Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Really, (insert name of child's baseball league)?? Really??

I know the following sentence comes out of my mouth often.  “I can’t let this one go without commenting.”  But let’s face it, that’s why some of you love me.  It’s also why some of you don’t.  But the great thing about the written word is that if you don’t like what’s written, you can stop reading at any time.  Permission granted. :-)
This morning, I received an e-mail with a link to the following article:   By the end of the article, I was nearly on the floor laughing. I find the e-mailing of this link suspect & comical, first, because it appeared in the in-boxes of the members of my child’s baseball organization immediately following the departure of at least a few great little baseball players to a “travel team”, for very good reason & not at all because their parents think they’re “above” playing at my child’s ballpark.  Perhaps, a coincidence...  Secondly, so many of the points made in this article, condemning “travel” and “elite” baseball, perfectly describe the culture & atmosphere at my child’s baseball organization, which doesn’t fall in either the “travel” or “elite” category. Or does it?
Let me preface this by saying that it was not our intention, after we lost a wonderful coach, to return to this ballpark.  I even went so far as to tell the governing board of this organization that we would not return.  But after talking to friends & investigating our choices,  Chuck & I decided it was our only option. Since it’s about the interest of our child & that of our two other non baseball-playing children and not US, we decided if he was happy here, we could suck it up & endure.  Our research proved that youth baseball across the board is pretty competitive & dirty, no pun intended. We might as well play at the organization close to home that doesn’t require travel (and the expense of travel) & where he could be with his friends, right?   He loves his teammates, after all. And who knows if he would have made a travel team?  On to the article….
By the third paragraph of this article, the writer, Tim Keown is condemning what he calls “elite” baseball organizations for having “tryouts”, a word used to condemn at least seven times throughout the article.  At one point Mr. Keown goes as far as to say, & I quote directly,

“Is there anything dumber than holding tryouts for 9 year-olds?”

  Seriously, (insert name of my son’s baseball organization)???  Nine years of age is the point at which YOU, our organization, begins tryouts! The author goes on to say,

 “We’re not talking about Little League tryouts, which don’t include cuts and are intended to place kids at the appropriate level for their ability. No, we’re talking about putting 9-10 year olds through an extensive tryout to keep some and cut others.” 

