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Nine Moons » Blog Archive : A Heartbreaking Story that Raises the Question: What Would You Do? » A Heartbreaking Story that Raises the Question: What Would You Do?

A Heartbreaking Story that Raises the Question: What Would You Do?

Tim - August 9, 2006

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.

41 Comments »

  1. Part of teaching children is teaching them how to deal with disappointment and failure. In my experience athletes who are always successful to some degree have many more problems later in life when the inevitable failures happen.

    Parents should prepare their kids for these sorts of things and use them as teaching moments. Further we sometimes elevate sports too much in our culture. That too is a teaching moment.

    Comment by Clark Goble — August 9, 2006 @ 12:25 pm

  2. That’s what I was going to say, Clark. Kids have to learn how to lose. I would do the same thing that the Yankees coach did.

    I make sure to beat my 4 year old son all the time (by beat I mean win against), and I don’t let him tell me that he won when he didn’t. I always tell him that he did a great job, but that sometimes that’s not enough to win and that the important thing is to do your best and have fun. I decided to do this because he was already starting to get angry, not just sad, when he couldn’t win on video games. I’m trying to make sure he doesn’t become a sore loser. So I don’t let him win. Sometimes he legitimately beats me at memory, so he gets his fix.

    Comment by Tom — August 9, 2006 @ 1:00 pm

  3. I think we are all well aware of just how out-of-hand youth sports have become.

    I was expecting this to be another story of how one child’s parent beat up the ump over an iffy call.

    When there is a winning team, there will be a loosing team. Kids better get use to it.

    I’d rather Romney’s victory be over cancer than a silly game. Good for him for even trying to play. That’s what really counts.

    Comment by JM — August 9, 2006 @ 1:11 pm

  4. Agreed with JM. I was expecting to read a blood-boiling story of parents getting up in arms over a bad call or something of the sort.

    I think that experiences in losing can be just as valuable in long-term development as can winning experiences. Granted, you’ll have a lot less to gloat about and won’t be able to proudly display as many trophies on your mantle, but you’ll have much more character and personal development.

    Just look at Job, for example.

    Comment by Connor Boyack — August 9, 2006 @ 1:17 pm

  5. When you say, “read the entire column,” it is good advice. In particular, I like what Romney, the boy who struck out, had to say:

    “Romney made a determination,” Gulbransen says. “He said he wouldn’t quit. He said he wouldn’t be the kid who strikes out to end the game next time. He wants to be the kid who gets intentionally walked.”

    Frankly, it sounds to me like the Red Sox’ coach got out of hand, demanding an apology and such. Part of the “It’s just for fun” argument is to be ready to interpret the actions of others that way.

    Comment by BrianJ — August 9, 2006 @ 1:22 pm

  6. I’m with you guys more so than I am against but, still. If you were the Yankees coach of a nine-year old little league team where everyone hits, you can’t score more than 4 runs in an inning, etc., you would seek out the weak cancer kid to win the game?

    I’m all for letting happen what happens, but I think the coach may have over-stepped his bounds just a little. Just a little bit? i don’t think I would have done what the coach did. I’m also not saying that if Romney came up, I’d have my pitcher throw underhand to him. Something does seem a little wrong about the way it went down.

    Comment by Tim — August 9, 2006 @ 1:26 pm

  7. I would have had my pitcher bean the slugger (rather than intentionally walk him). Then a few inside fastballs to cancerboy before striking his little butt out. Then of course we’d follow with pointing, taunting and spitting our tobacco on the losers.

    The kids are 9 years-old playing a game. What should the coach do, say, “I’m not going to intentionally walk this slugger because I don’t want to make the kid who had cancer feel bad when he strikes out.”? Losing creates motivation.

    And I’m glad to hear that Tom regularly beats his kid. That’s awesome.

    Comment by Rusty — August 9, 2006 @ 1:43 pm

  8. I think I have a cold, cold heart, because, yes, I would pitch around the slugger to get to the weak hitter, cancer or no cancer. It’s not like it’s a dirty trick. It’s baseball 101. I actually kinda think it’s a good thing that that kid had that experience. People like his coach that think he should be handled with care do him a disservice, the way I see it.

