Ahead in the Count

Update on “Opening Day” Post… and a Coach’s Greatest Pleasure

Ten days ago I wrote a post that addressed a dilemma I was facing with my little league team here in Downtown Manhattan.

I ended that post with the following summary of my concern:

Here are the series of conflicting issues in my head:

– League rules make for boring games.

– These kids need to have fun.

– Our team needs to get better.

– Baseball practice isn’t always fun — especially with limited field space.

So where do we go from here?

After reading a couple good comments on that post and doing some thinking I determined that the solution is short (1 hour) optional practices using very limited field space during which we work on basic baseball fundamentals mixed in with a little competition and lots of positive energy. Attendance at these workouts has been better than expected (and attended by different players than expected) and I’ve witnessed significant improvement in a matter of a couple weeks.

On Sunday we won our second game by 11 runs and the mercy rule. We got 12 hits and our best pitcher — and the leagues’s best player — dominated on the mound.

But our biggest challenge was still ahead of us. After two more optional (and fun) practices on Monday and Tuesday we had a game last night in which four of our better players (and our three top pitchers) were on a school camping trip. I admit that going into the game my hopes weren’t very high. We had to take two players from the “minors” to field a team but my primary concern was that I didn’t think we had enough kids who could throw consistent strikes.

Despite my fear of a “death-by-base-on-balls,” I was treated to one of the greatest pleasures a coach of young ballplayers will ever experience. Two inexperienced pitchers STEPPED UP with outstanding efforts on the mound and a display of mental toughness that was even more impressive than their physical performances. We made most of the basic plays in the field and had some clutch hitting that resulted in a 7-6 win in the bottom of the last inning.

It was fun to win but even better to see a bunch of multi-talented “super-kids” from downtown Manhattan begin to understand how rewarding baseball can be when you practice hard and execute when the game’s on the line.

But we still have a lot of work to do… so stay tuned for further updates.

(Lastly, an “Only in TriBeCa” sidenote: As I walked to the field yesterday from my apartment, bucket of balls in hand, I spent most of the 10 minute stroll next to Mike Myers of SNL, Wayne’s World, Austin Powers and Shrek fame.)

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April 30, 2009 Posted by | On the Field, written by Ted Sullivan | 1 Comment

Sugar

 

Go see this movie.

Go see this movie.

I highly recommend checking out the movie, Sugar. It’s a wonderful story of Miguel “Sugar” Santos, a Dominican pitcher struggling to get to the big leagues and pull himself and his family out of poverty. I’m usually (but not always) entertained by baseball-themed movies. Bull Durham is a favorite and Major League with Charlie Sheen & Co. is always good for a few laughs, but I think Sugar may be the best yet.

 

The tragic flaws of most sports movies are that they are horribly unrealistic and usually quite predictable.

Sugar is neither. 

I’ve spent time in both the DR and in the minor leagues and this movie stunningly brought me back in time to those experiences. The minor league scenes in particular were eerily familiar — yet they gave me even more of an appreciation for the Latin American players who were dropped into small town America and expected to overcome the physical, emotional and cultural challenges both on and off the field. 

I won’t explain why it’s unpredictable. Go see the movie and find out.

April 28, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Let’s Take a Poll

What’s worse: that the Nationals fined Elijah Dukes $500 for showing up 5 minutes late for a game because he was supporting a local little league’s Opening Day or that Dukes charged the local little league $500 for his appearance?

http://sports.yahoo.com/mlb/blog/big_league_stew/post/News-amp-Notes-Elijah-Dukes-gets-lift-from-Li?urn=mlb,157945

Discuss.

April 26, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Little League Opening Day… now what?

Yesterday was opening day for my 11 and 12 year olds in New York City’s Downtown Little League. The game was a tough one to swallow. Usually these games are forgotten by the time I walk off the field but I’ll admit yesterday’s hung with me for a bit — but not only because we lost a game we should have won. 

 

I had a few thoughts throughout most of the day — all of which seemed to conflict with each other. I’d love the help of any readers and my fellow bloggers as I try to sort them out. 

 

First, yesterday’s game was pretty ugly from a baseball perspective. There were a handful of great plays but in general, the game was determined by walks and strikeouts. I’m having my fellow coach calculate the following stat: of the total number of plate appearances in the game, how many ended in either a walk or a strikeout. Two league rules — strict pitch count limits and required batting through the lineup of all 13 players–  inevitably leads to this result too often: a young inexperienced pitcher throwing to a young, inexperienced hitter. The result is a strikeout or walk over 50% of the time. Now I’m not concerned with the fact that I have to watch this, or whether this is an advantage or disadvantage for my team.  My concern here is that games like that take the fun out of baseball — and most of our kids are at the critical time in their baseball lives where they need to fall in love with the game if they are going to keep playing after this season. This isn’t made any easier by the immediate gratification of video games and 1000 other potential ways they can spend their time. The bar is set pretty high. 

