Posts Tagged ‘major league baseball’

Why Utley’s Slide Matters to Youth Baseball

October 11, 2015

WinFor RubenMy older boy was playing a game last week in Fairfax County with his high school JV team.  This being his first experience with this level of baseball, it’s been quite the education for him.  For rather than play in the JV division, his team is playing other varsity teams, meaning big, strong kids with pitchers hurling well north of 80mph.

Gus has struggled a bit at the plate, as has almost every player, but he’s held his own.  And his team was holding a 3-1 lead going into the 7th inning of a well-contested battle.  Gus was catching, and our new pitcher was struggling badly.  He had already given up a run, had walked four batters, and they had the bases loaded with no one out.
When the count went to 3-2, we awaited the inevitable.  Our pitcher went into his stretch, came set, and…

THONK

…the lights went out.

10pm.  Nite-nite for this particular field.

The 7th inning ceases to exist, and we win 3-1.

As the gossamer batter threw his shadowy helmet to the ground in frustration, all of us parents looked at each other with a guilty grimace.

“That’s not a good ending for anybody,” said Joe, one of Gus’s former youth travel coaches, whose son is also on the team.

I am reminded of this given the ugly events that happened last night with Chase Utley breaking the leg of Ruben Tejada in the NLDS Game 2 between the Dodgers and my beloved Mets.  While the event wounded my not-so-inner Mets fan, it and the reaction to it hurt CoachN more.

Here’s what I posted on Facebook in an open letter to MLB:

Dear MLB.com you, and the umpires you employ, decided to show baseball-loving kids around the country that, so long as you think you can get away with it, it is okay to try and hurt a defenseless player because the play is so important.

I heard the talking heads on MLB Network talk about how catchers are now protected, so why not middle-infielders? THEY ARE PROTECTED! THERE IS A RULE! It just takes the minimal courage involved in simply doing your job.

This is made far worse by the fact that it was Chase Utley, a Hall of Fame-caliber ballplayer with a history of playing dirty. I’m not going to sugarcoat that. Hard-nosed is fine, it is great. But Utley has crossed that line multiple times, and your cringing from the proper course of action is an open encouragement for hyper-competitive players and coaches to think that somehow this is acceptable because, after all, the Dodgers won in the end.

Youth baseball, particularly at the travel level, is plagued by the “Winning is the Only Thing” mentality. It is a significant reason why participation in travel baseball is down across the country, as parents are increasingly wary of putting their children in a system where their values and priorities for their kids, such as fair play, respect for teammates and opponents, and that the competition is as important as the result, are subverted by a concept of the game that prioritizes results over process or even the rules themselves.

Your umpires, and then the subsequent confused, half-hearted, finger-pointing “defense” of what happened by Joe Torre only serves to reinforce this notion.

As a Mets fan, I was okay with losing last night. Not only did we already win one, the Mets have given me a thrilling season win-or lose. What you and your umpires have done by cowering away from upholding the rules damages the game in ways well beyond this game or this series, or even the Major Leagues itself.

As a father, a youth coach, and a fan, I am disgusted by everything that has happened during and after that play. You should be ashamed. I will certainly be addressing this with my players, as hopefully at least someone can learn the right lesson from this event.

With greatly diminished respect,
Scott Nathanson
Manager/Head Coach
CoachN’s FUNdamentals

Utley has now been suspended two games for the illegal slide.  As one Twitter poster noted, “I wonder if Tejada can appeal his broken leg?”  Of course, Utley has appealed, like a true bully refusing to admit he’s done anything wrong.

For while my son’s victory came with a bit of embarrassment to his team, Utley and the reaction by his Dodger teammates and Major League Baseball has embarrassed the game.

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October

October 9, 2015

I just posted this on Facebook:

No offense to my Oxy friends, but...yeah.

No offense to my Oxy friends, but…yeah.

I woke up today and my team is still going to play in the playoffs.

After a (virtual) decade after my 5-year-old was brought to tears (and driven into the arms of the Nationals) by Adam Wainwright’s filthy curve.

After seeing my boyhood baseball home closed with a second straight collapse.

After watching my captain and star player literally break his back.

After meandering through years in the desert of mediocrity.

After sitting at Nationals Park THIS YEAR watching a lineup with four batters…four…batting under .200.

My team is in the playoffs.

And he was happy.

Let’s-Go-Mets

With all respect to fans of other sports, there is nothing in the world like playoff baseball.  This is because the ebbs-and-flows, that languid summer rhythm of the game dissolves.  A game designed to be marathon suddenly becomes like sprinting a marathon; every step magnified as if that will be the very one that wins the race.