    I can think of some scenarios that would be a valid coaching decision in terms of winning the game, but that I would consider bad form: say the cancer kid was on a volleyball team and the opposing coach told his team to hit the ball in his direction every time. Or if the kid was playing third base and the coach told his team to bunt towards third every time. Something like that makes the game no fun for anyone. But with the game on the line you pitch around the slugger if the guy behind him is significantly worse. The kid’s coach should have arranged his lineup better to protect his slugger.

    Comment by Tom — August 9, 2006 @ 1:47 pm

  9. Intentionally walking a batter seems like really sophisticated strategy. I think the league shouldn’t allow it for under 10 kids.

    Comment by JKS — August 9, 2006 @ 1:49 pm

  10. Tom, I do agree with your last line. But seriously, an intentional walk? I repeat what I said in the original post, it took me almost ten years of playing little league before I saw an intentional walk. Now, it might be different because of the fact that this was a championship game, but it still seems a little much.

    I am also being a contrarian more for arguments sake as I really do agree with most of you. However, I don’t think if I were the coach, I would have walked him.

    Comment by Tim — August 9, 2006 @ 1:52 pm

  11. What was the cancer kid doing in the game still if he was so bad? And there are nine players in the batting order, it’s not like they walked seven of them to get to the cancer kid, he just happened to be next.

    Didn’t the real Yankees do this same thing once to the Giants, intentionally walking Barry Bonds to get to Lance Armstrong or something?

    Comment by Rusty — August 9, 2006 @ 1:56 pm

  12. I see that Rusty learned how to properly play the game from his Dad/coach in Pony league!

    Comment by Don Clifton — August 9, 2006 @ 2:03 pm

  13. Rusty, isn’t your HALO game still on PAUSE?!

    And there were more like 12 or 13 players, again everybody hits–that’s the kind of league this was.

    Comment by Tim — August 9, 2006 @ 2:06 pm

  14. I do feel bad about one aspect of the story: the poor slugger who didn’t get the chance to be a hero. There’s where I might find your line of reasoning persuasive, Tim. The decision deprived the game of the drama of a full-count two-out at bat with the slugger at the plate. Also, the pitcher didn’t get a chance to prove to himself that he could get the slugger out. Those are the only negative consequences of the decision. I don’t know if that’s enough to convince me that it was the wrong decision, but the cancer kid’s feelings don’t come into play for me.

    Comment by Tom — August 9, 2006 @ 2:06 pm

  15. I wonder what the response would be to this if I’d posted it at FMH.

    Comment by Tim — August 9, 2006 @ 2:08 pm

  16. Haha.

    I can see both sides on this.

    My husband’s little league days in Idaho were like the Bad News Bears. VERY politically incorrect. He thinks it sucks now that things are so cushy for kids. I think.

    Comment by Susan M — August 9, 2006 @ 2:32 pm

  17. When I first started reading this I was thinking that the Yankees coach sounded like a real SOB but after reading a few comments I’m not so sure, maybe Rusty’s the SOB ;).

    If I were Romney would I want any special treatment? I might feel like a bigger shmuck knowing that everyone had to walk on eggshells around me and treat me like the mama’s boy.

    It does kind of blow that the Yankees coach walked the slugger to get to the sick kid. I’m guess I’m riding the pine on this one!

    Comment by kristen j — August 9, 2006 @ 6:12 pm

  18. Rusty’s not really a SOB. He’s just still upset because he was forced to play right field all those years.

    Comment by Tim — August 9, 2006 @ 6:30 pm

  19. wow. dude, people…the kids were only nine. Geez. I’ve been close to a few nine year old kids with cancer, that have gone in and out of remission…trust me, this kid deserved one cool memory. Save your harsh life lessons for older kids or ones, who, you know, have spent their childhood playing baseball instead of wondering if their going to live to their next birthday.

    Comment by Veritas — August 9, 2006 @ 8:30 pm

  20. My son’s coach made sure every player played every game, no matter what. They didn’t win a championship, but the kids felt good about playing, about themselves and about their coach.

    I think there’s plenty of time for them to learn about the world and Little League has become too cut throat.

    That being said, my grandsons have been all stars every year they’ve played.

