The game of baseball is not just about grabbing a bat, going up to hit and having no regard for the rules. It’s not about homers and mocking the opponent, yelling at the umpire and showing up whenever you want. Besides the work you need to put in, baseball is about character, integrity, good sportsmanship and a true respect for this game.
I was very touched to see pro ballplayer Anthony Rizzo of the Chicago Cubs do something that’s rarely seen in professional sports these days. It’s something that a new crop of energetic coaches like myself are trying to instill in our young players in an almost revamp of what youth baseball is supposed to be about. For me, and for some of you, it’s about starting from scratch. Let me set the stage…
It was Game 4 of the NLCS… Cubs vs. the Dodgers. Anthony Rizzo thought it was ball four. He dropped the bat and headed to first when he heard umpire Angel Hernandez call a ‘Strike 2’. Rizzo halted, and come back to the batter’s box. With that, a “Sorry” and his at bat continued. While it was brief gesture, it didn’t end there. Watch this video… your kids can learn a lot:
In that moment, for me it encapsulates everything that’s lost in this game and a reminder of what needs to be re-taught to our kids in youth baseball today. It’s my opinion seeing all I see on a baseball field from Spring season through Fall, that we have lost our way, and we, the parents are part of the problem. Because we are no longer about guiding these kids into the realm of good sportsmanship on the baseball field. Somewhere along the way we have taught our youth about getting ahead any way we can, winning at all costs and always being perfect. To be honest… it kind of makes me sick.
Youth baseball coaches need to get back to basics. It goes way beyond teaching a player to swing through the baseball or getting their glove down to the dirt on a grounder. We need to explain the importance of respect, because too many times on a routine play that goes bad, there is blame and finger-pointing because kids now have to be perfect and can never make a mistake. And so, while Rizzo’s action was a breath of fresh air, in our youth baseball world a player would go ‘palms up’ on that call from Angel Hernandez. That would be followed by a know-it-all coach calling time and explaining that the umpire “needs glasses“. And you know what? Our kids are like sponges. You see where I’m going with this…
Coaches need to coach, not explain that their team isn’t to blame. Mistakes do happen in baseball and WILL happen in youth baseball. That’s the game, the learning curve, the experience, and over time practice, determination and nurturing will get them better. But if you teach your players that they’re perfect and you protect them on a simple ball-or-strike call, you’re not teach a damn thing in this game of failure. Kids are gonna fail more than they succeed and with it, kids have gotta learn to accept the pitfalls with grace and respect and learn from the experience. There are “safes” and “outs” and sometimes your don’t get the call you want.
It doesn’t mean you yell and scream. It doesn’t mean you suck or you got robbed. Sometimes it’s just baseball… and if you have a true understanding and respect and sportsmanship of this game, you grab your helmet, throw it under your arm and run back to the dugout to grab your glove. In baseball… sometimes calls don’t go your way and sometimes you lose and you know what? THAT’S THE GAME! Deal with it. There is no ‘Perfect’ in baseball. There are challenges and obstacles and working to get better every time you hit the field.
And so all I can suggest is this; Learn the game and every aspect of it.
Accept failure as your learning experience. Do not argue calls, ever. Instead, roll with the punches and build your baseball resume… from learning to hit, to mastering fielding to over time understanding that respect in this game is vital!
It’s a long road, but if you learn early, from coaches that care and that believe in integrity, overtime you too can be Anthony Rizzo. An adult playing kid’s game, but a man who understands that respect in baseball is the most important part of it.
We need to teach our players the importance of good sportsmanship. We need to teach them to be leaders. We need more Anthony Rizzos. That starts with us.
-Rob Monaco, Little League coach & Commissioner
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