Fans standing on every two strike count.

Stadiums literally shaking in the frenzied excitement of the moment (not sure if Citi Field will shake, but lord knows Shea Certainly did).

Even nature itself lends to the theater as the sun dims to darken the theater; the air itself crisping, even ever-so-slightly in the desert air of Los Angeles, to sharpen the flavor of autumn baseball.

It is a rich and unique experience, made heart-wrenchingly, agonizingly incredible when your team makes the most exclusive dance in all of professional sports (even with the two Wild Cards).

For when Jacob DeGrom unleashes his first pitch at Dodger Stadium, I will be seven-years-old, sitting on the porch in the Bronx, my ear pressed to a transistor radio as Bob Murphy prepared for one of the few Happy Recaps of the season. I sat at my Grandmother’s feet as she watched the Yankees game on a black-and-white TV.  She was actually the biggest Mets fan of us all, but got so nervous that she couldn’t watch them, but could always root for the Yankees to lose.

I will be 16, tossing myself over my basement sofa in Atlanta in a feat of gymnastic dexterity I will never attempt again, as Vin Scully chirped, “Around comes Knight and the Mets win it!”

Shea didn't need lights, only that smile.

Shea didn’t need lights, only that smile.

I will be 30, sitting with friends and family, and the love of my life who was carrying our first child, as a portly Hawaiian named Benny sent a 13th inning home run out of Shea.  The next time I would see a glow on her face to match that moment, she would be holding Gus in her arms.

During the pregnancy, we called him Benny.

And I will be 45, breaking out the blue pinstripes just as I did on that porch in the Bronx, yearning again for another Happy Recap, another link in that mental chain that helps to bind the oddities, vagaries, and tragedies of life into something resembling cohesion.

Win if you can.

Let me down if you must.

But welcome back to October, Metropolitans.

I’ve missed you.

MLB Players: Give Back to the Community by Using Your Head—Literally

February 4, 2014

One of my younger son’s best buddies, I always call him Big Ben, is just getting over a concussion.  The incident, like that of my own big boy’s, was more a freak accident and not sports related, but it spelled the end of his basketball season.  It’s really too bad, because despite Big Ben’s relatively small size, his natural athleticism made him a big asset to the 3rd Grade team.

IsoBlox_0128_Demo_640x360I thought of Ben when MLB made the announcement that they were going to allow new protective hats for pitchers in games for the first time this year.  After Gus’s concussion, I did some research and found The Halo, a protective insert that MLB had tried out before ultimately deciding on isoBlox, and after some struggles with size, were able to find a way to make it work to the extent that Gus was comfortable.

I just offered Ben’s parents the chance to see if they could make our Halo work for him, as the big fella’s an even better baseball player than he is a hoopster, and I know every parent who has nursed their child through a concussion wants ever protection this side of bubble wrap to help give both them and their child every reasonable protection upon reentry.

In an ESPN interview, the isoBlox CEO Bruce Foster said that pitchers that tested the new hat didn’t feel much of a difference, but, he admitted, the look will take some getting used to.  “It will look different until it doesn’t look different anymore,” he said, noting how the goalie-style catcher’s mask now seems just as normal as the traditional variety.  It does look like they have a youth version — it will weigh 5-6 ounces and cost $60 (about the same as the Halo).  Here’s hoping it won’t take a XXL hat to make it fit correctly.

I was watching the MLB Network the other night, and Al Leiter (ah, the memories of the 99-2000 Mets— our only back-to-back playoff appearance—warm the heart) and Dan Plesac were discussing what percentage of pitchers actually wear the hat.  The highest percentage estimated was 50%, but the cynic in me thinks that is rather high.  Note that about 200 of the 750 Major League players used the Rawlings S100 batting helmet when it was first made available in the single-earflap version in 2012.  Rawlings continued to refine it because of “the look” and all players began using 2013 when it was made mandatory through the agreement between the league and the players’ association.

Mets Rockies BaseballSo why did so many players resist? Vanity, I believe, first and foremost.  For while they’re not the “Great Gazoo” helmet worn by David Wright after coming back from his severe concussion, the 2012 model did ride a little higher than what we are used to seeing.  And when that oddity is for extra protection, the instinctive athlete “macho” often comes to the fore.  The “man” doesn’t want to appear weak in the face of danger.

Now, that was just for a tweak to batting helmets, something we’ve understand is a protective device.  A hat, however, has never been seen as anything else but decorative, perhaps with a smidgen of sun protection.  And that’s exactly why it is even more important for Major League pitchers to step out of their comfort zone and use the new pitcher’s cap.  For there is no place on the field a player is more vulnerable than after she or he has released a pitch.  That’s one of the reasons I personally chose the Babe Ruth system over Little League, as I want the older boys to have the extra four feet (50 rather than 46) of protection from those line drives back to the box.