    I’ve seen the good and the bad and both sides of the sports thing with boys. Most of the boys are just living their lives and who gives a crap if they don’t win the championship. A select few have natural talent.

    Sometimes the team plays the game for the few. I’m not sure what anybody learns. Except if your kid doesn’t like sports, don’t push him. Let him play the sax. Or read. or whatever.

    Comment by annegb — August 9, 2006 @ 8:47 pm

  21. I’m totally with you on this one, Tim. It’s a very tough call but as the coach, you know you wouldn’t be critisized for letting every kid hit and not walking the kid because that’s what you DO in these leagues.

    Comment by Bret — August 9, 2006 @ 9:51 pm

  22. If I had been the Yankee’s coach I would have left the decision up to the kids on the field. If the kids wanted to walk the batter I would have instructed the pitcher to do so. That might be a copout but it would also provide a teaching moment to the team– both in terms of baseball and ethics.

    When I was eight my father signed me up for baseball. I was terrible, deathly afraid of the ball, and didn’t make contact with the ball the entire season despite the fact that I had never had cancer. That year my team played in the championship game and lost by one run partly because I struck out in the bottom of the last inning (I was the second out rather than the last). I remember being embarassed at my incompetence the entire time and resolving to practice more and get better. The following year I pitched one perfect game, two no-hitters, and become the first Pee Wee leaguer to ever hit the ball out of the park for a home run (alas, that season happened to be the pinnacle of my baseball career). The simple fact of the matter was that at the age of eight I was not prepared to play organized baseball but at nine I was. I blame Romney’s parents for placing him in a situation for which he was not prepared. Remember, without his parents’ consent and initiative he would not have been playing. His parents should have known that he was participating in an exercise in futility and spent some time working with him and preparing him before exposing him to organized sports.

    Comment by endlessnegotiation — August 10, 2006 @ 7:28 am

  23. Veritas, #19 and Endless, #22: I’m finding it hard to believe that you read the article. Romney (aka “this kid” in comment #19) doesn’t agree with what you have to say about his situation. The comment by Endless–”he was participating in an exercise in futility”–is particularly wrong and I think it takes more away from Romney Oaks than any pitcher could.

    Comment by BrianJ — August 10, 2006 @ 8:16 am

  24. Brian:

    I read the SLT and the SI articles in their entirety. How is placing a kid who can barely lift a bat, much less swing one, into that situation not an exercise in futility? The whole reason for grouping kids by age for compettition is that it’s an easy way to try and ensure competitive balance among the individual competitors as well as the teams. But sometimes a parent has to step back and evaluate the situation irrespective of age. Some kids do not have the same ability as others in their age group and parents have a responsibility to dispassionately evaluate the ability of their own kids and make some hard choices from time to time. Romney didn’t have a prayer of even making contact, just like I wouldn’t have a prayer of making contact against the likes of Francisco Liriano. That’s an exercise in futility and I don’t blame the kid for it– I blame his parents who should know better.

    Oh, that we could all live in Lake Wobegone where all the children are above average. One of the greatest lines in all of moviedom came from The Incredibles. Dash is getting chewed out by his mother who says something to the effect that “Everyone is special” to which he replies, “That’s just another way of saying that nobody is.” Everyone criticizing the Yankees coach for walking the slugger to get to the pigeon is effectively demeaning the accomplishments of the winning team comprised of… 9 year old boys.

    Comment by endlessnegotiation — August 10, 2006 @ 9:27 am

  25. Life is so hard. When I was 9 years old I sat on the bench for my little league team because I wasn’t good enough. I would have loved to have been given the opportunity to strike out in a big game. But i learned at an early age that if you lacked talent you had to make up for it by working that much harder.

    The one at fault is the kid’s parent. If he didn’t want him in this position, he shouldn’t have let him play. And he certainly shouldn’t have embarresed his son by making a cause celeb out of the incident.

    Comment by Pete Buko — August 10, 2006 @ 6:20 pm

  26. Endless asked, #24: “How is placing a kid who can barely lift a bat, much less swing one, into that situation not an exercise in futility?” It depends on what the kid wants out of the situation. You seem fixated on Romney being able to hit the ball. From your point of view (if I read you correctly) his presence on the team is only valuable to him if he hits the ball.

