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Give the Game to Your Child

By hench | In Good Info for Parents | on January 8, 2018

According to the NCAA, about 6.4% of high school baseball players will play at an NCAA member college. That means that if your son’s high school baseball team has 16 players on it, statistically speaking, they’d need to add another player to the roster to have enough for one of their players to make it onto a college team.  

Only about 2% of high school baseball players get a college scholarship to play. Here’s the math: if your child’s travel baseball team goes to a tournament with 7 other teams, each with 12 players on the roster, you can spend the weekend trying to figure out which 2 of the players in the entire tournament will end up with a college scholarship. And, by the way, those two players will be getting an average of just over $13,000/year in scholarship money.

But hey, a guy can dream, right?

Except that, those types of dreams used to belong to the kid, not the parents.

When I was a boy, parents dreamed about their children becoming doctors, lawyers, captains of industry. It was my friends and I who imagined ourselves becoming the Big League stars we watched on television. Our dads didn’t push us, we pushed ourselves to be great. I didn’t realize it at the time, but boys are naturally competitive. And, through that competitiveness, we got better and better.

We played in leagues, plus about 15 more pickup games each week with our buddies in the park. If there were only two or four of us, we played all sorts of baseball-type games: Whiffleball, Lineball, Fastpitch against the wall of the school, Pinners (or Stoop, if you lived on the South Side).

What was my dad doing while I was imagining myself as a major leaguer? Mostly watching my little league games from the bleachers. Sometimes, after dinner, he would play catch with me in front of our house. That’s it. He played catch with me. He didn’t correct my throwing mechanics. He didn’t remind me to move my feet to stay in front of the ball. He threw it. I threw it back to him. We talked. I loved it.

My dad watched baseball games on TV with me. Occasionally, he got tickets and we’d head to Wrigley Field, eat peanuts and hot dogs and revel in being out in the sunshine watching the greatest game ever invented. He didn’t point out how Ron Santo moves through the ball when he fielded it. He didn’t tell me to keep my eyes on the way Billy Williams loads before he swings. He taught me to keep score on a scorecard. To take off my cap and put it over my heart during the National Anthem. He told me jokes and stories about the professional players and games he watched when he was a boy. I got to watch the game and dream about one day playing in Wrigley, like my heroes.

My dad passed down to me his love for the game. Plain and simple. And with that love and the competitiveness honed in the park with my friends, I played as far as my talent took me. I played all four years of high school. Had I gone to a small college, I might have tried out for the team and I like to think I would have made it. But I went to the University of Illinois. So, my baseball playing days ended after American Legion ball the summer before I headed for Champaign.

What if my father had pushed me harder? What if he took every opportunity he had to teach me the skills of hitting and defense? Would I have gone further? If he had turned baseball into  another thing I had to learn, like math and spelling, I doubt that I would have wanted to play every waking minute. If he hadn’t shared his love for the game with me, handed it down as a birthright, I doubt that I would have wanted to practice every chance I got. And to do whatever I had to do to be able to keep playing as long as I could.

As a catcher my freshman year of high school, I developed a terrible case of tendonitis in my throwing elbow. At one point, my elbow hurt just from gripping a bat to hit. By summer, the pain was manageable, but I couldn’t play catcher any more without risking a relapse. I decided to learn to play second base. Every evening when I didn’t have a Summer League game, I would beg my father to go to the park and hit me ground balls. It was my idea, not his, because the game was mine, not his. He had given it to me, and I knew that if was going to continue to play it, I would have to get better at a position I wasn’t as familiar with.

Fast forward 20 years. I was playing softball by then, both 16” and 12”, three nights a week. My son was just starting out in youth baseball at Welles Park. Between the crazy hours I worked in an ad agency and playing softball, there was no way I had time to coach a team, I told myself. I told the same thing to the president of the league who came to me because he needed coaches. It was actually his wife who would not take no for an answer, so I reluctantly agreed to become a head coach.

From the first moment I stepped onto the field to teach baseball, I was hooked. It took me my entire first season to understand how to work with my young group, plus work with each individual player. But, from the start I knew who I was and what my goals were.

By the end of the summer, I had determined how I would measure my own success. Not by whether we won the championship, or went far into the playoffs. As a youth baseball coach I would be a success if my players were unhappy that the season was ending and they were excited to come back and play again next year. I wanted to teach my players what I could, but more so, help them find their own love of the game.

I believe that my dad’s way of sharing the game with me worked remarkably well. I have coached for over 20 years. In 2006, I opened Bash Sports Academy, a baseball and softball training academy.  I did my best to pass on my love of baseball to my own son, who made a D1 team as a walk-on and for the past four years, has taught the game and coached travel ball as his full-time job.

On the other side of the coin, I have seen firsthand the downside to fathers pushing their sons relentlessly, making every moment a teaching one and seemingly taking it as a personal offense when their sons made mistakes. Those boys never owned the game themselves and ended up quitting early. Teenagers naturally rebel and distance themselves from their parents, and one way the boys I knew chose to do that was to walk away from baseball. Worse, the off-the-field relationship between those fathers and sons became strained.

I understand that the world that I grew up in is gone and that things are much different today. But I still believe that, if you want your child to go as far as he can as a ballplayer, give him the game. Show him all there is to love about it. Let him own it. You can be a teacher, just don’t be a tyrant.

Remember the odds that I wrote about at the start of this article. Help your young player love the sport. He’ll go as far as his talent will take him. And, if, like the vast majority of kids, his playing days end in high school or before that, you can know that you gave something truly special to your son that he will have the rest of his life. Our great game.

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