Last Wednesday, I was in Hudson to cover a Cal Ripken U9 District Tournament game between Shirley and Marlboro, and let's just say it made me think. The Shirley team, undefeated during the regular season, fell to Marlboro 14-1 in a four-inning mercy-shortened affair.
What made me think is, why was Marlboro still giving its baserunners the steal sign with an 8-0 lead in the third inning ... isn't that the equivalent of kicking your opponent while they're down? Yes, mercy-rules are put in place for this very reason, but some youth coaches need to realize while there is a winner and a loser in every sport -- with the exception of hockey and soccer -- a coach's job, especially at the younger levels, is to teach the fundamentals of the game and keep the kids' interest in the sport.
With the ever-growing popularity of lacrosse in the area, baseball numbers are starting to dwindle. Shirley, however, has had a boom in its registration numbers the last few years because of its success.
The Marlboro coach was employing the hit-and-run, sending his players on wild pitches and yes, stealing.
As a coach, you should follow some sort of ethics in coaching your team. Let's say it was a boxing match and your opponent is knocked out cold on the canvas. Would you throw another punch for good measure?
No, you would let the official count him out and that would be the end of it. Same goes for baseball. Granted, I am all for teaching kids that they won't be winners at everything.
Yes, I am all for encouraging kids to do well, but parents, as well as coaches, need to teach their kids to be graceful in both victory and defeat.
As the runs started to mount in Wednesday's tournament game, the young relief pitcher for Shirley became overcome with tears thinking the lopsided score was all his fault, when in reality, it was that of the team.
Now, what's to say that moment of feeling upset about a tough inning does not follow this kid for quite some time? Baseball is supposed to be a fun game. Let's face it, losing stinks.
But losing by a huge margin stinks more. If the Marlboro coach had elected to cease stealing bases and sending his players on passed balls, the Ayer Shirley players, coaches and parents probably would have left the game feeling a lot better.
Groton U10 head baseball coach Bill Glencross notified me Monday that his team was up 9-0 in the first inning of its state tournament game with Billerica. Glencross circled his team and notified them that they would not be stealing, nor would they be advancing on passed balls. He even went as far as approaching the scoreboard operator and asking for the scoreboard to be turned off. He realized that there is no point in rubbing the Billerica team's face in the fact that they were losing by a large margin.
At that point, it does not matter how much you win by. If you win, you advance. This is not the World Cup. There is no aggregate.
Kids playing baseball are more valuable than the ego of a coach being inflated by a large margin win. In football, if you are up by a large spread, you run the football and milk the clock.
There is no clock in baseball, but there is self-control. You can't stop playing the game. You still have to hit. You still have to field, but you do not need to embarrass your opponent. It's called gamesmanship.
It is sad that it is not a requirement for all coaches to possess it.
Sports are meant to keep children active and healthy. More importantly, they're supposed to be fun. It's just a game.
To the coaches who respect their opponents in both victory and defeat, thank you. You are showing your players the power of humility and class.
It is a trait they will carry for years after they step off the diamond.