t know how to execute a pigeon drop on an old lady, desperate, worried parents are a great target. Such as, parents in South Dakota worried that their kids, what with being in South Dakota, were never going to be found by Major League Baseball scouts.

A group of those parents is claiming they were scammed out tens of thousands of dollars by a man who said he was putting together a select team that, thanks to his major-league connections, would give their kids wide exposure to people who could put them on the fast track to Harvard, er, the major leagues. Media reports put the money lost at anywhere from $25,000 to $33,000, though I suspect that’s a bit low. A baseball camp organizer said he lost $18,500, and individual parents report paying — in cash — up to $6,300 for the travel team that never was.

What’s not low is the sense of betrayal, anger and gullibility shown by these parents, and the waste of time for children who were pulled off of other travel teams for the alleged elite of the elites, Team South Dakota.

The complaints, including a lawsuit filed by the guy running the baseball camp, are against Jason Anderson, the alleged mastermind behind Team South Dakota. Even before the complaints against him started, there were other complaints — namely, that his travel team was gutting well-established summer leagues. But who could argue against a guy who said he was a former minor-league baseball player, in the Angels’ system, and could bring Rickey Henderson to town for a camp?

What is readily apparent is that the parents (and the camp organizer) were so in love with the idea of South Dakota’s own ass-kicking, big-time youth operation that they blindly handed over money without asking who was this guy parachuting into the Black Hills with promise of future baseball stardom. Anderson has not responded to any allegations, including one I’m going to make: That he might not the person he says he is. I base this on the fact I’ve combed the Internet and cannot find a Jason Anderson who played in the Angels’ system. I can find Jason Andersons who have played for other teams, but not a Jason Anderson who played for the Angels. (Inside Dakota Sports reported July 16 that Rapid City, S.D., police have opened a criminal investigation, and that Anderson has warrants out for his arrest in Panama City, Fla., and Monroe, Mich., on fraud and forgery charges. As of now, Anderson is nowhere to be found.)

So what you get are heartbreaking stories about a mom bringing her kid and her family to a park for a tournament, and finding out they were the only ones there.

On the other hand, my heart breaks less because the parents let their fear (of their kids being left behind) and greed (this guy is our ticket to stardom!) overwhelm their good judgment. If you want to spend thousands of dollars for your 9-year-old to play travel baseball, there are plenty of outfits whose only fraud is promising you that they can make your kid a major-leaguer. At least they’ll offer actual practices and tournaments. Best you put your fear and greed in check before draining your bank account for the promise of sports stardom. Otherwise, you may well just hire that multilingual party clown.

(Hat tip to SportsJournalists.com for alerting me to this story.)

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Your kid's not going Bryce Harper

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In the least surprising Major League Baseball draft since way back last year, the Washington Nationals picked Bryce Harper No. 1 overall. By comparison to Harper, last year’s top pick, the highly hyped, soon-to-debut Stephen Strasburg, was an under-the-radar late bloomer. When the 17-year-old Harper appeared on ESPN’s “Baseball Tonight” to discuss his status, he mentioned at least four times that he had dreamed since the age of 7 of being the No. 1 pick — and I believe him.

The by-now-familiar story of Harper is that he has been a baseball machine practically since birth, getting his GED so he could leave after his sophomore high school season to play a season of junior college so he could be eligible for the 2010 draft. And so he was.

Harper has worked long and hard for his status, even if he is only 17. However, just because all that hard work paid off for him does not mean it will for your child. Here is why your child won’t be reaching Harper-ish status:

1. Your child will not be wayyyy better than his peers at age 7. Not a little better. Not kinda letter. Not even a lot better. Incredibly, superbly, undeniably better. Even if you consider his family had to tell him what an MLB draft is, a kid can’t even think of it seriously, or be taken seriously thinking about it, unless he shows unusual talent early.

2. Your child will not be willing to submit to the drudgery and boredom of learning anything, much less something as full of drudgery and boredom as baseball, at such an early age. This is sort of 1a. You can tell your child about the hours they would have to put in, but few will actually jump in to do it — enthusiastically.

