Point of No Return — One bad apple can ruin the fun for everyone


Me and my guys.


Each spring, as attentions across these fruited plains shift to Easter and romance and professional baseball players plying their trade on sun-dreched fields with the scent of hot dogs and beer wafting in the air, I always get nostalgic for the days of “me and my guys.”

Many of you know what I’m talking about — even if the verbage changes to “me and my girls,” or “me and my boys and girls,” or “me and two girls, one guy, a flying pancake and the cast of ‘Charlie’s Angels’ riding surfboards while...”

But I digress.

For this conversation, “my guys” were the kids that I played baseball with as a youth, and though I now find myself forgetting more and more stuff with each passing day, it seems that I’ll never forget those guys I took the field with so many times, so many years ago.

Those days were the best. I remember waking up early on Saturday mornings, putting on my uniform and eating a bowl of cereal while I watched cartoons. I’d giggle as Wile E. Coyote would fall off another cliff or get blown up by 932 pounds of ACME dynamite, but my heart wasn’t really in it. We were playing ball that day, and that was all that I could really focus on in the morning, even if the game was still five hours away.

It was always exciting to get to the field, be it for a game or a practice. My teammates and I would talk about the Orioles game the night before, or a different batting stance we saw that we were going to try or different pitchers we might be facing. We’d “showtime” every time we’d get up to the plate, mimicking the actions of our Major League heroes by spinning our bats or adjusting ourselves while we looked to the dugout for signs. Off to the side, there would be a few different guys playing catch and blowing bubbles, or coaches telling kids what to focus on for that day.

I played catcher back then, when I still had two functioning knees, and I remember sending my throw down to second after the last warm-up pitch between innings, looking out and seeing “my guys” lined up and ready to play, and moving out of the way as the umpire would bend down to sweep off home plate. There was always a rush when that first batter would come up to the plate, go about his own “showtime” ritual and I would squat down to give my pitcher a target while mumbling something like, “Don’t be scared. He strikes out lots of guys. I just hope he doesn’t bean you in the head.”

And then I would usually get a warning from the umpire to watch my mouth or something, I would apologize and the game would get rolling.

I loved those days. I loved how we’d all scramble to see the lineup as soon as the coach (often my dad) posted it, the way we’d chant from the dugout for whichever teammate was at bat and how the “chatter” would just continue as we returned to the field on defense.

To borrow a small piece from Dickens, it was indeed the best of times. We learned to pull for one another, to help our weakest players get better and to shake hands with our opponents after the game, win or lose. We learned to deal with failure, to handle success and to appreciate how positive results can happen if you’re willing to work a little harder.

We were taught to say “Yes, sir,” to our coaches and the fathers who came to the field, and, “Yes, ma’am,” to the mothers who drove us back and forth, kept score and acted as our biggest fans. We learned to clap for injured opponents when they picked themselves off the ground, and to try our very hardest until that last pitch of the game.

And we played ball.

There was very little that could spoil those days, really. Sure, it stunk to strike out, and there would always be a lot of long faces when we lost, but we were kids. We got over it, and came out for the next practice or game with the same enthusiasm and energy as before.

Unless...

Adults. Adults could screw it up for everybody. One annoying parent on either side of the field could ruin every kid’s day in an instant. One loudmouth screaming at his or her child because he struck out or missed a grounder, or picking on a kid on the opposing team for making a mistake, or yelling at a coach for not batting his or her kid third, and we all wanted to be any place at all except there on that field.

I tell this story because this story keeps getting told on baseball and softball fields, from sea to shining sea. It also happens on basketball courts and football fields, at ice rinks and spelling bees. If children are competing, it’s a safe bet that some parent or other adult is trying to suck the fun out of the room by acting like... well, an adult. And, I don’t know if you guys have noticed or not, but adults are pretty much screwing up everything these days.

Just stop. Please, for all that is good, just stop.

Push your kids. If you’re a coach, demand that your players will try their hardest each time they are doing anything that they committed to in life. That’s all important stuff, particularly in regards to preparing our children for the future. But there is a line between being supportive and acting like a fool. And, to be honest, it’s not a thin line. It’s pretty stinking obvious.

If you want to coach, coach. If you don’t want to coach, how about letting the coach run the team? If you want your kid to get better, how about working with your kid at home instead of humiliating him or her in public? If you want to support your kid’s team, support the team instead of trashing the opponents.

This is the kids’ time. Let them savor these memories.