Ahead in the Count

Manny…

posted by Dan Spring

 

Hearing the Yankees offer a pitcher who will, at most, play every fifth day $160 million dollars got me thinking about the absurdity of the free agent market which inevitably got me thinking about Manny…

 

Manny Ramirez joined the Dodgers last summer and, for the first time since 1989, Los Angeles became a baseball town again (and no, I don’t consider the Los Angeles Angels of Disneyland an LA team).   I saw enthusiasm this past summer at Dodgers Stadium that I had never seen before.  Casual fans were showing up early for batting practice, instead of arriving fashionably late in the 4th inning, and they were actually staying through the end of the 9th inning, instead of leaving fashionably early before the start of the 7th inning.  Here’s a brief outline of what attending a Dodgers used to be like for those of you living in other parts of the country. 

 

5pm: Get in the car

5pm – 8pm: Sit in traffic

8pm – 9pm: Watch Jason Schmidt not pitch and Jeff Kent play truly uninspired baseball

9pm – 11pm: Sit in traffic

11:30: Get home and promise yourself that you will NEVER do that again, even if you get free tickets.

 

But Manny changed all that (except the traffic).  He electrified the city.  Tickets started selling out (along with every piece of merchandise with “Ramirez 99” on it within a 100 mile radius) and as a result of his presence, the spirit inside the stadium was unlike anything I’d seen at Dodger Stadium in my 5 years living in L.A.  The lone exception to this was when I was fortunate enough to witness Steve Finely’s walk-off grand slam to beat Barry Bonds and the Giants and win the NL West a few years back.  For the record, when Finely actually hit the homerun in the bottom of the 9th to cap a SEVEN run inning, about half the seats were already empty. 

 

If you’ve ever been to a game in Yankee Stadium, Fenway or Wrigley, you know that when a starting pitcher gets to 2 strikes against the lead-off hitter, every fan is on their feet cheering for the strikout – even in the first week of June – three months before they know if their team will even make it to the playoffs.  Well, that is a brand of fan enthusiasm that rarely makes it inside Chavez Ravine, yet it actually happened in Dodger Stadium, in July¸ and in the FIRST INNING – a part of the game that, prior to Manny’s arrival, most Dodgers fans heard on AM radio in their cars as they sat in traffic on the 405.   When I closed my eyes during the first game I saw Manny play in L.A. , I just as easily could have been in New York , or Boston , or Chicago , or St. Louis .  It was awesome.

 

So what does this have to do with youth sports?

 

Well, as we all know, the only reason Manny ended up in L.A. was because he quit on his teammates by faking injuries so he didn’t have to hit against the “tough” pitchers, physically assaulted a Red Sox secretary in the clubhouse, and bad-mouthed his boss and the town of Boston in the media.  In other words, it was too much trouble for him to show up to “work” everyday in Boston and earn his $20+ million dollar salary.   And his reward for giving up on his teammates and disrespecting the game?   A trade to the city of his choice and another new multi-brazillion dollar contract waiting for him in the off-season.

 

As a coach who stresses the importance of attitude, commitment to teammates, and respect for the game above all else, I definitely felt conflicted about Manny’s arrival. 

 

On one hand, I loved seeing how excited our summer campers were after he arrived (it certainly didn’t hurt his stock that the second he got off the plane at LAX he immediately started hitting absolutely everything thrown at him).   Kids were showing up to camp every morning in Manny shirts and Manny do-rags reciting box scores and statistics.  As a lover of the game, there is little that fires me up more than seeing our campers excited about baseball.

 

Personally, I loved getting to watch him hit up and close and personal.  Like watching Greg Maddox pitch, watching Manny hit is a thing of beauty.   Those two guys are once-in-a-generation talents and to have them both within a few miles of my front door was a gift from the baseball gods.

 

On the other hand, it was difficult to stoke the camper’s enthusiasm about the Dodgers knowing that the only reason Manny was in L.A. was because he did absolutely everything in his power to get himself expelled from the Red Sox.  He was a horrible teammate, a terrible employee, and from all published reports, a total cancer in the clubhouse. 

 

So here we were at camp: Load your hands like Manny, but don’t jog to first like Manny when you hit a potential doubleplay ball.  Hit down on the ball and drive it to the opposite field like Manny, but don’t treat your teammates like Manny does.  Work your buts off in the cage like Manny, but remember, the left fielder is NEVER the cut-off from centerfield (my favorite baseball blooper ever, by the way).

 

Barry Bonds was justly vilified by his teammates and the media while simultaneously achieving incredible things on the field (we’ll have the steroid debate in another blog).  But how many kids ran around little league fields wearing “Bonds 45” their back?

Outside of the Bay Area, I’m guessing very few.   Barry was so easy to hate.  Not so much with Manny.  The paradox about Manny is that he can be both the clubhouse cancer and play (when he chooses to) with a youthful enthusiasm and joy for the game that is so appealing.

 

So what’s an educator supposed to do with a split personality like Manny who is the perfect personification of both the good and the bad?

