Hardball

Dads' egos can run amok in super-competitive Valley youth baseball, and that's dangerous

Stop!

Because the odds are horrible that Andrew can make it that far, no matter who his coach happens to be. And it is just crazy to look at a 100-pound kid and think you have a miniature big leaguer. So much can happen. So much nearly always does happen.

So I'm back to Earth. You know, where sports are a neat side dish to a good education. That's where the good money really is. Get your child a good education.

Some men have trophy children.
Mark Skalny
Some men have trophy children.
Mike Benjamin during his playing days with the 
Pittsburgh Pirates.
AP/Wide World Photos
Mike Benjamin during his playing days with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

And then I remember what else Tom Thomas said.

That college coaches who don't have scouts often call their old buddies who are now pro scouts to ask if they've seen any coachable smart kids with strong skills who might be too small or too whatever to get selected in the pro draft.

For example, Thomas offered, what if a coach at an Ivy League school calls up a scout buddy and says he has access to some nice academic scholarships at the school for some smart kid who might want to play some baseball, too?

"Andrew's grades are really good, aren't they?" Thomas queried, knowing the answer.

Remembering this part of our discussion, I'm hooked again.

Because, just the month before, my wife and I had realized just how badly we were doing at saving for our kids' college educations.

Harvard? Dartmouth? Yale? Thomas had mentioned the Ivy League. George Bush Sr. played baseball at Yale. The Ivy League is the pipeline to power, to building family dynasties: the Kennedys, the Bushes.

Ladies and gentlemen, President Andrew Nelson!


It was Saturday night about two weeks ago, and I was balancing both sides of my body unloading the minivan.

The Little League adventure was over. The night before, Chandler National had gotten shelled in the regional semifinals in San Bernardino by the team from Northern California, which our guys had beaten the night before.

So it goes in youth baseball.

A week before, I had been on a mountaintop, the father of the boy who was being heralded in Arizona's two largest daily newspapers as the kid who nearly single-handedly pitched and hit Chandler National to the state title.

A week later, Andrew came in to pitch with his team behind 8-0 and fairly quickly drilled a kid, walked another and then ended the game with a ball in the dirt that allowed the 10th run to come in from third base.

Andrew was not supposed to pitch that game. He was slated to pitch the championship game Sunday on ESPN2 against man-child Kalen Pimentel and his powerful Southern California team in front of 12,000 SoCal fans.

It was to be an epic showdown between a 102-pound David and a 170-pound Goliath.

But it was not to be.

And dad was secretly relieved. In 99 percent of the battles between a David and a Goliath, Goliath kicks the living shit out of David.

So it was still about my pride. I did not want to see Andrew get hurt, sure, but I know I had some fear of how a butt-kicking of him would reflect on me.

Bad dad!

I concluded that it was a good thing that it was over for another reason.

We would all be able to better address the mountain of professional, academic, physical and emotional baggage that had accumulated in the previous month of obsessive attention to child's play.

That is, we could all move on.

Then I saw Andrew melded into the couch with tears in his eyes. He was watching ESPN2's broadcast of some other Regional Final.

"I wanted to pitch tomorrow," he said.

"You need to get away from this," I said, finally being the good father.

"Can we go do something?" he asked.

We walked into the garage and, for the first time in years, started rummaging through a shelf that held all the toys and sporting goods abandoned because they were not a bat, a glove or a small leather ball.

As we rummaged, I tried to cheer Andrew up.

"You know, I'm so friggin' proud of you! I'm worried I might be filled with too much pride."

He did not hear me.

"Oh, cool! Boccie. Remember when we'd play this, Dad?" he asked.

So we played that. And we played it poorly. And the worse we played, the funnier it got.

"We're goin' down," Andrew said, parroting a line from the South Park episode where the kids try to throw their Little League tournament games so they can get back to summer fun.

And one of us did go down, but I cannot remember who it was.

All I remember is how much fun we had.

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