Ahead in the Count

Check that… THIS might be the most impressive and gutsy baseball player I’ve ever seen

written by Ted Sullivan

Adam Bender hustles down the line.

Adam Bender hustles down the line.

Back in August I wrote a post on a group of blind baseball players, calling them “the most impressive and gutsy baseball players” I had ever seen.

I stand corrected.

Check out this segment from the Today Show about nine year old Adam Bender.

Adam plays little league baseball, soccer and probably any sport he wants — all on one leg.

And he’s good! How many two-legged nine year olds can get around the basepaths with Adam’s speed?

I was watching this at the gym this morning — moments after whining to the trainer about how stiff and sore my two legs were from yesterdays workout. I’m such a wimp.

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October 15, 2009 Posted by | Media Commentary, On the Field, written by Ted Sullivan | , , , | Leave a comment

The most impressive and gutsy baseball players I’ve ever seen…

written by Ted Sullivan

Picture 2

(Note: I hope these links work. The WSJ can often be stingy with their content.)

When I picked up today’s Wall Street Journal I didn’t think I was going to read a story about the most impressive and gutsy baseball players on the planet. Then I watched this video and almost fell out of my chair. The WSJ front page human interest piece was about “Beep Ball” a version of baseball for the blind.

Yes, baseball for the blind.

Jim Abbott pitched in the big leagues despite being born without a right hand. And Cal Ripken played in 2632 consecutive games…

But these guys are unbelievable.

And I thought I was unlucky for being right handed.

Picture 1

August 18, 2009 Posted by | Media Commentary, written by Ted Sullivan | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Question of Curveballs

written by Ted Sullivan

Tim Lincecum. Nasty curveball.

Tim Lincecum throws one of MLB's best curveballs.

As a youth baseball coach I’m often asked if curveballs hurt young arms.

In the youth sports ecosystem it’s become almost an accepted fact that curveballs are bad for the arms of young pitchers. Recently Mark Hyman wrote a piece for the NY Times explaining that recent studies have contradicted these long-held opinions.

I’m not a doctor and  have no evidence to support or refute these findings.

What I do believe is that young arms (and any arms for that matter) are hurt by the following:

  1. Poor / inefficient / overly violent mechanics — on all pitches, but especially breaking balls.
  2. Overuse — but only when compared to what an arm is in shape to throw. Like any other athletic activity, if you aren’t in shape it is damaging to push to extremes. You wouldn’t run a marathon without training and therefore shouldn’t throw 100 pitches in a game unless you have built up the arm, leg and core body strength to do so.
  3. Lack of care after throwing (stretch, ice, rest, etc) and
  4. Lack of care and preparation in the days and hours before pitching (off-day workouts, pre-game warm up, etc.)

I don’t teach young pitchers to throw curveballs because it’s possible that these pitches hurt young arms. But the primary reason I don’t teach these pitches is that pitchers will quickly get addicted to them. Young batters have a hard time hitting anything that breaks — even poorly thrown curveballs. So young pitchers (and more likely coaches who are calling pitches — an issue worthy of another blog post) tend to rely too much on breaking pitches. This keeps young players from developing their fastball which is the foundation of any good pitcher’s repertoire.

August 3, 2009 Posted by | Media Commentary, On the Field, written by Ted Sullivan | , , , , | 1 Comment

Great profile of Brendan on MLB.com

posted by Ted Sullivan

Brendan at an Honor Roll Camp

Brendan at an Honor Roll Camp

Lisa Winston wrote a glowing profile of Brendan and Headfirst on MLB.com. It’s a good read for any baseball fan, entrepreneur or parent with a ballplayer who is putting off law school while insisting on riding buses and living off meal money just to play the game the game that he loves.

It also references the Headfirst Honor Roll Camps… unquestionably the top college baseball showcase camps in the country (I’m admittedly biased, but it’s true). In 2009 The Honor Roll Camp is coming to Dallas, Sacramento, Richmond and Jupiter, Fl.

March 4, 2009 Posted by | Media Commentary, written by Ted Sullivan | Leave a comment

Another Blog Worth Reading

posted by Ted Sullivan

Since starting this blog just a few months ago I’ve spent some time searching the net for others who are writing on the same general topic of youth sports / coaching / etc. Mark Hyman’s blog, Youth Sports Parents is one worth checking out. Mark wrote Confessions of a Baseball Purist about Jon Miller, former Baltimore Orioles radio announcer (and now ESPN bigwig) whose voice will forever represent the sound of baseball for me. Mark is also working on a new book about youth sports to be published this spring. Looking forward to checking that out.

