Monday, January 21, 2013

Did I fail my boy by not teaching him baseball?

This past weekend my wife registered my son for little league baseball. When I was a kid I had great fun playing little league. My coaches were all pretty cool, I played with my friends from school, and after the game, win or lose, the coach would buy us a pop at the concession stand. If we won, he would buy us some ice cream. On rare occasions, I even would get a game ball or make some spectacular catch that I didn't know I had in me. My older brothers played in the league and I wanted to live up to their legacy.

In one instance I made a spectacular play at third by keeping the runners from advancing by using my head, literally. I took a line drive off the bag directly into my face. My glasses shattered because I had the kind of specs that Harry Caray would wear and had the frame of mind to pick up the ball acting like Velma and stepping on the bag for the force out to end the inning. Then, there was the feeling of all feelings, my first home run off of my friend Young Jip Kim. I crushed it and hit it into the tennis courts which were just beyond the diamond behind my junior high school. Those tennis courts seemed pretty far when I was a kid although they probably aren't if I were to go back now but that fastball from him looked like a watermelon to me, and I jumped on it.

A neighbor girl up the street, Tammy, grew up in a family where he grandfather had connections with the White Sox. Being from the south side, I grew up with players like Greg Luzinski, Carlton Fisk, Richard Dotson and others. Tammy's grandpa would get us team baseball cards and we would sit by the street with her Snoopy Sno Cone machine and sell sno cones complete with a White Sox card for every sale. On the way home I would put the spare cards in my spokes and ride my bike home.

On summer nights in our south suburb of Chicago, my friends and I from the neighborhood would play running bases and play catch in the street, throwing pop flies to each other as high as we could while trying to catch them and avoid the cars parked in the street. Cars would routinely cut through our subdivision and we would yell "game off" or "carrr!" only to reassemble back in the street for round after round until we couldn't see the ball anymore.

All of these great memories came from baseball. So why is it that my son is seven and has only played one year of T-ball? I guess in part it is the way that sports are now. Things are so much more heightened than I feel they used to be. People would say to me "If you don't start your kids off when they are 5, forget about it, they will never catch up." We've tried so many things with my son. Karate, T-Ball, Basketball,Tennis, Swimming and even had him in a Sports Sampler program at our Y. We thought maybe that somewhere in there, he would find something that really interests him.

I talk about the White Sox quite a bit but not living in the state makes it hard to follow our team and I'll be damned if I will let him watch the Cubs on WGN, the Chicago station that we do get because technically, that's not really good baseball in my estimation. Well, if the last 105 years have taught us anything it isn't so how could I teach him the game from that? The best part of watching the Cubs when I was in Chicago was listening to what would come out of Haray Caray's mouth next. I guess that I will be forced to watch Phillies games. Ugh.

It's funny how quickly he went from that little boy barely hitting it off the tee in his over-sized orange T-Shirt that was down to his knees to this big kid that I am going to have to buy a cup for. On Sunday, I attended a clinic on drills that coaches can run with their kids. They kept stressing that the skills done in practice were not any different than what they do in the majors. The guy running the clinic has a five year old and was talking about teaching him how to catch properly. He said "My son and I will sometimes do this for two hours" Two hours? A five year old? Did this guy superglue his kid to a bucket because my kids can't sit and do anything for two hours unless it has something to do with Wii or Legos.

After listening to these coaches talk about drills and hearing that in the eight year old coach-pitch league that the coaches try to strike out the kids instead of lobbing it in nice and easy, I wish that I had signed him up for last year's experience. I guess that I worry that he is going to fail and then never want to play again. I know that kids are resilient but am I nuts to worry?

We have played whiffle ball in the yard and he has hit off the tee so that I can teach him how to run bases. Baseball is a great game to learn but when I started going through all the rules with him I thought, CRAP, am I a failure as a man for not teaching him all this stuff? This is America's pastime, so why haven't I passed this on to my only son? The best way to learn, I have found, is by doing.

So, the question is, as a parent, do you just decide for the kid that he/she is doing this activity or do you wait for them to tell you? My wife and I didn't want to be "those parents" who push everything and anything on their kids and scream and yell from the sidelines when they didn't do so well. As a former coach I have dealt with quite a few parents making the kid's experience in the game not fun. That is what we are trying to teach them right - that sports should be fun? Major leaguers talk so much about how fortunate they are to play a game they love. So how do you build confidence in your kid so that they can do well?

I guess the hardest part of getting kids involved in sports is learning how to pull back and letting them figure it out for themselves. I am sure someone taught me how to throw and catch. I don't remember anything specific about when or who that was probably because it was all part of the experience. I even vaguely remember my older brothers throwing pop flies so high I would lose them in the sun and they would sometimes hit me in the forehead. Oh wait, a minute...was that part of the practice? That explains a lot! So, I guess I will sit him down on a bucket and teach him to play catch like a pro and avoid those pop flies...for now.


  1. I think all we can do is give them the exposure to these things, which it sounds like you've done. Music lessons? Swimming lessons? Tai kwon do? Soccer? Baseball? When is the right time? I don't think there is a right or wrong time, although it does sometimes seem like there is a small window of opportunity to introduce them to something we loved before they move on to the next thing. Bottom line: Talk to him about it (baseball, etc.), ask him what he likes about it. I help coach my son's soccer team, and he loves that. We're about to break into baseball, too. I hope he loves it, because I certainly did. But if he doesn't, I'll let him figure out something else. Like mechanical engineering.

  2. "So, the questions is, as a parent, do you just decide for the kid that he/she is doing this activity or do you wait for them to tell you?"

    My Dad grew up in Europe and Israel, and wasn't much of a sports fan except for tennis and soccer. I was absolutely terrible at baseball as a kid, which I chose to play because I loved the Cincinnati Reds.

    My dad got me on a tennis court with a racquetball racquet when I was 6, and I really enjoyed it. He never forced me to play with him, it was always my call, and I think that's why I liked to play so much...

  3. Thanks for the comments guys. I think after attending the baseball clinic I just felt overwhelmed and worried that he wouldn't like it. I guess what is best for our kids they will discover for themselves so we should just expose them to as much fun stuff as we can.

  4. My dad pushed me to play sports. The understanding was that I had to learn, and try and play and if it didn't stick that was fine. I played baseball up to high school, but didn't have the love of the game to want to play high school. It frustrated my dad cause I had the ability, just not the interest. So he let it go.

    I was much more into skiing, biking and rock climbing, which was just fine with him cause he got to play too.

    I'll get my kid into team sports, cause it's fun and there's a lot to learn about human interaction, but I don't want to spend a lot of time on the sidelines.