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.

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