Yesterday was one of those very cool days when things just seemed to go right. Unless you were wearing pinstripes in the Metrodome, in which case they went wrong at the wrong times.
We had our first Little League game yesterday, after losing a week to rain and school vacations. After opening up leads of 11-2 and 15-8, our opponents closed the gap to a few runs in the top of the 6th (and final) inning. Bases loaded, one out, and it was a 1-run game. We got a force at home, thanks to some smart fielding by our first baseman (10 years old) and catcher (recently turned 12). Next ball was rapped sharply back up the first base line, picked up and used to tag out the runner by the same first baseman, game over, final score 15-14. Snack bar treats enjoyed by all.
I wish A-Rod could have seen this, for two reasons. First of all, the sports media widely reported that A-Rod was particularly hard on himself after the Yankees blew last night’s game in the Twin Cities. I can’t fault him for wanting to win, but I can dislike his grimace at the plate. When he came to bat in the later innings of the game, he looked like he’d had a steady diet of pain and suffering for the past week. In the words of Willie Stargell, my original baseball hero, it’s supposed to be fun. Play ball, not work ball, right?
The second reason A-Rod needs to lighten up is that he’s a role model as a Yankees star player. Kids (most kids) look up to him, try to mimic him, want to be him. If he’s faulting himself for not being perfect, what does that say to the 10-year old pitcher who gave up six runs in a half-inning? Sports reveal our character, according to John Wooden, and we should make sure the character traits so exposed are those we want the next generation of ball players to emulate.
Here’s my advice to A-Rod: on your next off day in the Bronx, go watch a Little League game. Go check out the 10-12 year olds on the 60-foot diamond, the batters who hold up their right arms to the ump like Jeter or run their fingers through the infield between plays, dirt like Posada or Cairo. Tell them it’s perfectly acceptable to make mistakes, as long as you’re a team player and always exhibit good sportsmanship. And before anyone dismisses this as wishful thinking, let me point out that I’ve seen Patrik Elias on the little league field fences, watching a softball game, cheering politely while signing autographs and being a good role model. Sometimes it’s good to remember how and why we started playing sports.
Our kids mirror our behaviors, professional or amateur, big league or little league, on TV or in front of it.