I think we are all well aware of just how out-of-hand youth sports have become. Here’s another story that has brought this issue back to the forefront that I believe deserves some discussion.
You can read the column by Gordon Monson from the SL Tribune here. I encourage you to read the entire column. The story has also reached the national media as Rick Reilly, Sports Illustrated’s back page columnist (a must read), has written about it in the nupcoming issue. Also, Dan Patrick has been discussing it on his national radio program.
The events took place during the under-10 Pony League baseball championship game in Bountiful, Utah. With the Yankees leading the Red Sox by one run in the bottom of the last inning, the Red Sox’ best hitter came to the plate with the tying run on third and two outs. He had already hit a homerun and a triple earlier in the game.
The Yankees’ coach called timeout and gathered his players together on the mound. The decision was one that makes a little sense. They decided to intentionally walk the slugger and face the next batter. What has caused the commotion is who the next batter was.
Romney Oaks came up to bat. He had survived cancer a few years earlier and still had problems even lifting a bat. I probably don’t need to tell you what happened next. After the second strike, Romney already had tears in his eyes, and the inevitable happened–he struck out, ending the Red Sox’ season and thereby giving the Yankees the championship. Romney would cry himself to sleep that night.
So, what would you have done if you were the Yankees’ coach?
A couple of perspectives.
First, I played little league for the duration of my childhood. One of my most treasured memories is my team, coached by my dad, winning the championship. I was on a high for a week. It was as if I had won the World Series! I can’t really fault the coach for going for the win, especially considering that his son was probably on the team.
Second, he is playing the game in the first place. His parents want him to be treated like any other player. They don’t want him to receive any special treatment or consideration due to his condition. If we truly want him to succeed, we need to realize that he could also fail.
By now we all know the story of JMac. The autistic high school basketball player whose coach let him play the final minutes in the last game of the season. After entering the game, he ended up draining several threes and led his team in scoring that day. But what if he had come off the bench and went 0-15? (He did airball his first shot). We would probably be ripping the coach for embarrassing the kid. But we now laud him for giving him a chance.
On the other side, this wasn’t exactly a competitive league. In all my years in little league, I saw one intentional walk given, and it didn’t take place until I was 15. It’s just not how you played.
I am seriously torn on this issue, and can’t honestly say what I would have done. I don’t think there is a simple answer.