Mark’s blog has also encouraged me to create a list on this page of other blogs and columnists worth reading. Let me know if you have any to add to the list.

February 23, 2009 Posted by | Media Commentary, written by Ted Sullivan | 1 Comment

“Some Magical Ability to Win”

posted by Ted Sullivan

Shane Battier, the "No-Stats All-Star"

Shane Battier, the "No-Stats All-Star"

A few weeks back I wrote a post titled “Flaws in Collected Wisdom” about Michael Lewis’ Moneyball and it’s application within youth sports.  I’ve been fascinated by the “moneyball” philosophy — not because I’m a stat-rat or even a die hard sports fan really (ok, with one exception), but because I love its broader relevance of using data to dispel conventional wisdom and create business opportunities. Lewis wrote a terrific piece for the NY Times last weekend which detailed how the Houston Rockets are taking these “moneyball” concepts to the NBA. He profiled Shane Battier, the “No-Stats All-Star.” It’s absolutely worth a read — even if you aren’t a Duke basketball fan (my aforementioned exception) who thinks that Shane Battier is one of the great athletic role models of the last decade. I know everyone loves to hate Duke hoops but if you’re looking for a super-intelligent-team-before-me-leave-it-all-on-the-floor pro athlete to root for, look no further than Shane Battier.

Needless to say, my writing skills are over-matched by Lewis’ so instead of summarizing, I’ll post a few lines from the article about Battier (I can’t help myself), several of which are quotes from Rockets GM Daryl Morey:

First, from Basketball writer Dan Wetzel: “I’d covered high-school basketball for eight years and talked to hundreds and hundreds and hundreds

Battier and Coach K

Battier and Coach K

of kids — really every single prominent high-school basketball player in the country,” Wetzel says. “There’s this public perception that they’re all thugs. But they aren’t. A lot of them are really good guys, and some of them are very, very bright. Kobe’s very bright. LeBron’s very bright. But there’s absolutely never been anything like Shane Battier.”

“This year,” Morey says, “we have been a championship team with him and a bubble playoff team without him.” Here we have a basketball mystery: a player is widely regarded inside the N.B.A. as, at best, a replaceable cog in a machine driven by superstars. And yet every team he has ever played on has acquired some magical ability to win.

Morey says, “When he’s on the court, all the pieces start to fit together. And everything that leads to winning that you can get to through intellect instead of innate ability, Shane excels in. I’ll bet he’s in the hundredth percentile of every category.”

Last season when the Rockets played the San Antonio Spurs, Battier was assigned to guard their most dangerous scorer, Manu Ginóbili. Ginóbili comes off the bench, however, and his minutes are not in sync with the minutes of a starter like Battier. Battier privately went to Coach Rick Adelman and told him to bench him and bring him in when Ginóbili entered the game. “No one in the N.B.A. does that,” Morey says. “No one says put me on the bench so I can guard their best scorer all the time.”



February 19, 2009 Posted by | Media Commentary, written by Ted Sullivan | Leave a comment

Refreshing Article on Youth Sports………

Team’s gesture supports grieving opponent

Updated: February 17, 2009, 7:46 PM

Two missed free throws, ordinarily the cause of a coach’s headache, became the symbol of sportsmanship in a Milwaukee boys basketball game earlier this month.
Milwaukee Madison senior Johntell Franklin, who lost his mother, Carlitha, to cancer on Saturday, Feb. 7, decided he wanted to play in that night’s game against DeKalb (Ill.) High School after previously indicating he would sit out.
He arrived at the gym in the second quarter, but Franklin’s name was not in the scorebook because his coach, Aaron Womack Jr., didn’t expect him to be there.
Rules dictated Womack would have to be assessed a technical, but he was prepared to put Franklin in the game anyway. DeKalb coach Dave Rohlman and his players knew of the situation, and told the referees they did not want the call.

As a principal, school, school district staff, and community you should all feel immense pride for the remarkable job that the coaching staff is doing in not only coaching these young men, but teaching them how to be leaders.

