Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

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Posts Tagged ‘youth baseball

My 7-year-old has announced his retirement from baseball

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I was out with my 7-year-old son, walking the family Maltese dogs — because there is nothing  more male-bonding-looking than a boy and his son walking these:

So as we are walking, my 7-year-old asks me if baseball signups are coming up soon. I said, yes, probably in a couple of weeks. And I ask him why he’s asking. Because, he said, he doesn’t want to play baseball this year.

I was a bit shocked by this news. I managed Ryan’s team the two years he played, and he seemed very enthusiastic about baseball. He had just mentioned to my wife the other day how he hoped he would be a Phillie again, as he was his first two years:

Given that I write and hear all the time about kids quitting because they had a lousy experience in the sport, I was concerned that my youngest son, once enthused with baseball, no longer had an interest in it. And given that I was his manager, I hoped it wasn’t because of something I did.

So I probed.

“Did something happen last year to make you not like baseball?”

“No?”

“Was it something I did? Because you can tell me if it was.”

“I just don’t want to play it anymore.” (You can see his body stiffening.)

“But why not?”

“I just don’t.” (At this point I’m being as annoying as a 7-year-old.)

“OK, you don’t have to play if you don’t want to.”

“OK, well, maybe I will.”

“No, Ryan, you don’t have to.”

We were heading in a direction in which I would be ordering him not to play if Ryan seemed like he was only playing to make me happy. Because, believe me, with two daughters playing softball in the spring, having one fewer child playing baseball would make my wife and I very, very happy. My 13-year-old son stopped playing baseball after age 9, and I must say, neither he nor we miss it.

Not that I wanted Ryan to quit to make our spring weekdays easier. And I was still feeling guilty. So I asked, “Is there something else you’d rather do?”

“I’d rather do bowling and soccer” — sports he plays now — “and maybe a play, or a technology club. Because I want to be a video game designer.” Like how other kids dream of playing in Major League Baseball, Ryan dreams of being a video game designer. Knowing Japan’s prominence in the video game world, Ryan is joining his school’s Japanese club to learn the language and customs, about 15-25 years before he takes in his first big meeting in Tokyo.

It was a great conversation, especially because my guilty conscience was soothed. (Whew.) My wife and I have tried to make it clear to our four children that we do not mind spending the time and money on something if they enjoy it. But if they don’t enjoy it, we are more than ready to let them quit (at least once the activity is over). I’ll be honest — having four kids, ages 5 to 13, in various activities means we are ready to throw one over the side at any time. But more importantly, there are enough activities out there that it’s not like it’s baseball, or sit at home.

Ryan is fortunate, too, that he’s the third child in this process for us. My oldest son has tried about every sport available, but his interests right now are centered on theater, music, and joining the Marines. My oldest daughter, age 11, looked to have a starring career in softball, but she learned over the summer that she while she enjoys house league she didn’t care for travel ball, and that in her Animal Planet-mainlining heart of hearts she still like horseback riding lessons best. (Horseback riding lessons definitely test our notion that we will gladly pay for an activity if the kid likes it.)

Maybe Ryan will decide after spring 2011 that he wants to go back to baseball, but I’ve learned with my kids that once they’re done with an activity, they’re usually done for good. I feel confident calling his move a retirement, and not just him putting his baseball career on hiatus. Either way, I’m glad Ryan told me that he would rather not play baseball, before he — and we — made another heavy commitment to it. And that he doesn’t mind being seen with his dad, out walking Paris Hilton’s dogs.

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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.)

Dad sues after his kid hit by a pitch — why, yes, the dad IS a lawyer

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I’m not knee-jerk about taking the opposite position when everyone else is decrying something as another brick in the wall that is the pussification of youth sports. And it’s pretty easy to jump on a lawyer who sues over his son getting hit by a pitch, especially because he wasn’t there to see what happened.

On the other hand, if there is no other mechanism to punish coaches who intentionally call on their players to hurt the opponent in the name of competition, in flagrant violation of the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child, then a lawsuit there must be. In the major leagues, players and managers get kicked out games and fined for throwing at players, so why should there be no repercussions in youth baseball?

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So often, a violent act such as intentionally throwing at a batter begets more violence.

