HOW MUCH IS TOO LITTLE?

HOW MUCH IS TOO LITTLE?

The game is over, the dugout is empty, and the field has been dragged.  One team is headed to the snack bar or the parking lot.  And the other team is jumping into a dogpile in the outfield.  The jubilation of a come-from-behind victory?  Possibly the sweet relief of a hard-fought tournament championship?  Nope, the end result of a 10-run, 4-inning mercy at the hands of a considerably stronger opponent.

In some circles, that dogpile would be players throwing haymakers at each other; blaming one player or another for not tagging up, or failing to cover a base, or over-throwing a cut-off man.  But, in this particular dogpile, you had a bunch of players who had processed the loss and moved on.  Quickly.  Too quickly for some.  Much too quickly for me.

Here is the rub: For the past few years, I have had the honor of coaching a travel baseball team.  Now, I realize that many of you immediately recoil at the thought of travel ball (although, if you are reading this blog, probably not), and all that it entails.  Trust me when I tell you that everything you have heard is exaggerated and yet totally on point.  But I digress.

Coaching this group of kids has been one of my greatest pleasures.  However, my biggest frustration with this team has not been the strike outs, or the dropped pop flys, or the sometimes circus-like throws about the field.  No, my biggest frustration has been what appears to be a lack of caring.  Now, I am not a psychologist, but I certainly play one in the dugout.  And to my knowing eyes, our boys care more about what’s for lunch than they do who’s on first.  That said, I could be wrong, and this could just be the loosest group of athletes ever assembled.

But I often ask myself (and others): How much better would we be if the boys cared more?  If they had that fire in the belly, would the outcomes to our games be different?  I see other teams where winning is the only thing.  They seem to do well.  But, I don’t live with them, and I certainly don’t coach them, so I cannot say with any certainty that that is accurate.  And, even if it is, to what end?  They are, of course, “only 12” (or 7, 8, 9, 10, or 11).

Would it be better – for the team, for the coach, for the player – if every strikeout resulted in a chucked helmet or a slammed bat?  Would tears on the mound result in more batters struck out?  Or would tears in the batter’s box mean less slow walks back to the dugout?

Can a group of young players care too much?  Can they care too little?

A few weeks back, I and a bunch of coaches, players, and fans were treated to a spectacle not often witnessed on a Little League diamond.  We got to see a young man slam his bat onto home plate with such ferocity that the dish nearly came loose (this, before a pitch was even thrown).  We then saw outrage (genuine, eye-rolling, jaw-dropping, foot stomping outrage) when the umpire deigned to call a strike.  When this young gentleman’s team lost, he threw his hat; chucked his glove; and went Paul O’Neill to the dugout.  And, for the final indignity, the player tore out the outfield grass as his coach attempted post-game condolences.  It was performance art at its most absurd.  Suffice it to say, this young Sam Kinison cared a little too much.

Is there a happy medium?  Can we get our kids to channel their desire for excellence into actual excellence, without the end result being tantrums and self-flagellation?

Or is this just hard-wired, and we cannot change the spots on our pre-teen leopards?

Or is it situational?  In certain circumstances, kids will feel the weight of the world and squeeze the sawdust out of the bat (metaphorically speaking, of course); while in other situations they stroll back to the dugout after looking at strike three without a care in the world.

I tell the kids all the time that they have chosen a vicious sport, a sport predicated on failure.  You all know the adage: Fail 7 times out of 10 and you an All-Star; only fail 6 times out of 10 and you are a Hall of Famer.  Over the past 6 years, there has been an average of nearly 1.5 errors per MLB game.  And that just counts the physical errors.  Hell, Mike Trout (everyone’s All American) struck out looking 53 times in 2013 (and was 2nd in MVP voting).  Julio Teheran picked off 8 baserunners in 2013; 5 more in 2014; and has already picked off 3 this season.  If that isn’t mental failure on the part of baserunners (at this point they should know he is pretty good), I don’t what is.