 

Ok, hold that thought. 

 

The other thing that kept going through my head after yesterday’s game is: we need to get better. After 20+ years as a player and coach my instant reaction after a game like that is practice, practice, practice.  When can we find field time? How can I work with our pitchers? How can we get in a cage? etc, etc. However unfortunately the type of practice this team needs — and more importantly, the type of practice downtown NYC field space provides — is not particularly fun for young players. We don’t have access to a full field other than our 1 practice per week (maybe) and our games on Sundays. We need pitching drill work. We need fielding drills, we need to break down our swings and build them back up.

 

But my fear is that I’m not sure whether the majority of the kids on this team really want to spend their time this way. This is rec league baseball in downtown Manhattan. These kids are going to be successful writers, bankers, musicians and movie producers. It’s not that they aren’t great kids and of course they want to succeed. But if given the choice I’m not sure they will want to put in an extra 20+ hours of practice time this season for the marginal improvement they might see. 

 

Here are the series of conflicting issues in my head: 

– League rules make for boring games.

– These kids need to have fun. 

– Our team needs to get better.

– Baseball practice isn’t always fun — especially with limited field space. 

 

So where do we go from here?

April 20, 2009 Posted by | On the Field, written by Ted Sullivan | 4 Comments

Nice Guys Finish First…And Second.

As I sit here typing, Angel Cabrera and Kenny Perry are walking back to the 10th tee at Augusta for their second sudden-death playoff hole.

I’ve seen some tremendous acts of sportsmanship from these two men today that I believe are worth mentioning. Perry and Cabrera started the day as the leaders and are now the only two men remaining. On numerous occasions, Cabrera has given Perry a subtle “thumbs-up” after a nice recovery or a good putt. When Cabrera made a 6-footer on the 18th hole to force a playoff, it was Perry who stood on the side of the green applauding Angel’s remarkable par after hitting his drive into the woods and hitting a tree on his second shot. While these simple gestures of acknowledgement and encouragement are fairly common among amateur golfers, to see two professional golfers root for each other on the final day of the Masters was a refreshing sight.

I love watching Tiger. He is without a doubt the greatest golfer of all time and is as fierce a competitor as we will ever see. However, he is also well known for his cold demeanor on the course – he would call it laser focus – and often goes entire rounds without uttering a single word to his playing partner or even acknowledging his presence. I’ve also started to grow tired of the Tiger putter toss followed by that incredulous look he gets after missing a putt as if it was the green’s fault that the ball didn’t roll the way he wanted it to. This is to take absolutely nothing away from Tiger – he’s a great athlete, an amazing competitor, and I almost always find myself rooting for him down the stretch of any tournament he plays.

However, it was great to see two genuinely nice guys root for each other for 18 holes and end up as the last two men standing. They clearly both love and respect the game and are both obviously ultra-competitive athletes with a tremendous will to win.

Today, Kenny Perry and Angel Cabrera exemplified beautifully how wanting to win and treating the game and your opponents with respect are in no way mutually exclusive.

April 12, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

April Madness

An interesting debate has sprung up around this weekend’s ESPN-sponsored National High School Invitational (NHSI) basketball tournament which will tip off at Georgetown Preparatory school in Rockville, MD.

The Washington Post’s high school editor Josh Barr wrote a nice piece today on the event, which highlights many of the issues that arise when shoe companies and television insert themselves into amateur sports. Definitely worth a read.

The tournament field includes perennial powerhouses Oak Hill Academy (check out their crazy website) and Montrose Christian (whose coach, Stu Vetter has referred to the event as “mini-March madness” and a high school national championship) but not a single public school (national rules prohibit their participation) nor DeMatha or Gonzaga, two excellent local programs, both of whom are currently ranked in ESPN’s national top ten. The principals of the WCAC (the conference that both schools compete in) overruled the league’s coaches, forbidding its members from participating.

Findlay Prep's Student Body

Findlay Prep's Student Body

 Thankfully, the NHSI – Coach Vetter’s National Championship – will feature Findlay Prep,a school based in Las Vegas funded by former UNLV player-turned-car dealer (and apparently turned meglomaniac) Clif Findlay. The school has 8 students, all of whom play on the team. The “school’s” website is hilarious.

While I’m still searching for even the slightest reference to academia on the site, one can find a detailed description of the living arrangements the Findlay “students” enjoy:

“The home has two big screens, all new furniture, extra long beds, four bathrooms, a study room with custom desks, wireless internet, full cable TV, two refrigerators kept full, a large backyard and patio, and walking distance to two parks.”

Right around the corner from the library, no doubt. Madness indeed.

April 3, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment