Evan Longoria is an exceptional baseball player. More importantly, he is a leader of men. Independently, these attributes are impactful. Together, they can be earthshaking. Inhabiting a locker next to his during his 2nd and 3rd seasons, I witnessed the development of a man with something to give and to say. Several years later, he is beginning to make use of his ever expanding platform.
I’ve been around enough superstar athletes, from A-Rod to Manny, to know when one is positively different for reasons unrelated to their athletic prowess. Evan can teach; he has a simple, concise message to share. I’ll shut up and listen.
Youth baseball has changed so much since I played; I barely recognize it any more. Instead of pushing your son or daughter from behind and removing their balance in the process, take them by the hand and walk next to them.
When I was 10, I played baseball because I loved the game. I also played football, basketball and even some water polo. I enjoyed all of my youth sports experiences and perhaps appreciated baseball more because I didn’t play it year round. I was lucky enough to have parents who supported me in anything I chose to do.
I understand that the game has changed since the days of my childhood. Kids are specializing much younger and have advantages now that I could only dream of then. These advantages don’t come without a price. Baseball is meant to be fun, but that aspect seems to be lost amidst all the pressure from parents and coaches, a nomenclature all to itself and more money invested than some college teams spend.
Youth baseball has become filled with “travel teams” comprised of only the “elite” players and coached by adults promising to take these 9 and 10 year olds to the “next level,” whatever that means. Scouts show up at local fields, ranking these youth against all their peers. Tryouts are competitive, and kids who make it are thrust into a whirlwind of daily practices, year round training and multiple games a week spread out all over the area.
Instead of a bunch of kids getting together and being kids, baseball becomes a full-time job. Some of these outfits play 120 or more games a year, more than some minor league teams. Parents are spending thousands of dollars a season, and their kids feel the pressure to perform.
It doesn’t take long to find the stories of coaches thrown out of games for arguing, parents fighting in the stands or kids having surgery because they played too many games and got hurt. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that playing on a travel team is inherently wrong. It should be the kid’s dream, however, not the parent’s. I have an issue when we begin asking our youth, who are still physically and mentally immature, to take on the adult responsibility of a job.
I only ask one thing, let your kid dream on his own. Encourage and support your kid, but let him be a normal adolescent too. I promise that if he is meant to be standing where I am now, he will be. He’ll be standing there because this is the game he loves and is meant to play.