So, with that much failure at hand, how much caring is enough?  How much is too little?  How do we – on behalf of our kids – attempt to regulate this.  Should we be pleased when a player comes back to the dugout and slams his helmet but then, five minutes later, gathers himself and struts right back out to play defense?  Or is that too much emotion?  Should we be pissed when he allows a ball to go through his legs or overthrows his first base, and just laughs it off?  Or is that a healthy reaction to a game predicated on failure?  I wish I knew the answer(s).

Maybe the lesson here is that we, as coaches and parents, need to care less.  Maybe we let them fail and/or succeed in their own way, provided they are not harming themselves, their teammates, or their team.  If they do cross that line, then we pull them from the game (hard to do as a parent sitting in the stands; harder still when you are coaching your own kid).

All I know is that baseball is sheer joy.  It is frustrating as hell; it can be humiliating and maddening; it can bring outright happiness and downright despair.  But it is a beautiful thing.  There is a reason that the vast majority of the readers of this blog get a little tingle when Vin Scully intones: “It’s time for Dodger baseball”.  There is a reason we leave the office early to sit in the stands or on a bucket for 2½ hours a few times a week for months on end.  There is a reason we plan our long weekends around baseball tournaments.

And what we should want, more than anything else, more than winning or losing, more than success or failure, what we should want is for our kids – 30 years (or more) down the road – to have this same love of baseball.  We don’t want them to burn out or learn to hate the sport (as too often happens).  So, whatever mechanism they need to get there – tears on the mound, batting gloves torn from hands, giggles on the walk from the batter’s box, or dogpiles after getting their asses handed to them – we should support wholeheartedly.  Because, in the end, it is all:

PLAY BALL!!

 

LANGUAGE BARRIER

LANGUAGE BARRIER

Within the past week, two people who I love dearly each told me – separately – that they try to read this blog, but can’t always follow it.  That didn’t bother me in the least, because, as I wrote in my very first entry, this ain’t for everyone.  I was just happy that they tried.  This got me to thinking about why they couldn’t follow.  I write short paragraphs, and include pictures, videos, and graphics; so why is it so hard . . . ?

And then it hit me: There is a language barrier; they don’t speak baseball.

Baseball, possibly more than any other sport, has its own language.  Sure, football has crazy plays that are nearly impossible to decode/understand (real life sample: “Brown Right Over Flip Zac 73 Chicago F arrow X curl”).  And basketball has “pin down screens” and “backdoor cuts” and “alley oops”.

But in describing the day-to-day of the game, listening to it on the radio, or casually having the television on in the background (not Dodger games in 70% of Los Angeles, natch), requires a base level of understanding of what certain oft-used terms mean.  So, today I am reaching out to the uninitiated; the common masses who listen but do not hear; who try to understand, but have trouble comprehending.

The next time Vin Scully says any of the following, or Bob Costas starts “talkin’ baseball”, or Pete van Wieren interjects any of the below while being a homer (i.e., an announcer who roots for the team signing his paycheck) for the Braves, you will have a better understanding of what the hell just happened:

A batter hits a soft line drive into left field.  What shall we call that? For starters, “line drive” typically means a hard hit ball – a ball hit “on a line”.  So, by definition, a “soft line drive” is an oxymoron – let the confusion begin.  Listening in the car, you may hear that described as a Texas Leaguer, a duck fart, a broken bat single, or a dying quail.  Some refer to it as a flair.  In all of the above instances, the batter will be safe at first base.

What about a bouncing ball that makes it into the outfield?  Well that could be a seeing-eye single or a twelve hopper or a Baltimore Chop.  Again, the batter will have safely made it on base.

And the slow roller that doesn’t even it make it to one of the infielders?  A squib or a swinging bunt (another oxymoron). “Slow rollers” don’t normally make it into the outfield – only on special occasions, like Game 6 of the 1986 World Series.

And what to make of the aforementioned line drive? A screamer; laser; pea; seed; rocket; shot.  If it leaves the yard then it is a homerun, which might be referred to as a dinger or tater, a dong or a round-tripper.  Really hit it hard and it’s a bomb.