3. Your child will burn out by his teenage years after a Harper-like schedule — or merely decide he’d rather be a “normal” high schooler. As former Mets manager Bobby Valentine noted, not necessarily with an approving tone, on “Baseball Tonight,” Harper was playing 175 games per year by age 12. Valentine also noted he basically never had a normal high school experience. “People talk about 10,000 hours,” Valentine said, referring to the Malcolm Gladwell-popularized timeline for becoming genius-like at a certain skill,”But what Harper missed it those two million seconds of high school.” I’m not sure whether high school lasts two million seconds exactly, although it always seemed like the last five minutes of algebra lasted that long. Anyway, a lot of kids, even if they’re great at a sport, will break down mentally or physically with a Harper-like schedule. The temptations, as it were, of hanging out with friends will win out over one more lonely night at the batting cage.

I remember reading stories of Indiana-bred basketball sharpshooter Rick Mount, the first high schooler to appear on Sports Illustrated’s cover (in 1966), who skipped social events aplenty to practice his jump shots, or would have his girlfriend rebound before prom until he finished his workout. That kind of dedication seems practically nutty — but that sort of self-motivation is often necessary to play at higher levels.

4.Your child is not going to grow as large and strong as Harper, who is 6-foot-3, 205 pounds. The story of Michael Jordan failing to make varsity as sophomore (no, he didn’t get cut from the team) is an apocryphal tale of a superstar coming out of humble beginnings. However, if Michael Jordan is 5-foot-10 instead of 6-foot-6, he would be just another guy who never made varsity. Plus, most players don’t make full varsity until junior year, anyway.

5. Your child won’t have superagent Scott Boras coming on as an “adviser” at age 13 to help your child negotiate the sports-industrial complex. That’s because your child won’t need him. They’re, for better or worse, stuck with you as a parent to figure out how to handle any pro career, or more likely, how to handle the nicotine-stained mustache who won’t play him every day in the youth league.

6. Your child will likely have an interest in exploring interests beyond one thing. My oldest son, age 12, has played baseball, basketball, volleyball and soccer, performed in plays, participated in a school reading club and attended robotics camp. My oldest daughter, age 10, has played softball, basketball and soccer, performed in plays, was a part of a competitive reading team, attended zoo camp and is attending nature camp this summer. My oldest son, age 7, has the most defined sports goal of any of my children — he dreams of leading Dwyane Wade High to bowling glory. But he also plays baseball and soccer, and he hasn’t demanded we hire Pete Weber as coach and put him on the worldwide kid bowling circuit. Nor would we. It’s not that my kids are so brilliant they have to do many things. It’s that part of their childhood, and most people’s childhoods, is trying different things to discover their interests.

7. You wouldn’t dream of putting your kid through the insane, one-sport schedule Bryce Harper worked growing up. Also, you don’t have the money to pay for all those travel teams and high-level camps.

This is not to say Harper’s parents are lousy. It appears they’ve handled handling a very driven prodigy with love, care and career development as well as anyone can. My point in all of this is to alert parents that your child is not that prodigy. Let’s start with this point: if your large-built, extraordinarily-talented child is not bugging you all day, every day, to do a certain, activity, then you’re not raising a Bryce Harper. So don’t try to make your child one.

And even if you do, don’t expect that a Hall of Fame pro career is guaranteed — even if your kid is Bryce Harper. Rick Mount flopped as a pro, and the downside of all that youthful dedication to basketball is that it took him decades to figure out how to get over all that work for almost nothing. and become a human being instead of a one-sport machine.

Be like Galarraga: Don't get upset about the officials

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The baseball world is, justifiably, in a state of apoplexy because first-base umpire Jim Joyce’s blown safe call at first base with two outs in the ninth denied on June 2 a perfect game to Detroit pitcher Armando Galarraga.

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This isn’t the greatest angle to see Joyce’s missed call, but it’s the best shot of a video that doesn’t get pulled for a terms-of-use violation. Plus, you can “hear” the silent shock of the crowd.

This isn’t the spot where you’re going to read an argument over whether Major League Baseball should join the rest of civilized society and institute some form of instant replay (though it should). This is where you’re going to read about the lesson Armando Galarraga has learned, given his reaction to the play: That nothing good comes from worrying and gnashing your teeth over the officials.

When I coach, I tell players all the time that I’m the only one who gets to worry about the referees — and that I won’t. (Exception: when it looks like someone is going to get hurt because of overly rough play. Then I pull the ref aside during a timeout and talk about it.) I tell kids that if you’re blaming the refs or reacting to every call, you’re not going to be on your game.

This has been particularly true with the more talented players. I’ve seen kids who dominate their opposition suddenly look human because they were so busy sulking over a referee’s call. No matter who the player is, however, I’ve never hesitated to bench someone who was worrying more about what the ref was going to do, rather than what the opposing team was going to do.

