Ahead in the Count

We Are Lucky

While the economy is showing signs of recovering (or at the very at least stabilizing), non-profit organizations that rely almost entirely on donations are still struggling mightily.

Little Leagues, of course, fall into this category and today’s article on CNN reminded me of the notion that getting to play youth sports is a great privilege – and certainly not a right.

http://www.cnn.com/2009/LIVING/06/09/little.league/index.html

I feel it is extremely important for youth coaches, teachers, and parents to consistently remind kids that their time on the field should not be taken for granted and the very real possibility of entire leagues folding due to lack of donations can act as a very worthwhile teaching tool.

The silver lining to the economic meltdown that this country has experienced might very well be that we as a society start to appreciate all the little things that we once took for granted. If we can teach our kids to do the same, the next generation might act more responsibly (at least financially speaking) than we have.

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June 9, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Jim Thompson: “LeBron James is Confused”

In Jim Thompson’s aptly titled post on his “Responsible Sport” blog today, he offered spot-on commentary on LeBron James’ behavior following the Cavs’ Game 6 season-ending loss on Saturday night.  It is worth a read.

For those of you who did not see what LeBron did, here’s a quick synopsis… As soon as Game 6 ended with Orlando having clinched the series, LeBron stormed off the court without offering any sort of acknowledgment to the Magic, a team that had earned every one of their four victories and the right to move on to the NBA Finals.  But LeBron wasn’t just frustrated and irrational in the moment.  Some minutes later, “King James” refused to address the media in the mandatory post-game press conference, and yesterday, when offered a chance to explain his behavior, LeBron brusquely addressed the issue, making no apologies.  In fact, he even explained it away by offering (not humorously) that he was a “winner” and a “competitor” and therefore did not see the value in congratulating his opponent following his team’s loss.

The good news is that the response to LeBron’s actions and words has been pretty much universally negative.  Even LeBron apologists, those who usually say he can do no wrong because of his other-worldly physical gifts, are questioning whether they can now root for him in the same way.

Personally, I don’t like watching LeBron play, and this is just icing on the cake.  Yes, he is no doubt a great athlete.  He distributes the ball and tries to involve his teammates in many facets of the game in a way that many superstars do not.  That is positive.  However, I believe strongly that these positives are negated (and then some) by his incessant whining to the officials – 82 games a year plus playoffs – and near absolute neglect of his opponents as worthy competitors.  I don’t like watching that kind of athlete, and I hope others will join me.

LeBron’s behavior shows an utter disrespect for the game and offers a challenge for any youth sports coach or parent who now has to explain why one of the best athletes in the world and perhaps one of the best basketball players of all time behaves in a way that is vastly different from what they expect of their own children.  How will they (we) respond to the first kid who refuses to shake hands with the opponents after a loss and then offers up, “if LeBron doesn’t do it, why do I have to?”  Good question, and the answer is that LeBron is still a young guy with a lot to learn.  Maybe he’ll eventually come to understand that he is not bigger than the game itself, at which point coaches and parents can point to him as not just a great athlete, but a great competitor.

Until he comes to this realization, however, I hope those who do Honor the Game will continue to offer LeBron more early exits from the playoffs and the opportunities to learn some much needed life lessons.

June 1, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

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.

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

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.)

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