The situation: Michael Connick, 13, was trying to bunt with the bases loaded in a 13-and-under game in the travel Great Lakes Baseball League, which covers Northeast Ohio. What’s not in dispute is that the first pitch to Michael was way high and inside, and on the second, he was hit by the pitch, breaking his left hand. What is in dispute is whether the opposing coach ordered the pitcher to hit him intentionally.

From the News-Herald in Willoughby, Ohio:

Tom Connick, who also is an attorney [note to lawyer haters — not just an attorney, but a trial lawyer], filed a lawsuit this week in Lake County Common Pleas Court claiming Scott Barber, an assistant coach for the Titans, committed assault and battery against his son during the game at Haven’s Baseball Complex in Jefferson Township.

According to the suit, Barber ordered his pitcher on the mound to “throw at” Connick’s son, which resulted in the boy “severely” breaking his left hand.

“Immediately after (Michael) fell to the ground, and while writhing in pain, defendant Barber again yelled from the dugout, ‘Good!,’ thus confirming and ratifying his order to ‘throw at’ and intentionally and recklessly … hit the plaintiff,” Tom Connick stated in the suit.

Connick claims that even after Michael left the field for the hospital, Barber encouraged other reckless and/or negligent physical play, including instructions to run over players on the opposing team.

How did Connick know this, given neither he nor his wife were at the game? I’m not sure. The story doesn’t explain. I presume the other parents on his team angrily and breathlessly told him what they saw happen on that fateful June 24. And then Connick responded by suing the coach and the league, which he said failed to discipline Barber, even though state youth baseball rules say intentionally throwing at a batter is illegal.

Connick and his wife, Corrina, are seeking more than $25,000 in damages, lost wages and attorney’s fees [Note: I presume lost wages are for Connick missing work, not because Michael already has a job. Or maybe he’s mowing lawns for pay already].

In addition, they want Judge Richard L. Collins Jr. to ban Barber from coaching or participating in any youth sports for at least 15 years.

Michael’s father … stressed that his family is not suing for the money.

“Anything he gets will go toward his medical bills, then a college fund through probate court,” Connick said. “I’m a lawyer, but I’m also Michael’s father. I don’t want people thinking I’m some scumbag attorney.”

Too late! From “The Slapper,” run just as it was typed, in the Herald’s comment section:

There are risks in every sport, and if the parents don’t like it, then too bad. It’s people like this attorney that give try to live through their children. People like this ruin it for everyone. Everything is a law suit. Quite being a cry baby and deal with the fact that your poor little baby got hit by a ball. If he doesn’t know how to get out of the way, then maybe he shouldn’t be trying to bunt. I feel bad for the kid, but there are a lot of hurdles throughout life that everyone has to deal with. Keep parents like this off the baseball fields. They’d be safer in the library. I would hate to see this kid play football, and the coach say sack him. This attorney would be suing for that!!! “

Although to be fair, plenty of commenters showed support for the lawyer, given all of the out-of-control behavior from coaches they said they’ve witnessed. Also to be fair, Barber — varsity baseball and golf coach, as well as seventh-grade boys baseball coach, at Jefferson Area Junior-Senior High in Ashtabula County, Ohio — has not responded to the allegations, and the league backs up him as a good and decent coach.

One question I’ve seen from some commenters is, why didn’t the umpire say anything after the first pitch? First, the umpires for these events are low-paid drudge workers, so they’re not necessarily training their ears to know if something scurrilous is going on. Second, with it being 13-and-under baseball, no umpire would believe a pitcher has enough control to throw at a batter, accurately, especially twice in a row.

Third, these low-paid drudge workers want to get home without fighting with anyone, so they may take the path of least resistance — which means not throwing out a coach who obviously is doing wrong. The other day my daughter’s 10-and-under travel softball team was called out for not touching the plate, not because the ump saw she didn’t touch the plate, but because my daughter’s team was up 10-0, the other coach was screaming (as he had all game), and as the ump told my daughter’s coach, “I just wanted to shut him up.” (The lost run turned out not to be an issue, but my daughter’s coach was a bit perturbed that he essentially was penalized for being a nice guy. To digress, this call had the effect of teaching the girls to make sure they hit the plate. My daughter touched it twice the other day when she scored, just to be careful.)

I have no sympathy for any coach who tells anyone to hurt someone intentionally. It’s one thing to hurt players if everyone is playing hard — say, a collision at the plate between the catcher legitimately trying to block it and the runner legitimately trying to score. But if this coach really was demanding his pitcher throw at another player, and the league and his club fail to take any action, then I don’t blame Tom Connick for doing what he knows, and suing the bastards into compliance.

