Base Balls

Baseball stage parent: Robert Nelson drives home a timely parable on the over-parenting that is helping transform youth athletics into a modern-day Children's Crusade. As a father who was once the worst kind of baseball stage parent, I couldn't help but insert myself into the ego-driven thought processes Nelson articulated so honestly in his cautionary tale ("Hardball," August 25).

From buying into the progression theories hard-sold in the club-ball culture to falling prey to the flattery lavished on my own child's athletic prowess, I became downright delusional about the role I once believed baseball should play in my son's life. As a consequence, I drove a 10-year-old to the brink of serious physical injury and emotional breakdown. At my lowest point, I once physically dragged him off a mound for having the audacity to become ill during a scheduled start, and then spanked him while he was throwing up in an alley next to the field.

While little of the bad behavior I've witnessed in other parents rivals what my own once was, Nelson's allusions to overlooking high pitch counts and curveballs for the sake of family and/or team glory certainly rings true almost universally, as does the mindset that extrapolates future fame and fortune from any preteen armed with big feet and a fastball.

Given the considerable investments of time, travel and finances that are all part of club experience, it's little wonder that so many moms and dads are getting caught up in the game themselves. These days, as important as the right zip code, the right stroller and the right school are to parental self-image, so are the right baseball team and the $300 bat to go with it.

Whether it's soccer, Pop Warner or travel baseball, it's all irrelevant, really. Let's be honest, the game we're really playing -- through our children, sadly -- is keeping up with the Joneses. Props to Mr. Nelson for calling us as he sees us.
Robert Stempkowski, Scottsdale

What parents want: What a brave thing for Robert Nelson to do! That is, expose himself as a bad dad who pushed his boy too hard.

I love this kind of story, where we really get inside the head of a person who finally sees the error of his ways and tries with all his might to do better.

A parent's love of a child is supposed to be the strongest love in the world. But the real truth is that many parents love themselves more than they love their sons and daughters. They push them -- not just in sports but in school or music or whatever -- because it's all about the parent. It about what the parents want for themselves.

And it's not just fathers who do this; mothers are equally to blame. I had always wanted my children to play piano because I had always wanted to play professionally. I pushed one of my kids to the extent that she will no longer go near the piano, even though she is a very good pianist.

I was trying to live vicariously through her.

For Nelson, he wasn't that good at sports, so he pushed Andrew to be good in that area. For me, it was music that turned me on. Both of us wanted to live our dream through our kid. This is okay to some extent, but when it gets out of hand, terrible things happen, as Nelson pointed out in the story.

I hope every parent reads this thoughtful article, because it's not just a lesson for the parents of young athletes, it's a lesson for all of us who raise kids.

I learned that if you're on your kid's case all the time, she will only hate you for it. She will not understand when you say you're doing it for her own good because she will recognize your lie. You are doing it for your own good.
Nora Tenant, Phoenix

Lucky to be a girl?: I thought your story "Hardball" was wonderfully written. There is so much truth in this. I once considered myself lucky to be a girl, but when my dad showed up at my dance recital with a camera crew to tape my every move, I knew how wrong that was.
Sara Bellel, Mesa

Learning from experience: "Hardball" is the best article I've ever read in New Times! It's award-winning material. It should be put into a manual and be required reading for all youth sports parents, coaches and umpires.

I'm 56 years old and coached my boys and girls in youth sports. Much of what you wrote hit me right in the gut.

I realized a few years ago the errors of my ways when I was coaching and apologized profusely to my kids for being, as you wrote, a "jerk." You eloquently put into words all my feelings.

Now I have grandchildren in youth sports, and I'm going to make sure my children get a copy of your article. I want to get it to my grandchildren's coaches so they can read it, too.
John H. Naylor, Mesa

Training manual: What a tremendous article! I coach my 10-year-old on a club team, and this well-written, thought-provoking article has done more for me and how I will coach this team than any "training techniques of the pros" would have done.

Being a former wanna-be baseball star myself, I will police myself from here on out. Well done!
Griffin Merkel, Tempe

Fouling out: Robert Nelson's sprawling personal account of overzealousness regarding his son's youth baseball team may have been cathartic for the Valley's scads of sympathetic sports dads, but it was a clear case of bad journalism.

Catch the way Nelson tries to bolster his case with vague numbers ("Research shows that 65 percent of youth sports injuries are from kids playing too much"). Where did he get these numbers and his vague sources ("Many experts say")? How about finding one who'll give his name?

And just how big is this "massive increase" in career-ending youth injuries? Talking to local doctors and coaches doesn't establish the larger trend that Nelson nevertheless tries to insinuate. His story fouls out.
Chris Page, Mesa

Robert Nelson responds: The source for the "five-fold increase" in the number of Tommy John surgeries was Dr. James Andrews, lead surgeon at the American Sports Medicine Institute in Birmingham, Alabama, widely considered the top hospital in the world for sports surgeries. Calling the problem "epidemic," Andrews said he and his staff performed such surgeries on 124 high school pitchers from 2000 through 2004, up from 21 high school pitchers from 1995 through 1999. The statistic that 65 percent of sports injuries are from overuse came from study results published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Dressed to Kill

An embarrassment to all: Little more needs to be said after Joe Watson's insightful story about the Phoenix fashion scene ("Angela's Ashes," August 18), except that Angela Johnson is a fat-ass idiot loudmouth embarrassment to all of us who're trying to make it in the fashion world around here -- whether we go to L.A. or New York eventually, or not!