I extend that message into not blaming teammates or anyone outside yourself for something going wrong. Ask my 7-year-old, whom I chastised after he came back to the bench blaming bad pitches for striking out during coach-pitch baseball. I pointed out, with the double barrels of coach and father lecturing, that he got the same pitches as everyone else, and that if he’s ever going to get better as a baseball player, he had better not blame other people when he is unsuccessful. He seemed a little shocked by that verbal slap to the face.

My message is not that officials never make mistakes, or that your teammates never make mistakes. But in youth sports, if you allow a kid to focus his or her frustrations outward, they’re never going to develop the mindset that maybe they should improve themselves — thus, perhaps, mitigating the effects of a bad call or a teammate’s foul-up.

I also want kids to learn that mistakes happen. If they can’t forgive others for them, they also might not forgive themselves. And sometimes, bad stuff just happens. You have to learn to deal with it quickly and move on.

Fortunately, that is what Armando Galarraga is doing. When Joyce made his call, Galarraga left the arguing to his manager. On June 3, in an afternoon game against the same Cleveland Indians he faced the night before, Galarraga delivered the lineup card to Joyce, this day’s home-plate umpire. And Galarraga smiled with Joyce. Sure, it’s easier for Galarraga to laugh knowing Joyce admitted to blowing the call, and says he feels awful about it. But even though Joyce probably killed Galarraga’s only chance to throw a rare perfect game, the pitcher isn’t letting it define him. I bet he, and Joyce, will be the better for it.

Contrast that with the bitter ex-Cubs pitcher Milt Pappas and the cantankerous ump Bruce Froemming, arguing since 1972 over a ball-four call Pappas said ruined his only chance for a perfect game (though he still got the no-hitter).

Hearing these angry coots still arguing nearly 40 years later is evidence of how much worrying about the officials can eat you up inside, and define your play on the field more than your actual play on the field.

Pitchers and catchers report, youth baseball edition

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Gameface is ready.

This week was the managers’ meeting for those of us managing at the Shetland level of Oak Lawn (Ill.) Baseball. Shetland is 6- to 8-year-olds, which include my son (above). Like his last year of T-ball, and my first year of managing him, we are the Phillies. My wife’s reaction when I came home with the roster: a facepalm and “It’s not that time of year already, is it?”

I don’t know if this is universal, but in my little universe, spring sports season is the craziest. It’s not just my son playing baseball and me managing; my 10-year-old daughter plays softball, too. Two kids in an outdoor game that requires no rain, stone-dry fields and temperatures above 50 degrees means night after night of being on edge: is there practice? Is there not practice? Is there a game? Is there not a game? Should we show up and see if everybody’s there? Do I call the other manager and cancel? Damnit, now we have seven straight nights of games. Thank you, Chicago weather!

It makes me thankful my 12-year-old son has already retired from baseball, and that my 4-year-old daughter doesn’t play (yet).

For major-league managers, the onset of spring is getting into warm, cushy spring training digs and going over the assembled roster, much of which they already know. For me, the onset of spring is introducing myself to young kids and their parents, and begging them to be the one who brings the snack every game, or makes the team banner for our league’s annual parade, or handles the candy sale, or gets them to coach, or nicely informs them that if they don’t fulfill their volunteer commitment, it’s $300 out of their pocket next year.

It gets hectic quickly, and it turns into night after night of quick dinners and/or fast food.

But you know what? All the hassle is worth it. It’s nice to get back outside after months burrowing like Punxsutawney Phil in the crappy Chicago winters. It’s fun to watch the kids play. And for me, it’s fun to watch a group of little boys I’m managing improve and become friends over the course of the season. It’s fun to watch my own kids revel when they do well, and forget by the time the postgame snack arrives the times that they didn’t.

Written by rkcookjr

February 18, 2010 at 11:49 pm

Larry King's 10-year-old son gets radio sports gig

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Will he wear suspenders and say, “Tulsa, Oklahoma, Hello!” in a squeaky voice?

From TMZ:

Getting a job in radio is child’s play to Larry King’s 10-year-old son — because the kid just landed a phat TV job hosting a sports show on FOX SportsNet.

Larry tells TMZ Chance King recently penned a deal to host an upcoming TV show called “Kid Pitch” — which revolves around youngsters shooting the breeze about all things baseball … plus interviews with Major League Baseball players.

