Today is a wonderful day, Orioles pitchers and catchers are reporting to Sarasota, Florida for Spring Training and thoughts are turning to all things warm and baseball.
I also know that it is time for parents to sign their children up for baseball around the area. I thought I would use this opportunity to pen a few thoughts about today’s youth baseball.
It has been two years since I was indirectly “retired” from youth baseball by a coach who undermined my actions, a league which didn’t feel I lived up to it’s gold standard of Travel Teams and some people who simply felt my teams didn’t win enough. (All those details are best saved for a later blog) I think it’s been long enough so these words don’t seem as though I have an ax to grind. In the spirit of full disclosure my “retirement” was helped along by my son’s enrollment in high school and efforts to make the baseball team.
I started my 18 year career in youth baseball as a dad who stepped up when my middle son’s league needed a manager; I felt if I didn’t get involved I would have no right to open my mouth later about how things were going. I wasn’t exactly sure of what I was doing at first but I learned all I could about teaching baseball and I was certain I could instill my love of baseball in the boys.
Each year I learned a little more about teaching and climbed up the organizational ladder which led me to be an Age Group President, Asst. Chairman, and Chairman. I also became certified as an umpire (what was I thinking?). I was forced to move to another League when the first League folded (under my time as Chairman) due to a lack of community involvement. I served that League as Treasurer for years until my “retirement”. I include all of this so that you know where my experiences come from.
Today’s Youth Baseball can be a good thing and it is. The bonding between a coach and his players is very satisfying. To this day I hear from a few former players who relate something I said that sticks with them or remember a game or event. I enjoyed the time I had with two of my boys (I wasn’t lucky enough to coach my oldest) as their coach, although they may say the long hours that they had to spend with me at league functions wasn’t so good. In fact, the time it took away from the baseball field influenced my decision to decline a nomination to Chair the second League which led to a few parents to take their children elsewhere and probably started the path toward my parting ways with that League.
I am stating all this for the parents out there. A Youth League is only as good as you make it. Understand that everyone is a volunteer. Please remember that before you complain about things. Your coach may not have all the answers. You will only get out it what you put into it. Please don’t go into this with unrealistic expectations. It will not be what you see at OPACY but it will be fun. Your child is probably not going to get a college scholarship to play baseball through this experience so don’t expect Major League caliber coaches or umpires. Let him or her have fun and play the game; play catch with your child. Some of my fondest memories are of hitting grounders to my boys either before or after practice. There are many great coaches out there as well as a few who aren’t. There are Leagues that still emphasize the “In-House” program and want the kids to learn as well as there are Leagues that are “Travel-Centric” or worry more about the Tournaments they host.
Keep in mind that today’s youth baseball may not be like it was when you were a kid. There are Leagues that are shrinking and some that even have to have an association with neighboring Leagues in order to play games. This has been my experience, at least, in Eastern Baltimore County. Research the League before you join. Find out what fits your child and what fits your goals for the experience. Ask questions and even attend a League meeting before you commit. Get all the information you can and make an informed decision. Keep in mind that these are you child’s years, let them be fun. As a parent, have fun with it and just play catch with your child.
I may come out of “retirement” for my grandson; I will at least play catch with him and his father, my oldest son.
Have fun and Play Ball!