Even those who don’t care much for trial attorneys might agree that a few lawsuits might dial down the number of grown-up coaches who seem to get their competitive jollies over telling one kid to hurt another.

Written by rkcookjr

July 18, 2010 at 4:25 pm

Youth baseball coach/dad reacts violently to player/son acting violently

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“Who taught you to totally lose your shit when you got mad? Huh?”

“YOU, DAD! I learned it by watching you!”

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From The Associated Press:

Youth baseball coach Ray Boudreau of suburban Harrisburg, Pa., is charged with simple assault after his 9-year-old son was punched in the face for being ejected from a game.

According to court papers, Boudreau struck his son twice with a closed fist at the game [July 5], but defense attorney Brian Perry says that while Boudreau handled the situation poorly, he actually struck the boy on the back.

Boudreau is scheduled to appear at a hearing on July 27.

Court papers say the umpire and scorekeeper called police, who arrested Boudreau at his Enola home.

An officer says he observed redness on the boy’s face.

Perry says Boudreau spent Monday night in jail.

He said the boy was ejected for throwing his helmet after he was thrown out at third base.

Written by rkcookjr

July 12, 2010 at 4:59 pm

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.

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

An app that satisfies the demand for real-time T-ball action

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Have you ever driven by a Little League baseball field and thought, “Where’s the GOT-damn scoreboard? How am I supposed to know what’s going on in this game?”

Well, now your worries are over, thanks to the Gamechanger!

It’s, well, a game changer for how we follow youth sports. No longer do you have to ask some other parent, “What inning are we in? Is this ever going to be over?” Now, thanks to this smartphone app, you can look and say, “Fucking shit. It’s only the third inning. I’m never getting out of here.”

Developed by former Cleveland Indians single-A minor-league pitcher Ted Sullivan, the Gamechanger allows a scorekeeper at the game to update statistics, which are then accessible by mobile phone to anyone who logs into the Gamechanger network. It’s the perfect gift for guilt-ridden parents who aren’t able to make it to their kid’s game because they’re working late and/or banging the secretary.

“As a busy father, I have always wished that I could follow my sons’ games even when I couldn’t be there,” said Steve Hansen, the CEO of Weplay, a celebrity-endorsed youth sports portal, in a Jan. 27 statement announcing Gamechanger’s availability to any league that uses Weplay services.  “With GameChanger, Weplay now is on the field on an iPhone, broadcasting and sharing youth sports memories with the people who care most.” (For the record, I would never mean to imply that Steve Hanson has ever banged his secretary. I don’t even know if he has a secretary.)

The Weplay deal is a coup for the Gamechanger — a game changer, if you will — because otherwise Sullivan was looking at, league by league, trying to sell $2 per month subscriptions to parents whose leagues might or might not be feeding data to the application.

Now, even George Clooney in “Up in the Air” can know that little Johnny is 2-for-4 with an error in his 9-year-old Little League game. Grandma in Spokane can see how little Sasha in Fort Wayne is playing. Then she can call her parents and ask them why Sasha sucks so hard.

2498619968_ce16a78dd51Scoreboard update!

To me, as a coach, the best thing about the Gamechanger is that parents stop asking me what inning it is, or what the score is. (I’m annoyed because usually I don’t know without looking at the scorebook.) Better yet, the dad that would call my 10-year-old daughter’s softball manager during games to get details on score, inning and how his hotshot travel-team daughter was doing could look at the app and find out, leaving the poor manager alone with his thoughts and the incessant cheers of a 10-year-old girls’ softball team.

There are many other constituencies for tracking games with the Gamechanger. Such as:

– Ice cream truck drivers, so they know when to show up to a game and park and play their grating song OVER and OVER and OVER and OVER and OVER and OVER until you HAVE to buy FUCKING SPONGEBOB ICE CREAM BARS just to GET THEM TO GO AWAY, GODDAMNIT.

– Coaches who think they’re running a friggin’ major-league team and want to use it for “scouting.”

— Parents pounding shots at the bar, wanting a sure signal on what time they should start sobering up to pick up their kid.

— Commissioners and owners of youth-league fantasy baseball team.

— Gamblers.

– Pervs.