The show is set to start filming in February of next year — and due to Chance’s school schedule, we’re told he’ll have to hightail it to the set after his school day wraps.

We’re also told Larry’s 9-year-old son Cannon will make occasional appearances on the program — which will be directed by “Best Damn Sports Show Period” alum Tom Arnold.

Luke Russert is calling NBC executives to find out why he had to wait until after puberty to get hired. Parents, your kid is apparently not going pro as a broadcaster, either, unless you find a way to procreate with Bob Costas.

That said, I hope “Kid Pitch” makes the move to television. There hasn’t been a good kids-and-baseball show since “The Baseball Bunch” went off the air in the 1980s. All Chance King needs is the Famous Chicken as a sidekick and a guest appearance by Tom Seaver, and it’s ratings gold!

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Written by rkcookjr

November 19, 2009 at 3:52 pm

Why Johnny can't stop playing sports

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I never get tired of this clip from the CBC series, “The Tournament,” which at 2:47 delivers the funniest, saddest truism about youth sports, ever.

Stephen Rodrick, in the latest New York, writes an excellent piece about a 13-year-old travel-league baseball player as a slice-of-life look into the travails of major-league pressure on minor-aged athletes. If you’ve had any familiarity with the professionalization of sport — well, professional except that the kids and their families are doing the paying, instead of being paid — at younger and younger ages, the story itself carries few surprises. But the story is great in that instead of a histrionic look at sports killing our children’s souls and bodies, Rodrick stays out of the way and follows what is going on with Karl “KB” Blum and everything surrounding him, and lets you reach that conclusion yourself.

Perhaps the biggest surprise to most readers is what KB’s baseball-obsessed, hard-charging, living-out-the-dream-he-never-had father does for a living — orthopedic surgeon. On top of that, KB’s mother is a radiologist. In other words, he is the child of people who have gone through the highest levels of education and presumably know its value, and how it’s a far more sure thing to be a professional than a professional athlete.

Yet the siren song of fame and fortune of being a pro athlete calls. KB’s father, haunted by his own promising baseball career cut off when his family moved in high school, is sparing no expense (the story doesn’t say whether that expense includes paying little attention to KB’s younger brother and sister) to bring KB to academies and teams all over the country to play. Even more puzzling, Karl Blum the senior doesn’t shut his son down when he complains his pitching arm is starting to hurt. You can imagine Karl being able to get extra-special bonding in a few years by doing Tommy John surgery on his son.

I don’t mean to be too hard on Karl. After all, he’s hardly the only parent of means who, due to a combination of his own hopes and dreams for his child, and his child’s ability and seeming love for the game, wanders headlong down the path of pro sports dreams. As the article shows, there are certainly plenty of people eager and willing to take the money of those on the way.

In KB’s case, Karl is quoted as saying baseball could be a back door to getting him into Princeton, as if the son of two professionals would have an unusual amount of trouble doing so.

Speaking of which, I also won’t be too hard on Karl because, in the sense of trying to figure out how to get his child into an Ivy League school, he’s part of another group of parents obsessed with an extremely difficult-to-obtain goal. As you can see here, in the New York Times’ 37th part in a 198,000-part series, “How Do I Get My Kid Into Harvard, And Is My Life And My Child’s Life Over If I Can’t?”

Written by rkcookjr

September 21, 2009 at 11:14 pm

A talk with the children about steroids

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A “bad joke,” Scot Pollard? Perhaps it’s wise advice!

From time to time an intrepid reporter will go talk to The Children to see if they will wag stubby little fingers at pro athletes would dare take performance-enhancing drugs. The latest is Kyle Finck of the New York Daily News in a story subtly (for a New York tabloid) titled “The Clubhouse of Lies.” He asked 16-, 17- and 18-year-olds with the Bronx’s Outsiders Baseball Association (whom the News has followed all season) whether they believe steroids are a big problem in baseball. Fourteen out of 21 said, “Yes.”

“Steroids have affected the way I view the game,” said starting pitcher Felipe Gutierrez. “Now I don’t know who is hitting a home run for real.”

With players such as [Manny] Ramirez being caught taking performance-enhancing drugs, many players expressed anger towards their favorite players-turned-cheaters.

Starting shortstop Fernando Gomez’s favorite player is Manny. “When I think about my favorite players, I think about all the hard work they put in; that gives them my respect,” Gomez says. “When I find out they took steroids, I just feel dumb and let down for believing in them.”