So here’s the rub.  Many Major League baseball players have set up charitable foundations to help those in need.  But what has made them into role models to children in America and around the world is what they do on the field.  And so when  Clayton Kershaw tried on that new hat and said, ““I’ve actually tried one of those on. I’ve thrown with it.  You don’t look very cool, I’ll be honest… But technology is unbelievable, and it really doesn’t feel that much different once you get used to it,” perhaps it was because he looked in the mirror and saw not himself but instead kids like Ben and Gus who might be spared a significant injury because their MLB hero holstered his machismo and donned the poofy protective cap, as it opens the door to real discussion about this kind of protection at the youth level.

So from this youth baseball coach and Dad, my kudos to every single pitcher who decides to wear “the hat.”  It  may very well be the best service a baseball player can give back to his community.

Coach’s Corner: Retire Chief Wahoo

December 19, 2013

As we head into 2014, now is the time that youth sports leagues around the country are starting to make their decisions about their spring seasons.  In that respect, I’d like to tell you a decidedly nerdy story that I’m hoping might help parents and leagues get out in front on a particular uniform choice.

They don't give the t-ball kids the choice fields

They don’t give the t-ball kids the choice fields

The first time I stumbled into coaching, the team name I was assigned was the Indians.  Despite my loving the first Major League film and having great respect for the long-suffering fans of the Tribe, I can’t say I was thrilled.

Now, it wasn’t the name.  I have to say I never found a whole lot of substance in the fact that using a people’s name as a team name was somehow trivializing of that people.  Quite the opposite, I think that often teams want names that represent something noble that they can attach themselves to.  Given a number of American Indian tribes have seen fit to support team names such as the Indians, the Braves, and the Seminoles, I was more than fine with my kids becoming Wahoo warriors.

The first one is the kind I think you'd find in a very old Looney Toons

The first one is the kind I think you’d find in a very old Looney Toons

It was the Wahoo itself—that being Chief Wahoo, the team mascot—that gave me pause.  The cartoonish, smiling Indian (my friends and I used to jokingly call him “The Horny Indian”) did evolve over the years from a figure that seemed very obviously a derogatory caricature to one that seemed more generic, but, still, it somehow felt wrong having my kids wearing a simplistic cartoon representing an entire culture.  Indeed, I bought a special “I” Indians hat so I could affiliate but not be wearing the logo.

I was delighted after a couple of years to escape the Indians in favor of the Grays, but this past year, my big fella was back in Wahoo wear as his head coach had a Cleveland connection.  My old “I” hat was too beat up to use again, and I was feeling cheap so I went ahead and wore the Chief.  But during the season, I saw this extremely well done picture put together by the National Congress of American Indians of the Wahoo beside two fictional teams:

NCAI Hats
That picture really put a spot on it.  As a Jew, I would actually be fine with a team called the Jersey City Jews or the Islip Israelites or Hackensack Hebrews or somesuch.  But that logo?  Yep, I’d be offended.

The kids will still be cute, even if the hats aren't

The kids will still be cute, even if the hats aren’t

It seems the powers that be at the Major League level, seeing the heat that Washington Redskins are getting over their name, are starting to think the wiser about their old logo.  Indeed, as noted in this Sports Logos.net article, Chief Wahoo seems to be on its way out.  But when I got one of my big pre-season baseball catalogs in the mail and turned to the uniform section, the only Indians hats they had in stock for teams to order were the ole’ Chief.  They did have the new “C” hats available, but they’d need to be special ordered.

Maybe it’s much ado about nothing. Maybe I’m just another member of the PC police.  But I think if the Major League Indians are getting that embracing the culture of others as a symbol for your sports team is different than caricaturizing it, I think it is even more important for that to be emulated immediately at the youth league level.

Not THAT's a mascot!

Not THAT’s a mascot!

I would call upon all the major youth leagues, staring with Little League and Babe Ruth, to request that their affiliates specifically ask for the “C” hat for their kids, as well as jerseys that say “Cleveland” or “Indians” rather than have the Wahoo logo.  It’s a simple enough fix, and one that I think is overdue.

Let’s leave the silly mascots to the giant wingless birds of the Galapagos Islands (bet you didn’t know where the Phillie Phananatic was from!) and people with unusually large baseballs as heads.  Especially the latter, especially wearing blue and orange.  Yeah, that’s the best one, anyway.