I actually debated whether or not I should even open this Pandora's box, but after what I've witnessed the last several weeks, and seeing as how I have a forum where I can voice my opinion, I decided the hell with it.
The title of this article is somewhat misleading. Little League isn't what ruins baseball, but rather a significant number of adults running the Little League organizations around the country that take the fun out of it. After all, baseball is a game, so if you remove fun from the equation, what's left?
|Photo by: Grant Parpan|
I guess I should start with my own experiences playing Little League. They were some of the funnest and most memorable times of my life. I played in the Little League organization in my town for seven years, from t-ball through the 11/12-year-old division. I made All-Stars the last four years I played at shortstop and second base. I loved every second of it. I would have practiced or played a game every single day if I could have, that's how much I enjoyed it. I couldn't get enough.
It wasn't until I moved up to Babe Ruth League and started playing in high school that everything changed for me. Then, baseball turned into something I despised. It ranked right up there with eating my vegetables at dinner time or taking out the garbage. The coaches went from teachers to dictators. The fun was gone. So, I took my ball, so to speak, and went home. I quit. Not to say that was the right thing to do or that I condone quitting, but when I walked away, it was like a gigantic weight had been lifted off my shoulders, and I was so thankful it was over. By that point, I was 16-years-old.
Now I see the same look of despair in the eyes of 9 and 10-year-olds at the ballpark that I had when I was 15-16. Why? If you ask me, there are several reasons.
For starters, there are some kids playing in older divisions that have no business playing in those divisions. Now, a lot of that falls on the parents of the children. But regardless, why in the world would you put your child, no matter how well they played in the lower age brackets, in with the 11/12-year-olds when they're only 9 or 10? The older kids are going to get the bulk of the playing time because there's a "pecking order," so your child is going to ride the pine three or four innings out of a six inning game. Then when they do play, and go up to hit against a kid pitching that outweighs them by 30, 40, even 50 pounds, all they're gonna do is strike out, so all you're doing is completely ruining their confidence. I'm sure you think letting them play with the older kids is going to help them in the long run, but all you're doing is making them not wanna play anymore.
I did my own little survey in the last few weeks at my oldest son's ballpark. I asked 50 different kids if they liked playing baseball. They ranged in age from 6 to 12. Of those 50 kids, 39 of them said they didn't like playing or didn't wanna play. When I asked them why they were playing if they didn't really want to, the most common response was, "My parents make me."
What other possible reasons would these kids have for not wanting to play, aside from what I mentioned earlier? How about the coaches? It seems like 9 out of 10 guys coaching have no business coaching to begin with. I mean, when you've got coaches who are arguing with umpires constantly, and asking the home plate ump to appeal a call one inning and the first base ump to appeal a call the next, who wants to see or be a part of that? For one, there can only be one head ump on the field at any given time, so it's not up for debate to ask every damn umpire on the field to overturn a call every time something happens that you don't like. I guess that's a different story for another day, though.
The umpires that work these games in most cases are either compensated very little, or not at all, so why argue with them? They're doing the best they can. It's pretty bad when you're at a Little League game and the person working the press box has to make an announcement prior to the start of it not to make any type of negative comments towards the umpires, and that announcement is actually directed towards the coaches. What kind of example does that set for the kids you're coaching? Here's a hint, not a good one.
Another problem is that these coaches have no problem showing up the kids in front of everyone. If a kid hits a ball to the outfield and the ball goes under the fence, it's a dead ball. Now, if the outfielder then reaches under the fence to get it and pulls it back under, and the kids on base advance because the ball is back in play, who's fault is that? That's the coaches fault for not making sure his kids know all the fundamental rules of the game. So why would you then scream at the kid in front of everyone and yank him out mid-inning because you didn't explain the rules to him? That's on you, genius, not the 10-year-old.
Face facts guys, you're not Tommy Lasorda or Tony La Russa. When I hear parents in the stands saying, "So-and-so can't get a good team together because they have five or six 12-year-olds they lose every year to Babe Ruth," I laugh. When the coaches have been coaching for like ten years, and they make that clear to everyone that's willing to listen, and they still can't get anything decent out of their players, well those "coaches" should probably find a new pastime, because obviously they're not very good at their current one.
A coaches primary job is to be a teacher. His next job is to be a friend. That's what my coaches were when I was growing up. That's why I loved baseball. A lot of the guys that are coaching kids now act like they're coaching Game 7 of the World Series every time out, and it's a joke. They take something that's supposed to be fun and basically turn it into a big pain in the ass.
I believe baseball's popularity is at an all-time low in this country. Little League coaches could play a big part in turning that around by getting our kids excited about the game again. They would carry that with them right up through adulthood, and even pass it along to their children.
Unfortunately, based on what I've seen, the coaches are more a part of the problem rather than the solution.