Players often refer to homeruns as Jimmy Jacks, which can be shortened to the more simplistic Jack (wherefore art thou, Jimmy?).  Whatever you call it, the hitter can touch ‘em all.  If hit particularly well, it is a no doubter because that one is not coming back (see, Stanton, Giancarlo).  If it barely makes it out, it is a wall scraper or a cheap one:

If the bases happened to be loaded (i.e., runners of first, second, and third base), then that pedestrian homerun becomes a grand slam or a salami.

Sometimes a batter see four balls (as opposed to three strikes), and then he literally receives a base on balls (which, as a call back, is recorded in the scorebook as “BB”).  That is also known as a free pass; and when done intentionally – whether at the Little League or another level – it is known as an intentional walk (pretty straightforward), but could also be called four wide ones.  Where it gets tricky is when the pitcher doesn’t mean to walk the batter, but doesn’t mean not to walk him.  We call that an unintentional intentional walk – again with the oxymorons.  Got it?

The flip side is when a batter gets three strikes before anything else good happens.  In that instance, he strikes out.  Or is down on strikes. Or Ks.  If he doesn’t swing at the third strike, he is caught looking and will suffer a ʞ (verbally: “a backwards K”).  Old schoolers may say he fanned or whiffed (or, as Dan Patrick might say, “the whiiiiiff!”).

Then there are the pitches themselves.  They sound so lame: fastball, curveball, change up.  Let’s add a little baseball flair to each of them:

A fastball is a heater.  If near the batter’s head, it’s a high/hard one.  Some pitchers throw cheese or gas.  Whether they throw a four-seamer or a two-seamer, they bring the heat.

How about the curveball?  Well, that is an Uncle Charlie (many theories, but actual origins unknown), a bender or, in the case of Clayton Kershaw and pitchers of his ilk, Public Enemy Number One.  Some announcers can’t “read” the pitch from their lofty perch above the diamond, so they call everything that isn’t a fastball an off-speed pitch (be leery of any play-by-play guy who uses this term too often).  Some call it the hammer or the hook, a yakker or a knee bender.  They often come in through the back door, so be wary of a pitcher with a nasty deuce.  And pitchers need to get on top of, own, sell, believe in, or bite it, lest it hang in which case the hitter will bang, often resulting in a bomb.  Are you still with me?

Curveballs, like clockwork, often go from 12 to 6 or 9 to 3, and sometimes in different directions if the release is 3/4s (i.e., a somewhat sidearm motion) or submarine (i.e., a sidearm motion that borders on being underhanded).  To wit:

Blog_Tekulve    Blog_Quisenberry

Hurlers have so many pitches in their repertoire that it is sometimes hard to understand what the announcer says he threw.  So, if you hear any of the following, this is what they saw:

  • A change-up or off-speed pitch is pitched with the same motion as the fastball, just slower.
  • The knuckleball is thrown (?) at a considerably slower speed, with the ultimate goal of taking all spin away from the ball, resulting in the ball acting a like a butterfly as it flutters toward the plate. This pitch has made more big league catchers and hitters look like little league players than anything else in the history of the game.
  • A slider is essentially a hard curveball, but with less “break”.  It looks like a fastball, moves sorta like a curveball, and makes the hitter more often look like screwball (see, Gibson, Bob or Johnson, Randy).
  • The screwball is the opposite of a curveball, meaning it breaks in the opposite direction.  To get this to happen, a pitcher needs to twist his arm inward on release, such that his palm his facing outward (not a very sustainable motion).  While baseball has had many “screwballs” over the years, over the years not too many pitchers could consistently throw screwballs.  (Even if you don’t follow baseball, if you lived in Southern California in the early ‘80s, the name Fernando Valenzuela has special meaning.  He is the greatest screwball pitcher of all time – a short list, to be sure, but an honor nonetheless).

       Blog_Fernando

  •  Some pitchers load the ball with Vaseline, sunscreen, or good ol’ fashioned spit.  Not surprisingly, those pitches are called spitballs.  Other pitchers have gotten more creative and used nail files and sandpaper to doctor the ball.  If you can control where you scuff the ball, you can make it do all kinds of fun things, and have great success (see, Scott, Mike).
  • And, in honor of a special birthday today (answer below if you cannot figure it out), one cannot forget the Eephus Pitch which looks like something you might see at a Sunday softball league.  It is essentially lobbed to the plate with an arc of 20-25 feet.  The goal is to catch the batter off-guard.  (Side note: There is a theory that the term “Eephus” may come from the Hebrew word אפס (pronounced “EFF-ess”), meaning “nothing”.)