Oh, poor, innocent children, robbed of their heroes by the knowledge their home runs were shot up their ass with a needle. Finck’s story comes in the context of Major League Baseball spending $10 million on an anti-PED program I like to call, “Don’t Believe Your Eyes and the Reported Contract Numbers, Kid.  Drugs are Bad.”

The Los Angeles Dodgers and the general baseball establishment (including ESPN) rolling out the red carpet for Ramirez upon his return from a 50-game suspension for taking HCG (used to come down from a steroid cycle, and also present if the pregnancy test stick turns blue) belies any pittance MLB spends as a masking agent for its own steroid problem.

But, really, why should we be uptight about drugs if MLB really isn’t? The truth is, children, if you ever wanted to be an elite athlete, or remain one, taking performance-enhancing drugs historically has been practically a given.

A few years ago, a great writer at MSNBC.com made this point by bringing up numerous past examples of drug usage, and suggestions from academic papers on how perhaps regulating rather than banning PED consumption might help make for healthier athletes:

The first report of performance-enhancing drugs in sport came from the Olympics — in the third century B.C. (Philostratus and Galerius, the Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams of the ancient Greeks, noted how athletes juiced up with extracts from mustard and plant seeds.) Englishman Thomas Hicks won the 1904 Olympic marathon thanks to a mid-race shot of strychnine, a common performance-enhancing drug for endurance athletes of the era, thanks to its ability to tighten muscles. (Hicks also had some raw eggs with a brandy chaser.)

Athletes of the 1970s weren’t the first to use cocaine to give themselves a burst of energy in the grind of a long season — athletes of the early 20th century did, too. About one hundred years before famous Seattle musicians killed themselves with it, boxers used heroin as a pre-fight painkiller.

Also, it’s not as if sports is in a vacuum. There’s barely any sector of society that doesn’t feature people giving themselves a little extra something to get an edge. Various studies show rampant use of Adderall, Ritalin and other drugs normally used for attention deficit disorder instead applied toward all-night cramming sessions. The classical-music world wrestles with the ethics of using Inderal, an anti-anxiety drug, to fight stage fright, particularly before gut-wrenching auditions for coveted symphony jobs. The U.S. military’s accidental bombing of Canadian forces in Afghanistan [seven] years ago put a spotlight on pilots being given amphetamines to fight off sleep so they could perform long missions. And Starbucks has made quite a living out of providing a little caffeine jolt to help the masses get the energy to make it through the drudgery of another workday.

Not to mention that according to the ads that air during any sporting event, performance-enhancing drugs are also necessary if you want a working peener after age 50.

And that’s all just scratching the surface of how athletes use PEDs, or how we in the non-athletic world do as well. Kids, the problem with steroids is that you’re not being told the truth: for all the hard work and time you put in, someday you’re going to go up against someone with a chemistry set back home — and lose.

From the MSNBC.com piece:

“We have two choices: to vainly try to turn the clock back, or to rethink who we are, and what sport is,” Oxford University applied ethics professor Julian Savulescu wrote in 2004, in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. He argued that sports should throw in the towel on zero tolerance and allow doctors to administer careful and measured doses of whatever to elite athletes. Hey, what’s the moral difference between laser-vision correction and a little hormone treatment?

“Performance enhancement is not against the spirit of sport; it is the spirit of sport,” Savulescu wrote. “To choose to be better is to be human. Athletes should be the given this choice. Their welfare should be paramount. But taking drugs is not necessarily cheating.”

I’m not saying that it’s time to fill soccer fields with five-year-olds who have SpongeBob bandages on their behinds from the shot they got from Dr. Feelgood that morning. I’m not saying anyone should use PEDs, especially because right know only God and Victor Conte know what they’re made of. But at some point parents and kids need to ask themselves — if taking a PED is the difference between becoming an elite athlete or not, should the PED be taken?

By the way, Finck’s teen-aged subjects didn’t collectively wag their fingers over PEDs:

While some players expressed frustration, many others accepted performance-enhancing drugs as part of the game. Victor Figueroa, the Outsiders’ star catcher believes that “steroids have made baseball more interesting, challenging, and intense.”

Similarly, first baseman Matthew Barnes seemingly embraces what performance enhancers bring to the game. “Everyone goes to a game to see magic (big hits),” says Barnes. “Bringing steroids to the game just hypes it up.”

Written by rkcookjr

July 14, 2009 at 6:09 pm