–Milwaukee Madison boys basketball coach Aaron Womack Jr.

The referees had no choice. But Rohlman did.
“I gathered my kids and said, ‘Who wants to take these free throws?'” Rohlman said, recounting the game to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “Darius McNeal put up his hand. I said, ‘You realize you’re going to miss, right?’ He nodded his head.”
McNeal, a senior point guard, went to the line. The Milwaukee Madison players stayed by their bench, waiting for the free throws. Instead of seeing the ball go through the net, they saw the ball on the court, rolling over the end line.
“I turned around and saw the ref pick up the ball and hand it back to the player,” Womack said in the Journal Sentinel. “And then [McNeal] did the same thing again.”
Said Rohlman: “Darius set up for a regular free throw, but he only shot it two or three feet in front of him. It bounced once or twice and just rolled past the basket.”
“I did it for the guy who lost his mom,” McNeal told the newspaper. “It was the right thing to do.”
Womack, overwhelmed by DeKalb’s gesture, wrote a letter to the DeKalb Daily Chronicle, which had first reported the story.
“As a principal, school, school district staff, and community you should all feel immense pride for the remarkable job that the coaching staff is doing in not only coaching these young men, but teaching them how to be leaders,” Womack wrote.
DeKalb had traveled more than two hours for the game, and waited another two as Womack rushed from the hospital, where he had been with Franklin, to the school to gather his team.
“We were sympathetic to the circumstances and the events,” Rohlman said in the Journal Sentinel. “We even told Coach Womack that it’d be OK to call off the game, but he said we had driven 2½ hours to get here and the kids wanted to play. So we said, ‘Spend some time with your team and come out when you’re ready.'”
The two schools had met twice previously, and this one ended with a Madison victory, but as in the other games, they also a shared pizza dinner “four kids to a pizza, two Madison kids and two DeKalb kids,” Womack told the Journal Sentinel.
“That letter became a big deal in DeKalb,” Rohlman said in the paper. “We got lots of positive calls and e-mails because of it. Even though we lost the game, it was a true life lesson, and it’s not one our kids are going to forget anytime soon.”
Womack, in his letter to the DeKalb Daily Chronicle, added this at the end: “I’d like to recognize Darius who stepped up to miss the shot on purpose. He could have been selfish and cared only for his own stats [I hope Coach Rohlman doesn’t make him run for missing the free throws].”

February 18, 2009 Posted by | Media Commentary, On the Field, Sports Around the World | 1 Comment

Why I Didn’t Cheat

by Brendan Sullivan

While it was Selena Roberts of Sports Illustrated who last week broke the most recent cover story of baseball’s steroid epidemic, it was a different article inside the same issue that moved me to write the following letter to the editor this afternoon:

Dear S.I.:

Joe Posnanski’s article on the fall of Alex Rodriguez (PLAYERS, Feb. 16) is the best article on baseball’s Steroid Era of the hundreds I’ve read.

Juiced baseballs?

I was a part of the so-called baseball Steroid Era – a submarine relief pitcher in Double-A Mobile, AL the summer that Sammy and Big Mac, disguised as pro wrestlers, shattered the single season home run record. The following two seasons, I played in Triple-A Las Vegas, a phone call away from a Padres uniform in San Diego. Steroids were everywhere – in the big leagues, in my own clubhouse, used by the men I was competing with for promotion; even by the young kids in college and the low minors who would soon be trying to take my job. I don’t know if steroids would have gotten me into the Major Leagues. When you’re that close, however, little things – a few mph here or there – can make the difference. Despite the constant temptation, and the feeling of my career and lifelong dreams slipping away, I never used.

Like Posnanski, I don’t harbor any anger towards those who used, nor do I feel sorry for them when they get caught. This mess was created by the men who run baseball (Commissioner’s office, owners, GM’s and players union alike), not those who play it – but those who juiced knew what they were doing. I agree that the fall of A-Rod shows that the real question of this era isn’t why some players cheated but rather why others did not. I’m only one player of hundreds who played it straight while the game passed them by, but I know what motivated me. I didn’t cheat because from the moment I started playing sports as a young boy, my great coaches emphasized to me that it was the process of sports that was more important than any result. Doing things the right way was more important to them than winning – and therefore it was to me.

A-Rod, just moments before he started feeling the pressure.