Some will argue that our organization’s practices follow the first part of that quote, but they don’t.  Not exactly.  I know what the author refers to here because my older son’s middle school has “evaluations” for football and basketball, also often referred to as tryouts,  where the kids are evaluated & split according to ability, into different teams (basketball) & strings (football).  There are no cuts made until, I believe, 7th grade.  Definitely not in 5th & 6th  grades.  But at my son’s baseball organization, coaches from the 9 year-old league, begin scouting, yes, SCOUTING in the spring of each year down on the 7-8 year-old field to see who would be good for their teams when the draft rolls around.  Yep, the DRAFT.  And what of the kids who try out (the organization’s language, not mine) in the spring & are not drafted?  They’re given the option to play on the “rec league” team for those who are not as serious about baseball.  If that isn’t a cut, what is it?  I personally know of kids who have taken that cut hard.  There is an unspoken train of thought at our ballpark, that if your kid is playing “rec league” they either weren’t “good enough” to make the other league OR their parents “just wanted them to have fun” (certainly NOT a bad thing).  It is definitely implied that if you try out to play in the league my son is in, you are “serious” about baseball.  Critics will argue that there is no “stigma” associated with playing in “rec league” but they will be wrong.  And it’s a damn shame because the man who leads that rec league organization is a friend of mine and a good guy all around.  I would have been proud to have my son play for him & as my husband heard someone say once, “Have you ever noticed the kids and parents in that league are smiling?” There's a reason.
Contrast that with my child’s league where many parents are fretting about the standings, making All-Stars, or whether their child is playing as often as they think they should & at the position they think they should.  I haven’t been above being angry that my child’s team has basically, under new coaching staff, been turned into a “rec league” team, while other teams continue competitive practices, such as requiring incoming draftees to play fall ball for the experience & adjustment to live pitch over pitching machine.  Somehow, my husband, who is a baseball fan but has no experience at all playing, is my son's pitching coach?  Maybe it won’t hurt our team & maybe it will.  But I certainly hope the parents who support this switch are rewarded with a winning season.  Last year, they were the ones muttering “we need a win” when we got off to a rough start & telling our boys, “we can still win the championship” when we were about mid-season. I’m pretty competitive myself because every one likes to see their kid win.  But I certainly wouldn’t pretend NOT to be when clearly I am & by sending this article, our league does just that. It’s blatant hypocrisy on many levels.  I don’t think my son’s baseball league can condemn “elite” and “travel ball” parents for being in it for themselves.  Our league (note I said our league & not our TEAM) has it’s share of overly competitive parents too,  even some who force their kids to play when they would much rather be doing something else & leave the ballpark berating them, which Mr. Keown’s article bashes & rightfully so. However, it also has kids who have an intense love of baseball & above-average ability, who, like our son, do want to play “competitive baseball at the next level”, a phrase also demonized in this article.  Some have their kids training at a local fitness facility & hire hitting coaches & pitching coaches.  That's a sign of taking it seriously, also criticized by Mr. Keown.  Some are taking those lessons because Dad wants them to & some do it because the kid wants to.  It isn't my place or the author's to judge either.   I just know my son is happiest on that dirty mound & the day he decides he isn’t, we won’t sign him up. (As evidence of that, our older son only played one season because it clearly wasn’t his “thing”.)  But when Mr. Keown asks “what is the next level?”, I would argue that my son’s organization promotes the same principle by what they call “playing up”.  This kid’s too good for single A so we’ll play him up on AA or AAA.  Or better yet, a parent who says, “My kid needs to play up.”  What is the difference, please tell me?
   I have two final criticisms, or ironies, if you will,  of receiving this column from someone at my child’s ballpark.  Mr. Keown rails on the “elite organizations” building big complexes to showcase their teams but in the past year, my husband and I have attended a fundraiser where board members spoke of and sent follow-up e-mails telling of the opportunity for corporate sponsorships & personal donations so we can improve the ballpark and host more tournaments – the very act of which this column CONDEMNS. If we’re truly in this to “have fun” and let the kids play ball, a field carved out of a corn field should work, shouldn’t it?  Finally, the author criticizes the seriousness & control of “travel ball” teams yet my son’s organization makes it clear that unless you are dedicated to ALL the practices and tournaments of All-Star season, you might as well check, “Don’t consider my child for All-Star play” or plan to move your summer activities & vacations to accommodate the team.  That doesn’t reek of “all in fun” if you ask me.  And I’m not criticizing it, just pointing out another contradiction.  One of our most fun experiences WAS the year our son played All-Star baseball.
It isn’t that I have an issue with ALL of the points made in this column.  And I do believe the majority of parents/kids at my child’s ballpark are in it for the right reasons. And they are our friends. Or I should word that to say we do still have some friends there.  The point is that I consider it hilarious that my child’s league thought it would be a good idea to send this out.  And if you disagree, look at the column’s accompanying cartoon & tell me we couldn’t substitute our organization’s name for “Elite League” in the photo.  Can’t you envision some of our parents holding those exact signs?  It’s possible that it’s sour grapes for losing some good players to these “elite” organizations.  It may just be that it’s the goal of our organization to change the principles it has either directly or indirectly condoned in the past.  Or it may be that the sender of this e-mail, relatively new to this organization truly believes an atmosphere of fun would be an improvement.  If these things are true, lots of things are going to have to change.  And if that’s true, in all honesty, there is no reason to have a separate league for those who don’t “make tryouts.”  It really doesn’t matter to me which category we fall into, competitive or recreational,  but seriously, which is it?

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