Pitchers pitch, and hitters hit, but not all hitters are created equal.  Some hitters are mashers who hit seeds and frozen ropes all over the yard.  Some studs put on laser shows and others are just plain feared.  Some hitters are picky, and will only swing at strikes (see, Boggs, Wade) while others are free-swingers, whose only requirement is that the pitcher actually release the ball (see, Guerrero, Vladimir).  Many of the former are said to sit and spit, meaning they sit back and spit on a crappy pitch, refusing to swing.  Many of the latter hail from the Dominican Republic, where it is often said, you can’t walk off the island.

On the other end of the spectrum are Punch and Judy hitters.  They go up to bat with a wet newspaper and don’t hit the ball very hard.  Oftentimes their batting average hovers around the Mendoza Line (which is .200).  So, to recap, a hitter sucks and is danger of being released and/or sent off to the Bush Leagues if he only gets 2 hits every 10 at bats; but if he can get 3 hits every 10 at bats, he is a Hall of Famer.  Baseball is a difficult and strange game.

Okay.  We have dealt with pitchers and their pitches, hitters and their hits.  Now we have to deal with the fans.  Like kids, they say the darndest things.

You may hear be tough with two and wonder what that means.  Well, it means to battle with two strikes, trying not to get fanned.  This should not be confused with let’s get two or roll a pair or twist it, all of which refer to the pitcher’s best friend, a double-play (1 pitch turns into 2 outs).

You may hear someone yell to the batter: pick a spot.  This doesn’t have anything to do with measles; rather it means a batter should focus on one area, and if the pitch is in that area, they should swing away.  A corollary to “pick a spot” is if it’s hangin’ you’re bangin’ which relates to the above-referenced Uncle Charlie.  If the pitcher doesn’t get “on top” of the “deuce”, because of the nature of its spin, it may “hang” in the middle of the plate at which point a “stud” more often than not will hit a “seed”, and potentially “touch ‘em all”.

How about inside out.  This means to keep your hands inside the baseball (i.e., your hands should stay between your body and the ball as you swing), causing the batter to hit the ball to the opposite field (i.e., right field for righties; left field for lefties).

When a lefty inside-outs a ball, he often hits it in the 5-6 hole which is the small swath of earth between the third baseman and the shortstop.  Easier said (and understood) than actually done (unless you are Tony Gwynn).  (Note: You never hear about the 3-4 hole.)

We often want the hitter to find a gap.  And while some may do this post-game, in this context it means the hitter hits the ball to the left or right of the center fielder, to a place where the corner outfielders (i.e., right fielder and left fielder) cannot reach.

Speaking of corners, when a pitcher hits his corners or a batter takes a pitch on the corner it means that the pitcher is painting the black. Still don’t follow?  Home plate is 17” wide, and retreats 8½” towards the catcher, and then meets at a point 12” later.  All of the edges are black in color.  When you hear any of the above, it means the pitch went through the strike zone above the black part of the plate.

Here is one that you may not hear often, but when you do, you are thoroughly confused: infield fly.  Learn this one, and you can impress your friends and neighbors alike.  Simply put: runners on at least first and second base and less than two outs, the batter hits a pop fly that can reasonably be caught by an infielder.  The umpire immediately calls/signals “infield fly” and the batter is automatically out (regardless of whether or not the fielder actually catches the ball).  The runners are then free to run at their peril, and no force play is in effect.  Quick and easy.  Thank me later.

“Ah, I get it now, but what is a force play”  you ask?  This can either be easy or complicated.  For the casual viewer/listener/reader, let’s make it easy: Is/was the runner forced to go to the next base by the batter or another runner.  If yes, the defensive player need only touch the base with the ball under his control, and the runner is “forced out”.  If no, the defensive player must tag the runner (while controlling the ball) before the runner reaches the base.