A-Rod, moments before the pressure overwhelmed him

My final month as a professional baseball player was spent as a minor league free agent in spring training with Texas. It was March, 2001 – the same month that the $250 million man made his Rangers debut. For thirty consecutive mornings in Port Charlotte, FL, supplemented only by protein shakes and desire, I was the first minor league player in the weight room, hours before the day’s scheduled activities began. Each morning, I walked by A-Rod hitting off a tee by himself in the batting cage – an impressive sight regardless of what was coursing through his veins. Surely, he felt intense pressure to live up to his massive contract – but those of us whose career and dreams could die any day felt pressure too.

I’ll never know if I was good enough to be a big leaguer on a level playing field. But I sleep well at night knowing I made the right choice.

Brendan Sullivan
Washington, D.C.

February 17, 2009 Posted by | Media Commentary, written by Brendan Sullivan | 5 Comments

Larry Legend

NFL receivers catch a lot of flack, most of it rightfully so.  They demand the ball notwithstanding whether it is part of their team’s game plan.  They are sulky and divisive when they don’t get their touches.  They celebrate touchdowns (or even just first downs) with contrived, self-centered dances or gimmicks (although I must admit enjoying some of the more harmless, creative efforts on this front – not that a celebration’s humor makes it any less self-centered).  So while most NFL receivers don’t deserve the attention they so desperately seek, Larry Fitzgerald deserves the attention of all aspiring young athletes. 

For a couple of seasons, I’ve admired Larry Fitzgerald and how he plays the game.  Most receivers celebrate routine catches.  Larry does the opposite: he reacts to making incredible circus catches on a weekly basis with humility and indifference.  Do your job – and act like you’ve been there.  Fitzgerald’s touchdown celebration?  Flip the ball to the ref and either (1) run straight to the sideline (particularly if his team is still losing after the score) or (2) congratulate his teammates. 

Fitzgerald burst on the national scene last week when he scored 3 TDs in the first half of the NFC championship game.   That said, I thought that Larry’s best moments came in the fourth quarter, on two plays in particular where he never touched the ball.  With about four minutes to go and the Cardinals down by two, the Cardinals got a huge first down inside the Eagles twenty yard line.  Larry Fitzgerald was on the field, but they ball did not go his way.  Understanding the significance of the first down, Fitzgerald leaped in the air in a way usually reserved for eight-year-olds who win little league games.  His celebration was even more demonstrative a few plays later when teammate Tim Hightower scored the winning touchdown.  Despite the fact that he did not score, Larry exploded frantically into the air over and over again, jumping up and down with unadulterated excitement at the notion that his team was Super Bowl bound. 

That sort of legitimate, spontaneous excitement on the field was great to see, particularly from a superstar wide receiver.  Simply put, Larry Fitzgerald is a breath of fresh air in professional football.  His talent is now widely celebrated.  His attitude should be as well.

January 25, 2009 Posted by | Media Commentary, written by John Bramlette | Leave a comment

The Impact of Recession

Most of the writers on this blog make their living through the business of youth and high school sports. While the “business” side isn’t the primary motivator for any of us, it does put food on the table so we are very aware of the economic environment and it’s impact on our respective companies.


For several months now we have been swamped with news of the [insert your oft cliché here] global financial crisis. It isn’t pretty. I don’t work in finance but I’ve had a unique perspective since I live in Lower Manhattan and could hit a fungo to Wall Street from the roof of my apartment building. If you hang out in my neighborhood at around 6pm on a weekday you’ll see bankers and traders headed to the subway looking like they just got sent to the showers after giving up seven runs on twelve hits in one and a third innings. I wish I could say I don’t know how that feels.

 

 

President Herbert Hoover, throwing out the first pitch for a Senators-Athletics game in 1931, was often showered with boos.

President Herbert Hoover, throwing out the first pitch for a Senators-Athletics game in 1931, was often showered with boos.

The media coverage has been comprehensive to say the least. The perspective of every industry has been taken — housing, auto, finance, education, retail, etc. — and the numbers are staggering. The NY Times recently ran a piece by Ken Belson about baseball in the depression era . It’s worth reading, especially for the sports history buffs out there. Both the optimistic and the pessimistic viewpoints are taken — the former highlighted by the Yankees free agent singings (“CC” is apparently short for cha-ching) and the latter by the now familiar saying of “we haven’t seen anything quite like this.” The impact on pro sports has been covered in that piece and others. But what about youth and high school sports?

