Where have the days gone of asking your parents to bring you a Gatorade while in the middle of an inning?
Last Thursday, I covered a 7- 8-year-old game at Dale Prentiss Field, between Pepperell and Shirley. Let me tell you -- it was an eye-opening (in a good way) experience. Sports fans and athletes from across all levels should take a page from the books of these kids and parents. There was no heckling of the umpire after a call didn't go their kid's way, no slamming of equipment after a strikeout ... just baseball.
Baseball was all that mattered. The pop of the mitt, the whoosh of a kid kicking up red clay as he stole third base, while his mother sits in the stands thinking, 'great, now I need to buy another bottle of OxyClean.'
At least while I was playing sports growing up, my mother would ponder something along those lines. Let's just say the only time you would see me with a clean uniform was when they were first issued. After that, grass stains, dirt and various battle scars were nothing out of the ordinary.
We often get caught in the ho-hum shuffle of doing our daily routines, whether it's walking the dog, or work, but we don't take the time to appreciate the beauty of some of the smaller things in life. The old adage about baseball being a child's game could not be truer. To see the kids eyes light up when they hear the ball meet the bat or the jovial reaction they have when they catch the ball -- it all comes back to the simple things.
When watching professional baseball, what do we see? We see grown men caught up in the attitude that winning is everything. And professional baseball is about to soon get a bit uglier, once the latest supplement scandal starts to catch fire.
Is little Johnny taking steroids? No, not at the moment, but what leads little Johnny to grow up and think that he has to? It is those idols he watches on TV, when he starts to think: "How do I get big like him? I want to hit home runs, too."
Baseball is a beautiful game, when it is played in its purest form. Parents at the youth levels have the ability to make a profound impact in their children's lives if they don't force undue pressure on them for making a mistake. Thursday night in Shirley, I saw no pushy parents, just good people rooting for their children and commending the other team when a great play was made. Youth sports are an avenue for kids to learn how to lose graciously and respect one's adversary.
It can also serve as a refresher for adults. Sure, on the days I wasn't up in the radio booth providing commentary for the Charlotte 49ers baseball team, I would be behind the opposing dugout trying to get in the heads of the other team's players in the on-deck circle. But when that player made a great hit or a terrific play, I would be the first to congratulate him on his way back to the dugout.
When a kid walks into a Minor League or Major League ballpark, what is the first thing he or she wants to do ... OK, I mean after using the bathroom. If the kid is anything like me, he would want to get as close to the field as possible and see if he could get a batting practice ball. The point of my babbling on is, baseball is a sport that doesn't need to be complicated.
When kids get to high school, parents sometimes start to lose that positive influence on their budding athletes. Pressure can be placed upon a kid who often feels like winning isn't everything, it is the only thing.
What I saw Thursday was not only refreshing, it was rewarding to watch the kids beam with glee after they made good plays. That is baseball. When the Pepperell bench got my attention during the late innings and hollered "Hey, Mr. Newspaper Man," it made me smile and say these kids are having fun and that is what the game's founding father Alexander Cartwright would have wanted.
Thank you to the Pepperell and Shirley parents, ballplayers and coaches for upholding a positive environment to play baseball. At the youth level, there are no corked bats, there's no mention of performance-enhancing drugs -- just the ping of the bat and the occasional wad of bubble gum.
That, my friends, is what baseball is all about.