Having just read a column by local Charlotte Observer writer Scott Fowler (‘Misguided adults taint purity of a kids game’), I agree with overall premise about adults rule bending-cheating to win. To say I didn’t cheat, maybe because one season as coach of a womens club hockey team playing inter-collegiate others never produced an opportunity, is legitimate though. We won one game, crushing Ithaca College at Cornell’s Lynah Arena 8-2, then folded the team a couple weeks later because we didn’t have a goalie, injured in a mens hockey class trying to stay sharp.
It’s still a memory that brings a thrill, mostly because my brother brought my folks, aunt, uncle, and cousin– who’d come to Cornell to see his jayvee basketball game– to see my 10 ragamuffins (4 different jersey types, including stinky, wet, COLD jerseys I borrowed from the mens team and tossed into a bag Friday afternoon) tear up those exactly uniformed and outfitted IC players; several of my players didn’t have facemasks on the intramural helmets we borrowed. When the underdog comes through in such a defiant manner, that’s truly the best, and my feet barely touched the ice when I went over to shake the other coachs hand and offer a “good game.”
That was 1979, and I’ve never forgetten one of our girls noticing an IC player being interviewed post-game and saying, “Hey, we kicked the crap out of them, how come nobody’s interviewing us?”
At one point Fowler notes, “and now its all come crashing down,” but I really doubt that. For exactly the same reason UKentucky’s (26-0 so far) latest batch of one-and-done hoopsters won’t clarify any facet of (possible championship) season, PLAYERS PLAY. For them it *is* ‘our guys vs. your guys’, because whether a talented teammate is from Suburbia or Alaska, they’re wearing the same uniform, and thats most of what counts. Now, that 14 yr. old pitcher, a 6′ tall lefty with a 100mph fastball and fixed birth certificate, anybody who saw him KNEW he didn’t belong.
About coaching in that US championship game though, I’ll always remember two examples of The Good Stuff youth coaches are about. The Chicago pitcher gave up 3 runs early, and it was obviously because he was using breaking balls instead of his fastball– the other team was death on fastballs, although most high end LLers can hit heat well. Once his coach recognized he couldnt rely on breaking balls– again, good hitters will wait on something if they know you *aren’t* bringing the heat– and let him work, the game worked out better.
The crucial point in championship came in the 5th, when, leading by two, the Chicago pitcher gave up a *second* 3-run dinger to same kid who homered early. He was obviously devasted; you get to that point against a good team, you feel you let your guys down. Coach comes out, and at end of conference, he looks kid in the eye, says, “We’ve got two more at bats to get the runs and win this. Right now we need you to get out of the inning,” slaps him on a shoulder, and after a shaky next batter, he closes the inning out.
Coaching Situation #2: Other teams (I think from Arizona) pitcher hits the 85 pitch limit, and while the coachs son hadn’t been able to start because of a ‘tight shoulder’, coach brings him in to try and finish the game. After two batters, and with color commentators Nomar Garscioparra and Barry Larkin both saying the kid obviously doesn’t have the stuff that made him almost unhittable in his last game, the coach-Dad takes his son out and puts him at 2nd base. Larkin immediately mentions that lefties almost/NEVER play second, the inability to turn the double play being a primary reason. Chicago hits a ball to him right off the bat, he boots it– the teams first error in a MONTH of all star play– and Chicago eventually winds up the champs, because all star hitters can *always* powder the other guys #3-4-5 pitchers.
The lefty, who both commentators said was an exceptionally gifted hitter, was devastated at the error that cost his team the championship. Another (inspired) Chicago pitcher had to come in and get the final outs, and the difference between those pieces of coaching, and especially those two young players, is ALL they are ever going to think about.
Cheating? Sorry to hear about it, and yeah, adults are usually the culprits. Feeling sorry for the kids though, not so much. You’d NEVER be able to take away the actual playing, the joy of a crowd cheering you when you got home, a trip to the White House. I don’t recall how long ago Little League changed the size of districts because the teams from Taiwan were dominating by pulling talent from huge pools in a baseball crazy nation. That 14 yr. old mowing kids down also caused an extra layer of scrutiny for every organization’s eligibilty documentation.
But feeling sorry for the Chicago kids? No. Players played, and the winning-losing was on the field. Thats all I would ask for.