Sunday, June 2, 2013

Tales from the Ballpark

     The All-Star season is in full swing and the ballparks all around the country are hopping with activity and excitement.  The landscape of youth sports has changed, but in many ways has stayed the same since I was a kid.  I have been involved with youth sports since my son, Jesse, was five years old.  I've said from the beginning, that one heckuva reality show could be produced at the old ball park.  I've coached Football, Baseball, and Basketball in the years I've been around kids playing ball.  I've observed a kid with an affinity for eating dirt, coaches chasing referees to the parking lot due to a "bad" call, a Grandpa punch an umpire at a girl's softball game, and many other types of craziness.  Recently both my children Jesse (10 year old boy) and Maddie (4 year old girl) had games, as usual, on the same day.  Two different quotes from those games, "Go out there and Dominate your opponent!" at Jesse's game, and "Don't forget to tee-tee before the game starts."  There is a whole lot of ground between those two stages of play at the ballpark, and along that journey you find many Tales from the Ballpark.
     When I played at the ballpark as a child things were different in a lot of ways, but we still had plenty of unusual occurrences.  I remember well seeing grown men fight at an Amateur Baseball game my father was coaching in, and these were all grown men.  The game stopped for these two men to brawl as everybody watched.  I also remember having to hide in the dugout at my old childhood ballpark (which is now a parking lot with a Target and a bunch of other stuff), because a man with a gun was up on the hill threatening to shoot somebody.  The bottom line is it seems is stated well with a line from the movie Patton, "Americans love a winner, and they won't tolerate a Loser!"  While, I'm probably on the opposite spectrum of this ideology, I too love to win, but this obsession with winning can have a negative effect.  Kids playing ball like robots may win, but are they having fun?  Maybe they are, it just doesn't seem like it sometimes.  I'm not above having issues however, my standard line is that I'm good for one blowup a year.  I can go from breaking up a fight with the above mentioned Grandpa vs. Umpire one minute, and having issues myself with an opposing coach or old Blue about calls he made.  My first year coaching baseball I was hit in the face, groin, and other painful areas with baseballs, I had to put down a mutiny that was started by an Assistant Coach, write a statement for an ongoing court-case whose participants were team members, and deal with only child I have ever met that had a taste for dirt.
     One of the funniest moments I remember having is watching my hero Jesse hit his first Homerun.  It was in his first year a couple games into the season, and while it was a blistering line shot that got through the infield and went to the fence.  I saw, Roy Hobbs (Robert Redford) in The Natural knock out all the lights, with that great music playing.  Very inspirational moment, and the excitement level reached an uncharted level.  I was screaming RUN!!!!  This wasn't a "Run Forest Run" kind of scream, this was a "RUN!!" you would hear if Freddy Kreuger or Jason Voohries was chasing you.  I swear this deal was more exciting than Sid Bream rounding third heading for home in the 1992 NLCS.  He made it all the way around, and I'll tell you, if you could bottle that type of emotion and excitement and sell it, you could make a mint.  Jesse, has hit plenty of Homeruns since then, and my excitement level is always high when I watch him play,  but that first one was something special.  It's a shame you can't just freeze time, and stay right in that moment for a while, because once it's gone, it's gone.
     Maddie's little team is very interesting.  I don't normally try and coach the under 5 set, and I always say, "Once they're about 6 you can send them to me, but before that I don't want no part of it."  It's truly like herding cats, and those cats sometimes don't want to be herded.  I've seen some well behaved and disciplined "Rag Ball" teams, but they either have unlocked a secret of the universe or used pharmaceuticals to achieve the desired level of compliance.  There are no outs and everybody scores and gets to bat, play all the positions,etc. etc.  It's a great experience for the parents no doubt, and probably that's who its for because the kids don't really seem to care that much at that age.  Playing in the dirt, rolling around in the grass, throwing gloves and helmets are the norm.  You have to watch very closely for a stray bat swing by the way.  This can be a very dangerous atmosphere.  The parents really dig it though, and I suppose that makes it worth it.  It reminds me of dressing a dog up in human clothes, and showing them off.  The dog can't stand it, but the doggy parent loves it.  Now, I know a lot of kids really enjoy playing at this age, but I'm only speaking from my own experience here.
     The ballpark can be a place of great fun and excitement, but there is a funny side to it.  While you're at a youth sports game pay attention to everything going on around you, and see if you don't agree with me about this being a prime source for a new Reality Show.  You could call it, "The Real Ballpark Moms", "The Days of our Ballpark Lives", or even "Hell's Ballpark" who knows it could be quite a success.  I should contact someone before my idea is taken, and somebody else makes the money on it.  I have truly enjoyed all sports that my kids have played up to this point, because they're mine and I enjoy seeing them throw the ball in the front yard.  I'm all about the ups and downs of the ole Ballpark, and I say "Play Ball!"