The following appeared in the RTD this summer following the Little League World Series. It's a poignant reminder of how awesome the Little League coaching experience can be.
Criticism directed at the game of baseball is on the rise. From the introduction of Major League Baseball’s so-called “pace of play” initiatives to reports that millennials aren’t interested in baseball, America’s favorite pastime has been under siege.
Before a recent summer experience, I too was openly questioning whether baseball had a place in the lives of our kids in this hyper-charged, fast-paced world.
My son and my experience in Chicago with the Welles Park Minor League Red Sox changed all of that. Baseball slowed down the world for a couple of hours each time we stepped out on the field and provided teachable moments for children and adults alike. Count me now as a baseball convert who believes that we need to change more than baseball ever does.
It started in February after I signed up my baseball-loving son, the youngest of four, for his “house” team through the Chicago Park District. Due to his persistence - and scheming designed to get more playing time than he otherwise deserved - he cajoled me into signing up to be the head coach of his team. Concerned about the time commitment given my supposed high-stress job and other family commitments, I entered the season wary.
But I got hooked. Between March and July, the 14 kids who played for the Welles Park Red Sox gave the entire coaching staff (seven dads strong) memories for a lifetime. While it certainly helped that we had substantial success in the wins-losses column, we experienced everything good and wholesome about youth sports, and baseball in particular.
Early in the season, when our Red Sox, as with all Chicagoans, suffered through the sopping spring weather, the rainouts piled up. Instead of grousing, though, the kids got excited about playing doubleheaders, and in one instance, four games in two days. For the kids, who looked forward to the post game snacks as much as a win, it was a veritable all-day buffet of Gatorade, cookies, and melting ice cream.
As the season wore on, a wonderful thing happened: All 14 kids consistently showed up to games and practices. They even demanded additional optional batting practice evenings to hone their craft.
As someone whose older children had cycled through baseball and other sports, I previously had witnessed the phenomenon of kids not showing up later in the season - some because of planned family vacations and some because they just lost interest. But this year was different.
I grew obsessed with these Red Sox. And I grew less obsessed with work. Instead of focusing on clients’ problems, I stayed up late to analyze statistics and text my assistant coaches about upcoming matchups.
One day in June, I had to break it to a client that I would be unable to travel on certain days of the week until August. When he asked why, I told him we were in a pennant race and I couldn’t miss Tuesday night practices or risk a flight delay before a Friday night game. To my surprise, a wistful smile came across his face as he admonished me to never miss a kid’s practice or game due to his issues.
It got stranger as I found myself unplugging for a couple of hours every day. A serial email and text message checker, I somehow left my phone deep in my pocket for two hours during every Red Sox game. The client emergencies could wait. What was happening to me?
And then there were baseball’s daily life lessons - including unplugging - for the kids. With 14 kids and nine positions and only one pitcher, playing time was a prized commodity. Good kids had to sit more than they wanted. They had to learn how to support their teammates from the dugout, and worse, to sit for long stretches and actually talk to their teammates without an electronic device in their hands.
When one of our kids made an error in the field, we all learned to tell one another “next play,” which is great advice for how to move on from any mistake. When too many of the kids were taking called third strikes, we talked about how it’s much better to swing and miss than not swing at all.
Our Red Sox finished the regular season with the best record in the 20-team league and entered the playoffs with a target on our back. “Confident but not cocky” was one of our themes, and a pretty good mantra for living life.
Throughout the season, the kids did what kids do - and chief among them was imitating dances from the popular “Fortnight” video game. While watching a young boy dance is fun, for a coach, it can be annoying when that kid is “flossing” (a popular “Fortnight” dance) in the batter’s box.
There too was a lesson: While it’s distressing - and a bit dangerous - to floss in the batter’s box when the pitcher is in his windup, it’s actually a pretty decent sign that the kid isn’t taking life too seriously. And so I joined in with an offer to the kids: If they made it to our World Series, I would floss for them.
I can’t say the kids were motivated by that bet, but after winning the first playoff game in dramatic fashion, we proceeded to win Game 2 of the playoffs and faced our nemesis, the Tigers, in the league championship, which would earn us a trip to the World Series.
The night before the Tigers game, I surfed the internet trying to learn how to floss. I clicked on a YouTube video showing a 12-year-old girl teaching her parents how to floss. After 15 minutes (OK, 90 minutes), I was set.
We beat the Tigers and punched our ticket to the World Series, a best-of-three affair against the mighty Dodgers. In the postgame celebration, I made good on a bet I was more than happy to lose. The flossing wasn’t very good at all, but the kids laughed hard, and so did I.
World Series week was a blur. We won the first game, lost the second and had to find our mojo before the climactic Game 3. We were up, then down, just like life. In a pitchers’ duel for the ages with a lot of strike outs, we won 1-0. After the game, I thanked the kids for letting all the dads be kids again. And I meant it.
