Pep Talk: Big dreams start in Little League

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Little Leagues around Maine will begin another season of play in the next couple weeks. The springtime tradition has evolved over the years. What once was a chance for local youngsters to learn the game of baseball has become a multi-dimensional organization that now includes both baseball and softball at seemingly every imaginable age group.

Perhaps I’m just jealous of today’s kids and all the opportunities they have. Maybe I long for the good ol’ days. Oh heck I’ll admit it, there’s hardly a day that goes by that I don’t long for one more taste of the good ol’ days

When I was a kid, there was only one Little League division. Today’s majors level of play (9-12) is all that was offered back in those innocent times just after the dinosaurs roamed the land.

I turned nine-years-old and I couldn’t wait for spring tryouts and my chance to get on one of the four teams available in my area. There was no T-ball, there was no coach-pitch, and there was no minor league division. Everyone tried out for Little League and if you were selected to play, you had a busy summer. If you were not chosen, you went and watched your friends play or you occupied your time with other pursuits, which at that time did not include anything electronic or digital.

I shouldn’t say everyone tried out for Little League because we never saw girls with baseball gloves back then. At nine-years-old I barely admitted girls existed, much less played sports.

Times certainly have changed. And yes, they’ve changed for the better – in most instances.

Today’s tryouts consist of an evaluation and grading type of procedure where kids are asked to show their skills at the usual techniques of running, catching, throwing and hitting. League officials and coaches are asked to not divulge the scores turned in by the youngsters for fear that the information will be used in an improper and unkind manner. The request is understandable, but kids will be kids and they know who the better players are.

It doesn’t take a trained eye to tell who the more athletic kids might be. It’s pretty evident who’s going to struggle and who’s going to excel. What the evaluation doesn’t tell you is what type of kid you’re getting and just as important, what type of parents you’ll be involved with if you select kid A over kid B.

When I first became involved with Little League, I was advised by a veteran coach who told me to “pick the parents,” when drafting a player. Though I haven’t always followed that exact train of thought, I did have it in the back of my mind when it came to determining which boy or girl I might select for that season’s squad. And for the most part, those now infamous words have served me well.

Parents are a big part of the Little League experience. Most moms and dads make it a pleasant experience for everyone involved while a small but unforgettable number of parents make things more difficult than it the season needs to be.

This’ll make my seventh year helping to coach Little League. (I don’t have the time I once had to devote to the practices and the games.) I started with flower-picking outfielders in T-ball and have progressively moved all the way up to this season’s final hurrah at the majors level.

It’s been a rewarding experience and it’s allowed me to share moments with my kids. I still have a few years left with my daughter, but my son will move on after this spring to that unfamiliar territory where dad is sitting in the stands instead of standing alongside him in the dugout. Any father can tell you, this is usually tougher on the old man than it is on the kid.

They get older. What can you do?

So good luck to all Little Leaguers out there. Learn about the wonderful games of baseball and softball and have fun while you play.

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