 

I told the kids how hard Manny works in the batting cage, how he trains his eyes with vision exercises so difficult that his teammates won’t even attempt them, and how many hours he puts in the clubhouse studying film of opposing pitchers in the hopes that the campers take his preparation and dedication to hitting to heart.

 

And then I reminded them that one of the greatest right-handed hitters of our generation has also never won an MVP award, with the hope that they understand that being a truly great player requires far more than just performance on the field, it requires character off the field and in the clubhouse.  

 

For any further inquires about the marriage of on-the-field performance and off-the-field character, please see below.

 

 

– Spring

Advertisements

December 12, 2008 Posted by | written by Dan Spring | 1 Comment

The D.R.

written by Dan Spring

I just returned to Los Angeles late Monday night from my 5th trip to the Dominican Republic and thought I’d share a little story.

 

Quick background: the reason for the yearly trips to the DR that many coaches on this blog have participated in is John “Coach Mac” McCarthy’s Beisbol y Libros program.  Located in Consuelo, a small town about 30 minutes outside of San Pedro de Marcoris, the ByL program has been running in one form or another since 1999 as a way to use baseball as motivation for students to get after it in the classroom.  Needless to say, most families in Consuelo are extremely poor and in addition to lacking basic needs such as three meals a day and health care, the baseball-crazy kids there are without gloves, balls, bats, and helmets; they play baseball in the street with sticks as bats, rocks as balls, and milk cartons as gloves.  Coach Mac’s program provides any child in Consuelo the opportunity to participate in daily practices on well-maintained fields with equipment and trained coaches, as long as they keep up with their studies in the classroom.

 

dsc_0086

 

Every week during lunch at our Spring Training Summer Baseball Camp, Coach Flikke or I tell the story of the Dominican little leaguers and how different their lives are from those of our campers.  We talk about how little money they have, how many of the kids in Consuelo go to bed hungry every night, and how all any of them really want is a baseball glove to call their own – something I certainly took for granted growing up and I’m sure many of our campers do as well.   We also relay to our campers how much we admire the Dominican’s love for the game and how it is reflected in the joy they exude whenever they are on the diamond, despite the difficulties they face in their daily lives.  The point of telling the story is not to make our campers feel guilty for the luxuries they have, but rather to make them feel thankful for the little things that are often taken for granted.

 

We wrap up the story by encouraging the boys and girls to bring in any of their old baseball equipment to donate to the kids in Consuelo, and every week I drive away from the field with dozens of gloves, hats, batting gloves, balls, and cleats to bring with me on my trips to the D.R.  I’m extremely proud of how generous all our campers have been with their equipment over the years; but one story of selflessness last summer really stands out.

 

Graham, one of our long-time campers, was planning his 12th birthday party and decided that he wanted to do something special for the kids in Consuelo.   So, in lieu of asking for presents for himself, he asked all his friends to bring a brand new glove to his party so that he could then, in turn, give the gloves to the ByL program.  When all was said and done, the program in the Dominican had 25 new gloves to use at its practices.   Graham decided that the joy the Dominicans would get out of receiving new baseball gloves would far outweigh the joy he would get from another year of presents for himself, and he acted upon that notion.  

 

The simple act of putting other’s needs ahead of your own is an impressive thing to see; to witness that level of self-awareness and selflessness from a 12 year was just awesome.  We often talk about the virtues of being a “giver” and not a “taker.”  Graham exemplified what being a giver is all about.

 

As coaches, winning games is fun and watching our players succeed on the field both as individuals and as a team is definitely rewarding. 

 

But stories like Graham’s…that’s really why we coach.

December 3, 2008 Posted by | Sports Around the World, written by Dan Spring | 1 Comment

FORE!

posted by Dan Spring

 

A quick post about golf (my second favorite sport)…

 

Check out this article at ESPN.com to read about what sportsmanship, integrity, and honoring the game is all about.

 

http://sports.espn.go.com/golf/news/story?id=3712372

 

– Spring

November 19, 2008 Posted by | Media Commentary, written by Dan Spring | Leave a comment

First Post…

posted by Dan Spring

As this is my first attempt at blogging, I think I’ll start out by saying how excited I am to reconnect with the guys on the roster here.  As Ted mentioned in his first blog, Brendan, Flikke, Ted, and Whitey all coached me at various points in my career and I’ve had the pleasure of sharing a dugout with Tal and Bram as coaches in year’s past.   There is little doubt that these guys (and a few others not mentioned here) are the sole reason that I am a coach today and I’m thrilled to be involved in this endeavor.

To be honest, I know very little about blogs (and even less about writting them) but will try to be a regular contributor to the conversation here and encourage feedback on my posts from anyone who knows more than me about blogging (which is probably just about everyone).   Shoot me an email at CoachSpringBlog@yahoo.com.

For the record, I live in Los Angeles and coach in Palos Verdes (an LA suburb, if such a thing actually exists) and we are technically not in Orange County (great movie by the way), although Ted is right that it’s always warm here and we’ve only lost 1 or 2 days of baseball to rain in the last 5 years.  

– Spring

November 12, 2008 Posted by | Overview / Background, written by Dan Spring | Leave a comment