Doug Wolter: In youth baseball, it takes all kinds
In youth baseball, there are different personalities on the field, and different ways to cheer and encourage
One thing that I’ve learned this summer from watching three of my grandsons play youth baseball is that all kids are different. Most of us already know how abilities, devotion and maturity vary widely among teen-agers. Before they get to the teen years, though, they’re really just learning what it’s all about.
My oldest grandson of the three, Jake, is 12 and playing in a Mankato league. Last year he was part of an elite traveling team, which was exciting but frustrating for him. He’s usually the littlest player on any team he’s on, and though he’s speedy afoot, super-dedicated, and I’d say talented for his age, he decided this year to bypass the elite level and play on a regular, less privileged team because he thought it might be more fun.
Another young ballplayer of mine, Tyson, is 11 and playing on his own traveling league in another town -- though it’s not as high-octane as the league Jake was with last year. At times, Tyson has seemed bored with the sport.
And finally, there is Tyson’s younger brother, Luke, age 5. A year ago Luke was introduced to T-ball and he was very shy. Last year he had to be coaxed into participating at all. This year, from the very beginning, the light bulb got turned on. He runs after every ball that is hit anywhere near him. He throws, he catches, he hits. He loves it. He can’t wait until the next game.
It’s so much fun to watch them, but I find myself cheering them on in different ways. With Tyson, I do my best to encourage him, but I’ve got to exercise patience. He plays football in the fall, too, and seems to like that more than baseball. I shake my head sometimes when I remember that when I was his age, I played the summer game like Pete Rose, who once said, “I’d run through hell in a gasoline suit to play baseball.”
But I must be careful. It’s easy to say that now, but maybe I wasn’t really so determined. We imprint our memories and desires upon our kids and grandkids in ways that may not be accurate, and we are doing them no favors by doing so.
It’s easier now to cheer for Luke. He’s just a twerp, and it’s so much fun to see him getting over his shyness. I was shy, too, when I was his age, but I was never shy about baseball.
Oops, there I go again.
And then, of course, there’s Jake. Jake played a good game recently. He got a solid hit, made a great catch at second base, and when he pitched an inning he performed flawlessly. I’d like to say he’s a chip off the old grandfatherly block, but I must be cautious because my memories may be flawed.
It was a long time ago when I played at his age. Like any father or granddad, I think back to my own youthful experiences and plot them on an imaginary graph alongside those loved ones who follow me.
It’s hard, sometimes, to encourage them correctly. Why is it, for instance, that I get perturbed sometimes at bad calls made by the umpire in a youth game? Why is it, for instance, that I say things like, “Don’t swing at those high pitches” when my grandsons are at bat. Is that wrong?
I suppose it depends. I think you can say far worse things to your grandson in the middle of a game.
Curious, I went online to see what the experts say about proper etiquette at youth ball games. And this is what I found:
Appropriate cheering examples were: Atta boy, Tommy! … Go Tommy! … You got this, Tommy … You can do it, Tommy … Go team, go! … and … Way to go Tommy!
Inappropriate cheering examples were: Move up in the box … Watch for the change-up … Choke up on the bat … Bend your knees … Swing straight through … Watch the runner … This kid has nothing, you can hit it … and … Tag the runner!!!
It may be telling that there are more inappropriate cheering examples than appropriate cheering examples on the lists. And maybe there’s a good reason for that. Playing baseball is hard when you’re a young kid. For some parents and grandparents, knowing what to say to them can be even harder.