 

My initial reaction is that youth sports – and really any spending around kids and their development is relatively recession proof. (By relatively I mean that I expect that these expenses will be cut last).  In addition I feel like recessions encourage a re-concentration on family values. Lastly, I think that youth sports instruction has some expensive competitors – namely, video games and vacations – that may get cut from the budget before a parent decides not to have their child take an after-school hitting lesson or go to an additional week of summer camp.

 

These are all hunches so I decided to reach out to my fellow bloggers to see what’s happening in the business of youth and high school coaching. A few noteworthy replies from three coaches in three very different parts of the world:

Tal Alter wrote from South Africa regarding the impact on non-profits:

In the short term, it’s not helping us. We have had to cut our budget for the remainder of the fiscal year by 25%, which means that we are essentially cutting the size of our program in half – reaching half the number of kids we were planning on reaching.

Much of the sports-based youth development world (non-profits, specifically) relied heavily on the US financial firms for funding. Their downfall has meant that pledges are going unmet and funds that were budgeted for prior to the fiscal year will not be coming in, as people on Wall Street have either retreated inside their shells until things improve or actually don’t have the money that they would have contributed otherwise.

In the long-term, the bright side is that it forces the organization to look at local sustainability more closely so that each of our sites is more responsible for raising the money to fund their specific program with primarily logistical support from the U.S.

 

Dan Spring coaches on the opposite side of the world (literally and figuratively) in Orange County, California. His response:

“Knock on wood, I’ve seen no signs of Spring Training slowing down due to the economy.  I had a waitlist at winter break camp last weekend and already have more lesson requests than I can handle. I should qualify that statement by reminding you that my fields are in once of the most affluent neighborhoods in the country.

 

My predictions: 1) the first product that parents will cut back on is lessons. I haven’t seen it yet but I’m definitely prepared in case it happens.  2) Summer camp attendance will be UP.  Instead of spending $10k for a week in Hawaii, families out here will stay home and send their kids to camp for a few hundred bucks.  For families that still have disposable income in June ’09, $300 bucks for 30 hours of camp seems like a pretty good deal (I’m fairly certain you can’t get a high school kid to babysit your kids for less than that).

 

My concern for families not in the top 1% of the tax bracket is that video game play, etc will actually rise.  Compared with quality afterschool programs, private lessons, tutors, piano lessons, etc that run in the neighborhood of $40-$100 an hour, one $60 copy of Guitar Hero has the ability to keep their kids occupied for weeks and months on end (until they get sick of the game in which case another $60 bucks buys another few months of “babysitting).

 

Interesting stuff. I also got some comments from Matt Whiteside regarding the impact on his All-Star Performance business in St. Louis, MO:

 

I have seen a slight downturn in cage rentals in the months of November and December.  However, January is getting packed.  If two pitching instructors( yours truly is one) doing 90 -100, 20 minute lessons over a 5 day span a week, with waiting lists for both, and hitting instructors rather full as well, is any indication, lessons have remained steady.  I have had this conversation with a few people, and the comment is always the same.  Your kids betterment/interests are the last thing people cut back on. 

 

I have reached out lately to youth organizations/leagues lately, and am doing a series of free coaching clinics on pitching, hitting, fielding, and how to run a team practice, to get people in the door.  Then we hand them a coupon with discounts on cage rentals to get them back in.  It could be that this is the indoor time of year,or maybe this actually is helping, but we have had several new clients recently…..

 

In regards to our Gamers (travel team) program, 160 families, our final installment for the year was due January 15th, we extended an offer to pay the last $500 on February 15th to try to help out…..currently we are close to having 100% paid in full….we have 10 players on full scholarship that we raise/generate funds to cover their costs.  These families were targeted for this prior to the tryouts in August though…..

 

This isn’t the whole story but it’s a broad perspective – and a global one at that. The market may be struggling on Wall Street, but pitchers and catchers are still reporting in Florida and Arizona next month. Mom and Dad: if you do go on vacation, take your kids to catch some Grapefruit or Cactus League action. 

January 20, 2009 Posted by | Media Commentary, written by Ted Sullivan | 1 Comment