    But perhaps Romney sees things differently than you. What more could he want out of pony league than hitting? Being with friends? Having the chance to catch the ball? Wearing a uniform? Getting treats after the game?

    The average baseball fan wouldn’t have a prayer of hitting against an MLB pitcher, but they would jump at the opportunity.

    Romney cried that night; the next day he woke up and told his dad that he wanted to work on his batting. It sounds to me like Romney had an overall good experience (but if he says he didn’t, then I’ll believe him).

    Comment by BrianJ — August 10, 2006 @ 7:37 pm

  27. The story said there were runners on the corners when Romney came to bat with two outs. Why not walk Romney as well? Sure, it would load the bases, but at least this controversy wouldn’t have happened. (or at least would have been a different kind of controversy?)

    Comment by Bret — August 10, 2006 @ 9:01 pm

  28. Brian:

    You’re making my point for me regarding the futility of the endeavor. I am focusing on Romney’s ability to hit the ball because that was the focus of the controversy. Romney’s coaches and parents became exorcised because they understood the futility of the situation after the Yankees intentionally walked the slugger. At that point the Red Sox’s fate was sealed. The coach knew his team had lost before that final out had even been made and he directed anger toward a coach that had out-strategized him– the fact that Romney was a cancer survivor just gave him an excuse to lash out. His parents became enraged because they didn’t want their son’s incompetence to become a source of resentment and criticism among his peers– they feared he would take abuse from the other kids on his team or in the neighborhood or at school for the result.

    Now if Romney’s focus had been on wanting to make and hang out with friends, or wear a uniform, or getting post-game treats, or just playing in the field, then the result and the consequences of his last at-bat should have been completely irrelevant to his coach and parents. The stories in the SLT and SI never directly address what Romney wanted– they only treated the subject of the actions and reactions of the adults in the situation and it’s obvious from the story that the adults were focussed on the futility of Romney being able to be anything but the goat.

    Comment by endlessnegotiation — August 11, 2006 @ 7:26 am

  29. I wonder how differnet people’s reactions would be if Romney were simply a runt due to genetics. It seems to me that the adults upset at the decision to pitch to Romney seemed to feel that his status as a “cancer survivor” should somehow require everyone else to work to insulate him from the harsh realities of life (in this instance– someone has to be the last out in the championship game).

    Comment by endlessnegotiation — August 11, 2006 @ 7:42 am

  30. Bret, walking him would be a bad move. I think it would be even more embarassing walking to first knowing that everyone on the field thinks I’m so weak and fragile, not just physically but emotionally, that they have to handle me with care. I would feel like a superputz. Whereas if I go up to bat and strike out, at least I know I got a chance to do my best. Losing sucks, sucking sucks, and letting your team down because you suck sucks worst of all (as a former sucky goalie, I can attest to that fact), but that’s all part of life. It’s what makes us want to not suck.

    Comment by Tom — August 11, 2006 @ 8:17 am

  31. Endless, #28: Forgive me if I misread your point in previous comments. It seemed to me that your “futility” comment was meant to say that Romney shouldn’t have been on the team in the first place and that his parents and coach were at fault for letting it happen. I took issue with that for the reasons I stated.

    I see, however, that your point may have been different. You may be saying that the coach and parents shouldn’t get upset when Romney strikes out because they should know that that is the only possible outcome (barring special treatment). If that is your point—that the parents and coach shouldn’t have gotten upset—then I can agree with you.

    Re comment #29, I think that is a very good question.

    Comment by BrianJ — August 11, 2006 @ 9:01 am

  32. I would not even consider intentionally walking the good player at this level. If we are going to win, we are going to do it against the best would be my take. I don’t want to win a championship by stiking out the cancer kid. I want to win by striking out the stud. If he hits it he hits it.

    No intentional walks at that age I say.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — August 11, 2006 @ 7:35 pm

  33. I helped coah my sons little league team this year and I would have pitched to him for sure. I would not have given him anything to hit. I have the attitude of go after them and see who wins. We played a tournament in Evanston this summer and the Evanston team had a one armed player. When he came up to bat, my son didn’t give him any preferencial treatment and struck him out with his fastball on three straight pitches. At the age of ten, kids want to win and they are very competetive. If a player wants to play who has disabilities or past ailments that builds his heroic case, he should have to play just like any other player.

