Ballfields are soon to be wide open with kids of all ages looking for that first hit, first homerun, a caught fly ball, any of those ‘first’ moments. Rest assured they will be looking in the stands to see how many are cheering them on, calling their name with a “good job”, “that’s my boy”, “that’s my girl!” That is what America’s pastime is supposed to be, making memories. How parents react to their child’s first exposure to this sport can determine their love or dislike for the game.
Some months back, M sent me a chart of sorts. It listed, much like the one in the picture, the number of players in tee ball. It moved up a few leagues, then to high school. From high school, they gave the numbers for college players, then the numbers for those players drafted. Finally, at the top and the very smallest piece of the pie came the number of MLB players.
Parents head to the fields in groves when their tee-ballers hit the field, girls with pink gloves and bats, and boys with the rough looking gear. Tee ball is fun, players fight over who’s going to get the ball, parents laugh and compare how advanced their children are to where others are. The next step should be coach pitch. But tee ball has more or less become coach pitch. Parents re-invented a wheel that had worked just fine for decades when they decided what had worked for years and what major leaguers use today to fine tune their swing in the off-season was too basic for their child. Coaches pitch to ‘tee-ballers’ and if after numerous attempts they can’t hit it, they put a tee there for them to hit the ball. What does this tell a child? Johnny hit the ball in the outfield when coach pitched to him but I had to have a tee? Am I not good? Think about it – five years old and already defeated. This writing will not change one thing I assure you. But it will give those who have not followed the transition of rec ball a heads up on what has changed. So, here we have kids going from seeing a ball at maybe 15 miles an hour in tee ball from a coach throwing underhanded to a machine pitch ball at 42 miles an hour in just two short years. WOW! And we wonder why teams drop drastically when the kid pitch league starts at the next level. Then we get to kid pitch at the ripe old age of NINE! You hear it immediately, “Man he’s throwing the heat, 75 miles an hour last night, he’s going places.” “Look at that curve ball, it’s killer.” Truer words have never been spoken. If a 9-13-year old cannot get a batter out on a fastball or a change up, he might want to look for another profession or at least another position on the baseball field. Look at the increase in surgeries over the last decade. Year-round throwing, throwing curve balls too early before the arm and shoulder are developed, throwing back-to-back games, 100 plus pitches a week all are contributors to this. And I love the dad who says, “He can throw 100 pitches and do it again tomorrow if he has to, he’s tough I’m telling you.” Oh yes, he’s tough and he’s tougher with those rubber arms he just bought himself for having done that. Then, if you are not tired of America’s sport, your next step is high school.
At the high school level, you have to compete to make the team, then compete to make the starting lineup. Those who don’t make the lineup live with the name ‘benchers’ and heaven forbid it you are not on varsity when you get to high school, you may want to find another sport. No room for late bloomers whatsoever.
College separates the wheat from the shaft for a lot of players. Competition is tougher and everyone is out to claim a starting spot on the field each game knowing there will be Major League scouts there checking out every game. The MLB Amateur draft comes the first week in June and adrenalin is running wild with emotions. Players are convinced if they don’t go early, they won’t make it to the show. Look at the stats of those successful major leaguers. One close to home is Jose Bautista- Jose was a 20th round draft choice by Pittsburgh Pirates in 2000. He had his major-league debut in 2004. His history speaks for itself. On the flip side of that is Marianna’s own Jeff Mathis who was a first-round draft choice by the Anaheim Angels in 2001. Mathis debuted in August of 2005. His success tells it all.
Two different players from two different walks of life, both with the same dream, the same determination, made the dream happen. Hard work, good living, and a little bit of being in the right place at the right time probably played a part in where they are today. So when your tee-ball hits the field this season, cheer him on, keep it positive and save the critiquing until the real scouts are there!