St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Allen Craig (right) is congratulated by teammate Matt Holliday (left) after hitting a home run in the first inning. Troy Taormina-US PRESSWIRE

The Little Boys of Summer


If there is one thing more dear to my heart during baseball season than my St. Louis Cardinals it is my little guy’s baseball team. My eight-year-old son is playing traveling league ball for the first time this summer. I am loving it. I have spent the last two days at a ball field for a tournament with these little men. While I usually use this space in this blog to discuss a numerous variety of topics regarding our Redbirds and the daily information the season brings about. Today I wanted to take the opportunity to address something that many of us are dealing with as our kids play baseball, or any other sport for that matter.

I have a great perspective of the game from all angles. I have had the opportunity to be a player, Coach (many levels), Athletic Director, School Administrator, and umpire. I have always loved the game. What I haven’t always loved is the way some parents behave at ballgames. With this varied background I have had the opportunity (or misfortune sometimes) to deal with parents, coaches, and players in various situations.

I was struck by how nice this weekend was until today at the tournament. Our 8-9 year olds played 5 games over two days (three today). My son’s team the Rays ended up going 4-1 and winning the tournament. It was hot here in southeast Missouri and it may have caused some tempers to boil over. By the end of the day in the championship game the tide changed a little. Fortunately it wasn’t with our team or our parents.

I am an ultra competitive person. I always have been. I am also demanding of my kids. I am not an ogre about it (although my wife may sometimes disagree). I work very hard to stay positive and always encourage our kids and those on his team. I have an expectation that my kids are going to work hard. They may not be the best, but they are going to put out maximum effort at all times. This is something my son is learning, sometimes the hard way. I help coach at practice when I can, but my work schedule doesn’t allow me to be a full time coach. I wish this wasn’t the case, but I still get to work with all of these little guys when I can. I love that I know them by name and know what needs to be said to them to keep them positive.

Our team has some wonderful coaches. This is crucial. The head coach is a coach who coached for me at one point while I was an Athletic Director. He is laid back (I don’t know if I could have said that 10 years ago). He works hard to coax the best out of these young men and to teach them the game. The coaching staff follows his lead and they do a fantastic job of teaching and motivating our youngsters. They lost their first game of the play in round, but then went on to win 4 in a row to win the tournament. Our parents were fantastic. They cheered hard for all of our guys. They had a great time and it showed.

One of the things our coaches did before we started playing this season was to send a letter home with expectations of parent and fan behavior. It was the usual list but the simple fact that our coaches gave us expectations is crucial. I only have a small problem with coaching from the sidelines. I am usually capable of keeping my mouth shut (usually with the aid of a mouthful of sunflower seeds), but I tend to give my son tips and reminders when he requires them. I am working to be better about doing it at the games. My wife isn’t betting on it.

I thought I would include the items our coaches shared with us and some others I have accumulated over my years of experience. I hope they are beneficial for you and your kids or the kids you coach.

Don’t take it so seriously. It is just a game. We want our kids to grow up loving this simple game for what it is and the lifetime of enjoyment it can bring.

Don’t argue with the umpire. There is no point in doing this whether you are a coach, player, or parent. I have never seen an umpire deliberately make bad calls (although I felt like they were at some times). I watched this with an opposing team’s coach and a couple of parents today. It is not what we need our kids to see. It will not change the outcome. Let it go. If you think you can do a better job I am sure they can find a spot for you to volunteer to umpire or maybe even make a few bucks. It’s not as easy as it looks.

Be supportive of your kids. Always and without question.

Watch your language. While I can be accused of being fluent in profanity, the baseball field is neither the time nor place. 
Control it while you are around he kids and other fans.
If you have a problem, talk to the coach privately, not in front of the kids. This is the easiest of all of these to accomplish, but sometimes the hardest for parents to grasp. Conversations like this should always be held in private. A word of caution, be prepared for an honest evaluation that you may not want to hear.

Respect your team. Represent your team and hometown with pride. Leave others with a positive impression of your town and residents.

Respect your opponent. Be gracious in defeat and even more gracious in victory. This is one of the most important lessons we can teach our kids.

Let the coach coach. These guys give freely of their time. They work hard to prepare the team to win. No coach wants to lose. They are doing the best with what they have. Keep all of these in mind.

Watch your behavior. The kids certainly are.

Remember, it’s just a game. Encourage your kids to play hard but have a good time. One of my favorite things I heard all weekend came from one of our coaches. Let’s have some fun out there. That’s the important message of this entire post. These little ones aren’t playing for million dollar salaries. It’s not that serious. This was driven home for me today when one of our players came off the field after the end of the championship game and asked, “Did we win?” It kind of puts into perspective doesn’t it?

I want to close with a poem that was posted on the fence of the sports complex that hosted the tournament this weekend. It is something I saw make the rounds on Facebook this week as well. I was unable to confirm the origin, but the sentiment is what matters. I hope you enjoy it and take something from it. Share it with others. Let’s all work together to be examples of sportsmanship and teach our kids the right lessons.

HE IS JUST A LITTLE BOY
He stands at the plate,
with his heart pounding fast.
The bases are loaded,
the die has been cast.
Mom and Dad cannot help him,
he stands all alone.
A hit at this moment,
would send the Team home.

The ball meets the plate,
he swings and he misses.
There’s a groan from the crowd,
with some boos and some hisses.
A thoughtless voice cries,
strike out the bum.

Tears fill his eyes, 
the game’s no longer fun.
So open your heart,
and give him a break.
For it’s moments like this,
a man you can make.
Please keep this in mind,
when you hear someone forget.
He is just a little boy,
and not a man yet.

As a proud father I have to brag a little. My little man finished the tournament 8-11 with 2 doubles and 4 RBI’s. It’s so much fun to watch these young men play. I am looking forward to the rest of the season.

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