(Editor’s Note: We will cover “tagging up” another time.)

Two more before we go:

When the aforementioned batter is up to bat with runners on first and second or the bases are loaded, it is said that there are ducks on the pond.  When that is the case, the batter has a chance to get a steak or a rib eye by knocking the runner in and allowing him/them to score.  (Note: When a batter’s hit allows a run to score, the hitter is awarded with a run batted in or an RBI for short; which term has now been bastardized to ribby or rib eye, which eventually led to “steak”. Got it?!?)  (Discussion question: Is the plural “RBIs” or “RBI”?)

And lastly, an age old classic.  The batter hits short pop fly – normally to the outfield – which is easily caught.  That is known as a can of corn.  Why, you ask?  Because back in the day, grocers used to drop cans of corn (and, ostensibly, other canned food) from the top shelf and catch them in their aprons.  Never saw Willie Mays do that!

As with most of these topics, I could write for days.  And I am sure many of the readers out there will be quick to tell me about the 10 or 50 other ones I have missed.  I look forward to it.  But, in the meantime, I believe this is a great primer as we head into the summer.  Share this with your loved ones . . .

PLAY BALL!!

Trivia Answer:  Dave LaRoche

p.s.  Under the rubric of “it takes a village”, I think it is important to note that many friends and readers offer up suggestions for these postings, and I want to make sure I give credit where credit is due.  My friend Eva Cohen suggested this topic, and my sister and brother-in-law had confused looks on their faces, so they all should either be thanked or reprimanded.

12

12

According to School House Rock, Three . . . is a Magic Number.

And while that may be the case, I think 12 may be as magical as it gets.

The old cliché is that youth is wasted on the young.  Never is that writ larger than at age 12.

I am not exactly sure what inspired this analysis; it was either haircuts or haplessness.  Or both.

Over the past few weeks, the boys (ahem, young men) in our sphere have gone to the barber to get ready for some bar mitzvahs.  It turns out these guys clean up real good.  And it also turns out that many – if not all – of them are really good looking.  For now.  You see, 12 is a magic number.  Their faces still have the freshness of youth; while their mouths have the freshness of adolescence.  Some still have baby fat; and some are actually able to start making babies.  Acne has not yet hit full stride, so many of these guys are cresting into pretty boy status before the slow descent into puberty and teenage angst, where, potentially, they will be robbed of so much.

But for now, they are 12, with all that comes with that.

These kids have seen enough, heard enough, done enough, to be just dangerous enough.  They are still children in so many ways.  We cannot expect them to actually act as old as they may look; or make decisions in line with how they speak; or understand the consequences of the actions they are old enough to take.  They have lived on this earth but a dozen years, but they have lived a bit.

And while they are but babes in the world, they are veterans on the ball field.  Many of these kids have been playing baseball for at least seven years; more than half their lives.  By the age of 12, they have played in more games (with league, travel, all-stars, etc.) than kids in previous generations played in their entire career.  So, while it is fair to say, “he’s only 12”, it is equally fair to yell, “Dammit, you’re 12 years old!”

Talk about your razor’s edge.

In today’s environment – be it school, sports, gymnastics, dance, guitar, you name the other extracurricular activity – we put our kids in more pressure situations, and put more pressure on them individually, than we could have ever have handled at the same age. And you know what, more often than not, they succeed.

Jean Kerr once bastardized Rudyard Kipling by stating: “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs, it’s just possible you haven’t grasped the situation.”  I guess when you are 12, it is easy not to grasp the situation.  But time and again, these kids prove to us that that is simply not true.  These kids do know, and they achieve.  Which makes the “he’s only 12” that much more difficult to swallow.

For instance, is it acceptable for a kid to both hit a game-winning walk-off homerun when all of his coaches, friends, and friends’ parents are watching and cry when he strikes out?  How do we jibe the 12-year old who can strike out the other team’s best hitter with the bases loaded, but then chucks his bat, helmet, batting gloves, and the smallest kid in the dugout, when he pops out to short?  Is he “only 12” or “dammit, you’re 12 years old”?