Methinks "Queen" Angela protests too much! She's like the proverbial stuck pig since Watson's highly entertaining opus hit the streets.

She has been spending most of her time badmouthing Watson and everybody else at New Times. (There's even an anti-Joe Watson tee shirt that she's pushing.) It never occurs to her that she's the problem! She's too much of a fool to realize that she's lucky that any media person in town even decided to write about her.

Angela not only got beat with the ugly stick, she got beat with the idiot stick.
Tilda Matheson, Phoenix

You can make it in Phoenix: I don't normally write letters to the editor, but after reading Joe Watson's interpretation of what's going on in the world of fashion here, I felt compelled to defend Angela Johnson and blast Joe.

First of all, I have been in the fashion-apparel business for 30 years. I have held high-level positions in the business in San Francisco, New York and Florida. I have lived in Scottsdale for seven and a half years and am a previous board member of Fashion Group International.

I would like to start with a question: What possible motive could a reporter have for being so negative about people in a community trying to do good?

I do not know Angela Johnson well, but any time I have seen her, her e-mails, her fashion shows or her magazine, I have looked with admiration at a young woman dedicated to promoting fashion and helping others get started in a very treacherous business.

Joe Watson's story makes it sound like you could never, ever make it as a designer in Phoenix. Where did he get his crystal ball? I personally know several people who have looked at moving their apparel-manufacturing facilities to Arizona.

The underlying suggestion that moving to New York or Los Angeles is the answer to becoming a successful designer is just terribly misleading. Of course those are the two big fashion hubs. But ask designers in Dallas, Chicago, Miami and San Francisco if they need to move to succeed and the answer will be "No!" Has Joe Watson heard of "reps," or salespeople who work in strategic locations and show and sell designers' lines from all over the globe?

The Valley has come a very long way in terms of style, shopping, restaurants, clubs, hotels. Women's Wear Daily, the number-one trade publication of the women's fashion-apparel industry, has done several stories over the past few years highlighting retail shopping in the Scottsdale-Phoenix area. Is a story on design far behind? Rather than trashing Angela Johnson, how about some positive stories about how far we've come?
Hope Schor, Scottsdale

Declaring war on the messenger: Thanks for exposing Angela Johnson as the no-talent self-promoter that she is. Because of her shout-everyone-else-down combativeness, nobody else has had the nerve to speak the truth before.

From what I'm hearing her say around town about your writer Joe Watson, I can see that she has declared war on the messenger, as usual. Did she not read what others said about her?

What she needs to do is stop fighting those who rightly think her work sucks and start trying to get better. That, or she could do all of us a favor and find something else to do with her life.

It's truly sad that New Times, in order to assess the fashion scene in Phoenix, had to focus on her. Next time, your publication shouldn't let notoriety cloud its judgment. It should find the budding genius in our midst and anoint her as the "queen" of the Phoenix fashion scene. With big-mouth Angela as queen, royalty isn't what it used to be!
Nat Tobias, Phoenix

A slow news week: I guess there really isn't anything going on in Phoenix, if the only news that the august bastion of objective independent reporting, New Times, has to relate is an extended smear of Angela Johnson.

The only thing that piece (of rubbish) had in common with journalism is that it involved words.

It's one thing to criticize a person's work and quite another to take vituperative personal shots at them. That's what we call slander. Poor Joe Watson must not grasp the difference, as demonstrated in his little diatribe, which was not informative, nor amusing, nor particularly well-written. I suppose I might use it to wipe my ass, if only it were fit even for that.

Congratulations on achieving heretofore unimagined levels of condescension and despicability!
Omar Call, Tempe

Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer: In a sense, you may be right that Arizona has never had any kind of fashion scene. But I give anyone credit for trying to make something out of nothing, and that's what Angela Johnson has tried to do over the past two years and, in many ways, succeeded in doing so.

So what if Angela has enemies? Not everyone in life is going to like you. This should be something that you might want to get used to, after publishing this article.

I think you will find that she's not going to run away with her tail between her legs. I also feel it was in very poor taste that you bagged on her weight and the way she looks, whether it's because of a disease or not. Any kind of creditability you may have had as decent human beings is completely shot now.

I hope your writer gets his head out of his ass and then someone sticks a foot up it, because he sure has it coming his way.
Melissa Farnsworth, Spring Valley, California

Taking the low road: I'm not in the fashion community, but I must say that Joe Watson has really done a huge disservice to it. In his article, Watson made mention of LabelHorde fashion shows being "more about the party than about the fashion." Honestly, blaming LabelHorde for that is like blaming ArtLink for First Fridays becoming an excuse for underage kids to get drunk and roam the streets of downtown Phoenix until 4 a.m.

Instead of helping build up the fashion community, Watson chose to take the low road. Sure, the local fashion community may never be what it is in New York, L.A. or Paris, but if it weren't for Angela Johnson, I suspect it wouldn't exist here at all. What has Watson done to help?

It's one thing to voice one's opinion of another's work (those who create know that those who can't criticize), but to use a public format to publicly humiliate the "mother" of the local fashion community is inexcusable. Watson's article read like it was written by a spiteful 12-year-old girl who's mad at the cool kids for not letting her sit with them at lunch.

And to stoop so low as to mention Angela Johnson's weight is nothing short of juvenile and hateful. New Times should be ashamed of itself for allowing such petty, disrespectful fodder to be printed, let alone to be the f-ing cover story.
Mike Mattingly, Phoenix


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