    It is all in attitude I guess. If the best hitter on the opposing team is coming up to bat with the winning run in scoring position then you pitch around him to get to a not so good hitter- it’s just a game of chess anyway- either kill or be killed.

    Comment by Rob Osborn — August 12, 2006 @ 10:31 am

  34. What the story doesn’t tell is how horrible the pitcher felt. He BEGGED his coach to let him pitch to the slugger. The coach refused. Then, when Romney got up to bat, he knew him, and again begged the coach to let him pitch slower to him. The coach again refused. The pitcher was so upset because of the whole thing he refuses to ever play in the league again.

    Yes, Romney cried himself to sleep, but he woke up the next morning resolved to be the “bigger man.” He decided to become the one who would one day be walked.

    What can we learn from this whole story? That children do have integrity. It is sad that these coaches blatantly have lied about what they knew.

    Romney is my nephew and I am not just proud of him, but the pitcher. What remarkable young men… Romney for deciding to go on with his life and learn from it all and to the pitcher who tried to stand up for what was right, but was knocked down by a coach who let his ego get in the way.

    Comment by Heidi — August 12, 2006 @ 9:35 pm

  35. If the kid with cancer’s name really is Romney Oaks, then I can assure you the opposing coach will be serving as Scoutmaster for the next 20 years, at which point he’ll be called as a mission president to North Korea.

    Comment by Davis — August 12, 2006 @ 11:06 pm

  36. Heidi, I don’t see right vs. wrong in this situation as starkly as you do. It’s all very gray the way I see it. I think it’s very cool that the pitcher wanted to prove himself against the slugger, but I don’t think he was more right than the coach. His way was another way to be right. Except his idea about pitching slow to Romney. I wouldn’t let a player feel good about not doing his best.

    Comment by Tom — August 14, 2006 @ 3:00 pm

  37. How do we even know that the Yankees knew Romney had cancer?
    There are plenty of bad batters in baseball and nobody knows the intimate details of why a certain batter might suck.
    They made the right decision.
    Whether you know the reason for a batters suckiness or not, you walk the slugger to get to the worser batter. Especially with the Championship game on the line, little league or not.
    It would have been a great disservice to that child to cater to him.
    And what if the tables had turned? If he had made a miraculous game winning hit they would have been praising God for such a miracle.
    They should be grateful that he’s alive to learn how to lose. As he said himself, it gave him the resolve to be better. He’ll be a much better winner and fighter because of this.

    Comment by Summer — August 14, 2006 @ 4:19 pm

  38. “They should be grateful that he’s alive to learn how to lose.” Haha. Sorry, but that cracked me up.

    Comment by Susan M — August 14, 2006 @ 6:13 pm

  39. When I was a cub scout, we had a kid with leukemia in our pack. I felt so bad when he came in second place and I came in first. It was the one time in my life I really wanted to lose.

    Sigh.

    Comment by Stephen M (Ethesis) — August 14, 2006 @ 7:29 pm

  40. I just want to chime in and say that Gordon Monson has no balls, and he knows it. He out and out stole this story from Ben De Voe of the Davis County Clipper. Ben is a friend of the family and attended the game, interviewed the families involved, and reported on it. Gordon never would have known about it had Ben not reported on it. Yet Gordon won’t admit to getting scooped by the dinky Clipper so he won’t even mention De Voe’s name. Shame on him. Rick Reilly of Sports Illustrated also reported on the story this week but isn’t too big to cite his source:
    http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2006/writers/rick_reilly/08/07/reilly0814/index.html

    Oh yeah, I almost forgot, screw the coaches along with Monson.

    Comment by a random John — August 14, 2006 @ 7:35 pm

  41. As a follow up, here is the original article. Not only are the Yankee coaches more than willing to steamroll the little guy due to their ambition but Gordon Monson is as well. Shame on all of them.

    Comment by a random John — August 15, 2006 @ 1:04 pm

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