Our kids have so much to learn: about life, about school, about girls and boys, politics and being politic, about heartache and love.  We so often forget that they are “only 12” when they say something pithy or are bigger than the moment.  They aren’t “only 12” when they are sitting in the front seat on their way to see “Ride Along” and eating adult-sized meals.  They aren’t “only 12” when they are texting profanities with their buddies and dancing with girls at the aforementioned bar mitzvahs.  And yet, despite it all, they are “only 12.”

Of course they are “only 12”, but maybe . . . “dammit, they are 12 years old!”  How long do we have to endure temper tantrums and tears; thrown equipment and dropped shoulders? When does that stop?  We tried not to tolerate it at seven, got irritated at eight, got mad at nine, benched them at ten, and called them out in front of their friends and teammates at eleven.  Now, “dammit, you are 12 years old”!

How many times have you watched a Major League game and the announcer says, “Well, that was a rookie mistake”?  I have never bought that line of thinking.  By the time you are a rookie, you have played baseball for nearly two decades.  Whatever mistake that was made, that guy has made that play 50, 100 times before.  Maybe in a smaller venue in front of less people, on a worse field in a less comfortable uniform, but he has made that play.  Rookie mistake, my ass.  You want to say he was nervous and couldn’t handle the pressure of the situation, fine.  You want to say the moment was bigger than him, I can live with that.  But he knew what to do and simply didn’t execute.  Veterans make the same mistakes and no one lets them off the hook or creates a false narrative for failure.

Can the same be said for a 12-year old third baseman who doesn’t catch a pop-up with two hands?  How about a 12-year old center fielder who doesn’t call off the second baseman on a short flyball?  What about the 12-year old who consistently looks at strike three?  Is he “only 12” or is “dammit, you’re 12 years old”?

Just like most of you, I watch more baseball from January through August than any good husband and parent to other children probably should.  And it seems as if this topic comes up on a daily, gamely (Editor’s Note: I know that is not the proper usage) basis.  I might say, “he just can’t do that” and a dad to my right might say, “he’s only 12”.  Or the kid will look to his dad after every pitch outside the strike zone and the dad/coach will yell “don’t look at me, I don’t have the answer”, and someone will retort, “he’s only 12”.  So which is it?  Who is right?

Well, that’s a Clown Question, Bro.

It’s chicken and egg; both answers are right.  They do know better, but that does not mean that they can react better.  They are, after all, only twelve.  We just need to revel in their twelve-ness, as it is fleeting.  Soon our opinion will matter considerably less.  Soon a coach without a lifetime of relationship/friendship will be making the decisions and they will either straighten up or fly right (off the field/team/sport).  Soon, their age and expectations will match up and they won’t have the crutch of years to prop them up; and we will have the ability to look our young men in the eyes (without having to bend at the waist) and say with much chagrin, “it was so much easier when you were twelve!”

Ah, magic indeed.

PLAY BALL!!

TO I-WALK or NOT TO I-WALK

TO I-WALK or NOT TO I-WALK

A few posts ago I proffered my opinion on a matter, and dogmatically declared that anyone who disagreed with me was wrong.  I will not do that today.  Truth be told, I sit firmly on the fence on this matter, and don’t believe I can be convinced either way.  That said, I am open to discussion.

According to Peter Morris’ “A Game of Inches”, the first intentional walk was issued to George Wright of the Cincinnati Red Stocking on June 27, 1870, in a game against the Washington Olympics.

Blog_Red_Stockings_1  Blog_Wash_Olympics_1

Over the past 145 years, a countless (truly a countless, I could not find the answer anywhere) number of I-Walks have been issued.  Barry Bonds received 688 of them over his career, including an amazing 120 in 2004 alone.   (Think about that; he essentially received a free pass once every 5 times he went to the plate; and he received 4 in a single nine-inning game that season.)

The Hawk, Andre Dawson, received 5 over 16 innings back in 1990.

Blog_Andre_1   Blog_Andre_2

(How many of you own(ed) the card on the left?  I could not resist including the afro on the right.)

