Ahead in the Count

City Ball

I grew up in upper Manhattan – and was lucky to be exposed to baseball early in life despite the urban setting.  The West Side Little League was established in 1985.  I joined up the following April, at age 8.  The same year, I was fortunate that my parents sent me to what-was-then a brand new baseball camp during the summers where I was taught the game, albeit on the shaved infields of Central Park.  Had I been five years older than I am, I wouldn’t have had the chance to play baseball until High School (my junior high school had no baseball team).

I now live in downtown DC, a few blocks away from Banneker Public High School.  Washington DC’s Mayor Adrian Fenty (whose twin boys are both young baseball players themselves) has made restoration of parks and athletic fields in DC’s urban center a priority.  Banneker HS has been a flagship example on this initiative – and now sports ten beautiful tennis courts, a top notch quarter-mile track, and a college-quality baseball diamond at the center of it all (by far the nicest yard in the District save for Nats Park).

After work tonight, I went over to Banneker to run on the track – and a game between Coolidge and Cardozo (both public High Schools in DC) was just starting.  The players were enthusiastic, energetic, and ready to play.  Unfortunately, the baseball was not very good (at all).  There were good athletes all over the field – but a lack of know-how really impedes the players’ ability to enjoy and excel at the game.

The home team’s pitcher provided a great example of the need for earlier exposure to baseball in cities.  The pitcher, a righty, had a very low elbow, derived very little power from his back side, and stepped way too far toward the first base dugout in his delivery.  Despite these significant flaws, the ball still left the young man’s hand with some good velocity, probably 80 mph.   Sadly, the pitcher left the game in the third innings, despite having given up only two runs… holding his right elbow.  He was clearly dismayed at the pain, and was frustrated because he didn’t know why it was happening.  If I were him, I’d rather play another sport too.

Based on what I saw at Banneker’s Field today, there is no shortage of enthusiasm for baseball in downtown DC (and presumably other cities).  But without early exposure to baseball  and its fundamentals, it will continue to be an uphill battle to make that enthusiasm stick.  I hope DC’s new jewel at Banneker High School will help.

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May 18, 2009 Posted by | Overview / Background, Uncategorized, written by John Bramlette | , | 1 Comment

Manny…

How will this affect his Hall of Fame chances?

Will the Dodger’s make the playoffs?

Do you believe him that the substance he tested positive for was as a result of a legitmate medical issue?  Does it matter?

Does the fact the substance is often used to speed up recovery after a steroid cycle make him guilty of juicing?

Can we ever trust the offensive numbers from anyone over the last 10 years?

What do we now make of players like Albert Pujols, Jim Thome, and Griffey, Jr. (the only big time sluggers still playing who haven’t tested positive PEDs)?   Are they guilty by association? 

Discuss.

May 7, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Switch Pitching

Check out the latest Rick Reilly article.

http://sports.espn.go.com/espnmag/story?id=4145564

I found the article fascinating as a “switch pitcher” is just about the rarest thing in baseball.

The part I wanted to be surprised about (but sadly wasn’t) is that this 23 year-olds’ success as a switch pitcher is already leading baseball dads with kids as young as THREE to force their sons to start throwing with both hands in hopes of finding the lateset fast track to the big leagues. 

I’m not a father, so I don’t want to be completely judgmental, but I think something all of the bloggers here see regularly in youth sports is the issue of realistic expectations (or lack thereof).    There is nothing wrong with dreaming big – that’s something all kids should do, but that’s something they should do for themselves.   What’s greater than hearing a 7 year old say he wants to be an astronaut, or big leaguer, or President when he grows up?  But when these “dreams” are manufactured by mom and dad for their kids, it can cause problems. 

What happens when little Timmy turns 8 and doesn’t even like baseball?  What happens to the child who was “dreamed” to be a doctor turns 12 and has no interest in science but instead loves the theater and wants to be an actor?  Now the parent’s expectations don’t align with the child’s and this expectation gap can cause problems.

The point is we’ve got to let the kids do the dreaming.  Our job as parents and coaches should be to support those dreams. 

The other baseball coaches here may disagree and being a talent evaluator is definitely not what I do, but I don’t think it’s possible to project whether a kid will have a shot at making his high school team until he’s at least 12 or 13.  Then it’s at least 16 or 17 until we have a clear picture if college baseball is an option.  

How can we then, in good faith, begin putting pressure on our kids to acheive at a high level before they’ve even reached double-digits by asking them to switch pitch, etc?

May 6, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Let the Coach do the Coaching

Yesterday I got an email from a friend who coaches her son’s tee ball team. She was asking for advice for how to deal with an overly aggressive dad who spends most of the game coaching from the bleachers. The dad supposedly yells instruction at his son and sometimes at the other players, upsetting many of the kids and frustrating the coaches.

This is a pretty common issue — especially at the lower levels of youth sports where many fathers (and mothers… but usually fathers) believe that they can do a better job than the coach. I’m not a parent but I’ve witnessed scenes like this enough times to understand that there must be such an overwhelming urge to see one’s child succeed on the athletic field that normal rules of human interaction no longer apply.

Kids should learn at an early age that there are one or two authority figures on the field t0 whom they need to listen —  just as there are one or two teachers in their classroom. No parent would ever think that having 12 parents in a classroom — each yelling at their kid to color within the lines or finish their multiplication tables faster — would create a good learning environment. But somehow when sports and competition are involved, good sense is lost.

I encouraged my friend to have an admittedly uncomfortable conversation with the father. I told her not to single him out as the only one who does this and to use the analogy of an elementary school classroom. For further motivation, I explained that the guy’s child will be the ultimate beneficiary.

I look forward to hearing what happens. Maybe my friend will  comment on this post with an update.

May 4, 2009 Posted by | On the Field, written by Ted Sullivan | 1 Comment