Cheap Shot: Little League Baseball

May 12, 2011 | Paul Hoke

I called into the Morning Reaction this morning, in honor of Ian Eagle and Thursday’s Cheap Shots from the Bleachers segment, and lobbed a soft cheap shot at what little league baseball has become.  And, what little league parents have become.

Now, before I start, let me say that ANY child who wants to learn and play the game of baseball deserves EVERY opportunity to learn and play and have fun.  That’s what its all about after all, having fun.  But where I think little league baseball and some parents lose sight is with the kids who either don’t want to be there, or, are so far behind the other kids in their age group, that them being on the field represents a safety issue.

As I told Drew, my son is 11 and has played little league since he started T-Ball at 5 years of age.  He’s a really good ballplayer.  A small pat on my back because I’ve been working with him since he was 2, and he picked up my love of the game.  Now, to be fair, my son’s level of play is 100% due to his level of dedication to practice and his love of just playing baseball.  It’s not about me anymore.  And, also, as I told Drew, the instructional levels of little league baseball, whether it be T-Ball, clinic, rookie, or even 9/10 division, is really run perfectly, where it’s more about teaching the kids the game of baseball, and the score is secondary.  As a coach, it’s exactly how I want it to be.

But, in my opinion, once a kid reaches 11/12, it should become more about competing and playing the game the way it’s supposed to be played.  And it kind of separates the kids who want to be there, and the kids that don’t.  Case in point, that as a coach of an 11/12 team, I shouldn’t have to spend time teaching your child how to catch or throw a baseball.  Sorry, but that’s a fact.  If you’re a parent, and you let your child get to 11/12 years old, and they can’t catch or throw a baseball…they shouldn’t be playing baseball.  That’s not a low blow, it’s a fact.  Not to mention that as a father, if by 11/12 you haven’t taught your child the basics of catching and throwing, you should, pardon the expression, “be hit in the nuts with a shovel.”

It’s that simple.

By 11/12, these kids should have the basic fundamentals down.  Even if they’ve never played little league by that time, they should at the very least know how to properly catch or throw a baseball.  If they don’t, then it presents a safety risk when they play third base, and the guy at the plate hits a screaming line drive down the line.

Now, this is where I beat little league organizations up.  And I’m going to sound like a curmudgeon here, but when I played little league, by the time we got to 11/12 and beyond, we were expected to have the basic knowledge of fundamentals on how to play baseball.  If we didn’t, and I certainly wasn’t a little league all-star by any stretch, we sat on the bench for 3 innings a game.  Now, we were given our playing time, as the coach saw fit, but by the time we got to that level, it was about competing.  And if we weren’t good enough, we worked harder, and tried to get better.  And we understood that.  It was none of this “everyone gets to bat”, “everyone gets to play the field”, or any of that.  The coach ran the team in a manner that was best for the team.  Not to the skill set, or lack there of, of an individual child, but for the 11 or 12 players that made up the team.  Because by the time these kids reach this level of baseball, they want to win.  As much as we try to quell the great feeling of winning in this country with all the political correctness garbage, these kids want to go out, and win games.  But where we have come in all of this, is instead of playing to the 6 or 7 kids who want to be there, and want to play, and give 100%, and want to compete, we cater to the 4 or 5 who could care less.  We cater to the kids who don’t want to be there.  We cater to the kids who show up 5 minutes before a game, or who are 20 minutes late to practice, if they make it at all.  And THAT part of it, falls on the parents.  But the little league organizations themselves, handcuff coaches because we can’t say, “you know what, your kid was 20 minutes late to practice, so he/she sits the next game.”  Or, “your kid showed up 5 minutes before the game, so he/she rides the bench until the 4th inning.”  If we did that, the parents, who by the way, could care less too, and I’m going to beat them up here in a minute, would scream bloody murder that little Johnny or little Sally deserves the right to play because they could get their feelings hurt.  Give me a break.

Now….if you are a parent of a child who plays little league, there is something I something I want you to understand.  Little league baseball is not free daycare.  Now, to be fair, there are a lot of parents out there who have multiple children who do multiple things.  And I understand that you can’t always stay at practices or games with your child.  But if I hear one more parent say, “I’ll be back to pick up little Johnny at 4, but I’ll be at the mall if anything happens.”  Great attitude, huh?  Not to mention the parents who have to force their kids to play at all because it’s spring and they have to find something for their kids to do.  But I guarantee that they would be the first people who scream bloody murder if they saw their kid on the bench.  I work shift work, so I completely understand how things work, but if you’re going to sign you child up for little league, please…please be a part of it.  And if your child has NO interest in playing, please, please, don’t sign them up.  I have 2 older sons who, when they were younger, said frankly, “Dad, I don’t like sports, and I don’t want to play.”  Fair enough.  My 17 year old is a gifted guitarist, and I support him in whatever he wishes.  My 19 year old is great with computers, and he can parlay that into a very successful future.  That’s their strengths, and I support that.  They wanted no parts of little league, so I didn’t even bother signing them up.

A few years ago, there was a story that there was a child playing little league, I can’t remember where, but his talent level was such that the parents of other children in the league complained that he was “too good”, and the league would not allow the child to play.  Isn’t that nice?  We’re at the point in this country where if you are “too good” you can’t participate, but if you aren’t good enough, you get a pat on the back and get told, “you’re doing great.”  I guess my point is, that we’ve gotten to the point with little league baseball where we cater to the kids who don’t want to be there, to the degree that it hurts the kids that want to play, and compete.  The kids who want to be there, who want to play and compete, get bored and don’t have the fun that little league is supposed to be.  My son’s team is the perfect example.  There are about 4 kids on this team who, while they’re skill sets are low, they come to every practice, and every game, and give 110%.  Give me 10 of those kids.  I don’t care if we go 0-21, right O’s, but if I had these kids on my team who went out and played hard, and wanted to be there, I would be happy.

Teaching kids the game of baseball is something that, as a parent and a coach, I have always enjoyed, and always will.  I love the game of baseball, and to be able to pass it down to another generation, is an honor.  But we have to get back to where we’re teaching it to kids who want to learn it, who want to be there.  Who want to play and compete.  I will NEVER single out any child on any team, and I will ALWAYS teach/coach every child the same, no matter what their situation or skill set.  But please, please make sure that by the time your child reaches 11/12 years old, he or she can at least catch and throw the baseball.  That’s all I ask.

And can we please let the league champions get the bigger trophies again?  Participation awards are great, but it’s about time we start recognizing those who achieve something bigger?  After all, isn’t that what we want to teach our children?  To reach for the highest goal?