But those are just fun stats.  The intentional walk is part of the game.  Some managers believe in it more than others (see: Joe Maddon walking Josh Hamilton with the bases loaded in a 4-run game).  In fact, rookie manager Kevin Cash was kicking himself earlier this week for not walking Brian McCann with first base open in a tight game.  McCann rewarded that failure with a game-breaking double.  Oops!

Where this conversation really gets interesting, though, is at the Little League level.  Some of you reading this would be appalled at even the thought of issuing an intentional walk to a 12-year old (or younger).  Some of you may be purists and believe that part of the reason the kids are on the field is to learn how baseball is supposed to be played, and we need to teach them the game – without age being a factor.  Or, you may be like me, and come down right in the middle.

Tanner Boyle ran on the field, and Kelly Leak’s dad yelled, “Let them play” (0:35 mark),

and that became a mantra for all Little Leaguers for all times.  But what does that mean, literally?

Does it mean let them “hit” or does it mean let them “play baseball”?

Let’s get the easy stuff out of the way.  If you are teaching your kids baseball, and a slugger (or one of the opponent’s best hitters) comes to the plate representing the tying or winning run, or the tying/winning run is in scoring position, and first base is open, the intentional walk is the right baseball play.  There is no debate about that.  But just as it is the right baseball play for the shortstop to throw to third when a runner goes from second to third with less than two outs, it doesn’t mean we always want our Little Leaguers to do it.  So how do we bridge that gap?

How about when the winning run is on second, and the next two hitters are studs, and the guy in the hole is considerably less dangerous?  Do you walk them both?  That is a more difficult call.  At the big league level, it may be no-brainer.  But, in that situation, you have to weigh many considerations, including a 12-year old’s ability to throw strikes with the bases loaded.  So, in context, it may not be the right baseball play.

This one may be easier: Winning run on first, one out, slugger at the bat.  Intentional walk?  Conventional wisdom tells you never to walk the winning run into scoring position.

We could do this all day.  (And I would be happier for it.)

But then we circle back to the original question: Should we do this at all?

Should we – as coaches and parents – ever tell a 12-year old that you don’t think the player can retire a particular batter?  What does that do to the kid who just signed up to play some rec ball, and never thought he would be a literal pawn in a coaching chess match?

Should we – as coaches and parents – ever even intimate to a 12-year that we are so invested in the outcome that we are actually scared?  What does that do to the kid who now has the world (okay, potentially a smaller subset) thinking he is so good that teams are afraid to pitch to him?

I guess the question comes back to what we are doing out there.  Is the goal to win at all costs?  Are we trying to give our kids the best experience possible?  What is it that we are teaching our kids?  It is a delicate balance, and I am not sure where I land.

Let’s add an additional wrinkle: Does/should it matter who the pitcher is?  What if the pitcher is an All-Star caliber player who has had much past – and will have much future – success?  Does that change the equation?

If you come down on the side of “teaching baseball”, does the skill level of the pitcher – or the batter, for that matter – matter?  Why not always utilize the intentional walk when the situation calls for it?

If you come down on the side of “let them play”, do you potentially sacrifice a championship for the rest of the team (maybe 9, 10, or 11 players) who may never get another chance at baseball glory, simply to allow 12-year olds to go niño-a-niño?

And let’s add another wrinkle: Do kids even know how to properly issue an intentional walk?  The short answer is no.

I have seen a balk nearly called because the catcher left the catching box before the pitcher released a wide one (a little known rule).  I have seen a kid throw one to the backstop when trying to intentionally walk a player, allowing the game-winning run to scoot home from third (that one hurt).  I have seen a coach direct his pitcher to roll (you read that right, roll) the ball to the plate to avoid either of the above results, or the even more dangerous outcome: the player swinging anyway.

So where does all of this leave you?  For me, right back to where I started: On the fence.  The floor is now open for discussion.  Talk amongst yourselves . . .

p.s.  As a call back to the first sentence of this entry and a Blog from a few weeks back: Earlier this week, Jed Lowrie tore the UCL in his thumb diving into home; he will be out at least 8-12 weeks.  Last night, Chris Johnson broke his left last night diving into second base.  He was out, and now is out for 4-6 weeks!

PLAY BALL!!