The season is over now and life is, unfortunately, back to normal (including iPhone usage), but the baseball memories remain fresh. This season of baseball taught us life lessons, and in the process we unplugged to live in the moment with our teammates.
So, with apologies to Mark Twain, the rumors of baseball’s death should be greatly exaggerated. For our kids and ourselves, we need America’s favorite pastime now more than ever.
Patrick Collins is a Chicago lawyer who is looking forward to Welles Park Fall Ball.
The following appeared in the September 12th edition of the Richmond Times Dispatch Editorial Section...
Editorial: Fall puts the play back in ball
The rains have washed yellowing leaves off the trees, Halloween has replaced Back-to-School in the stores, and everyone is talking about the Redskins, the Hokies, and the ‘Hoos. Meanwhile, over in Byrd Park, kids are playing ... baseball. For years, Richmond Little League has provided safe, wholesome, and appropriately competitive recreation for the city’s youngsters, and what is known as Fall Ball might be the jewel in the program’s crown.
For about eight weeks in September and October, depending on rain, the kids are divided into teams, practice, and play games. That’s standard in any Little League program. What makes Fall Ball just a bit different, however, is that its approach is somewhat more casual than the spring and summer offerings. There’s competition, of course, and instruction by adult coaches, but the focus seems more genuinely recreational than it might otherwise. There’s less pressure than there might be when kids are playing for championships — and for the now-mandatory trophies. There’s no swearing allowed, or fistfights.
Competition and pressure are good. The experience equips young people for the realities of adult life, and it would be a grievous mistake to deprive them of a taste of it in the interests of “having fun.” Even so, structuring children’s activities can be taken too far. Nowhere is this more apparent, these days, than in youth sports programs. “Little League is a very good thing,” Yogi Berra is supposed to have said, “because it keeps parents off the streets.”
Those of us whose parents never once saw us play sports in an organized program can see the wisdom of what Yogi did or didn’t say. By 2017, Time reports, the “youth-sports economy” had become a $15.3 billion market. The parents of would-be Bryce Harpers spend ridiculous sums on equipment, private coaching, and travel teams in hopes of college scholarships and big league careers. Many are called, but few are called up.
But notice how vacant baseball, football, and soccer fields are when adults aren’t running things. Pickup games, where the kids organize themselves and learn to adjust to meet the conditions of the moment, seem virtually non-existent. Organized competition, reasonable levels of pressure and adult instruction — with pitch counts in effect and a paid ump calling balls and strikes — have their place. But so does the experience of unsupervised games with the kids in the neighborhood, even when the game ends after three innings in a screaming dispute over whether a line drive down the right field line is fair or foul. (Where pickup games can still be found, it is instructive to remember, is on inner-city basketball courts. This is especially the case in neighborhoods where parents too often lack the means or time to organize and oversee every aspect of their children’s leisure time.)
Fall Ball at Byrd Park — and, no doubt, elsewhere — seems to strike a pleasing balance. It offers order and safety but not much stress. But it is no substitute for pickup games where no one has a uniform, cleats, helmets, or batting gloves. These aren’t requirements, after all. “When I was a young boy,” longtime Milwaukee Brewer Robin Yount recalls, “I used to play baseball in my back yard or in the street with my brothers or the neighborhood kids. We used broken bats and plastic golf balls and played for hours and hours.” And it seems to have worked well enough for Yount, who played his first major league game at the age of 18, and is now “enshrined,” as sportscasters say, in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Little League Establishes Bat Information Landing Page to Answer Questions
Effective January 1, 2018, Little League Baseball® will adhere to the new USABat standard. No bats previously approved for use in Little League Play (Junior League Baseball and below) will be permitted to be used in any Little League game or practice, or other Little League function, event, or activity.
With the implementation of thenew USA Baseball Bat Standard in 2018, Little League® International has assembled an online resource page dedicated to baseball bat information. The landing page, found at LittleLeague.org/BatInfo, includes the latest bat information, current Little League Baseball rules and regulations governing bats, definition of terms, the moratorium on the use of composite bats, and a series of frequently asked questions, with answers and licensed bat lists.
The composite moratorium only applies to baseball bats with 2 1/4 inch barrels. It DOES NOT apply to any divisions of Little League Softball. Also, there is no list of approved softball bats. In softball, the bat only needs to meet the specifications of Rule 1.10 for a softball bat.
2017-2018 Bat Comparison Chart
Minors, Machine Pitch:
2017: BPF 1.15 marking/ 2 ¼” barrel maximum
2018: USA Baseball marking 2 5/8” barrel maximum
1) 2 ¼" alloy/metal barrel with BPF stamp of 1.15
2) 2 5/8" alloy/metal barrel (no marking required)
3) 2 5/8" composite barrel with BBCOR stamp
2018: USA Baseball marking 2 5/8” barrel maximum; No BBCOR allowed
Update: BBCOR is now ALLOWED by Little League
2018: USA Baseball marking 2 5/8” barrel maximum or BBCOR