Crying For Baseball

One little kid standing at home plate wearing an oversized helmet, wielding a bat as tall as he is, trying and mostly failing to make contact with rainbow tosses arced softly by a dad-coach. Six or seven or eight other little kids arrayed about the skin infield, standing with their baseball gloves on their heads. Kneeling in the dirt sifting for pebbles or bugs or something as dad pitches and kid swings and misses, over and over. A mom standing alongside, urging Morgan and Cody to stop gazing into the dirt and to pay attention. To pay attention . . . um, why?

This soul-sucking scene plays out far too often on far too many dog-walks I take at the field across the street. Well-meaning (I suppose) but coaching-clueless parents leading “baseball” practices for 6-year-olds who have no idea why they are being made to stand on a dirt infield, with little or no activity in their midst, learning nothing at all about baseball other than to hate baseball for, well, making them stand on dirt with little or no activity in their midst, while kids in the other corners of the field are yelling and chasing soccer and lacrosse balls.

These bored kids will not be long for the game, and I do not blame them. I blame societal circumstances that long ago made neighborhood pick-up baseball games extinct as dodos, that left “organized” baseball the only baseball left to be played by kids, that forced well-meaning, coaching-clueless parents to lead baseball practices they have no business leading.

They have no business there because they are blind to what they are doing, namely killing baseball for the kids they are trying to excite to baseball.

This conundrum has puzzled me for the 15 years I have coached in rec ball, American Legion ball, high school ball and observed the coaching that goes on around it all. The puzzle is why moms and dads cannot and do not take the minor steps necessary – minor as in reading articles or viewing YouTube videos for basic drills every kid can do at the same time — to think about structuring practices that include no standing around but steady skill-building, fun activities for 30 or 45 minutes — 60 at the very tops. Run-the-bases races. Catch the easy rollers or pop-up competition and throw-the-ball-at-the-target contests. The underhand tossing of tennis balls — coach to kid, or multiple parents to multiple kids simultaneously — so they can feel and instinctively know what it is to swing a bat (however they swing it) and to feel and see and sense the joy of connecting a rounded stick with a rounded ball in flight.

It is not that hard, not in the least, except that it is being made to seem so at the very entry point where baseball cries out for simple joy, simple activity, simple simplicity.

It hurts my heart, because the kids, and the game, deserve so much better.



Dorothy Mae


Sunset from the bridge tunnel, 5/18/12

So, this has become a melancholy week. This is the week three years ago my mom marked her 84th birthday, and died four days later.

Honestly, I’m still not sure the exact cause of death, other than the broken heart she’d lived with for the four years she was without my dad.  I know she too was ready to go the night we sat on his bed, helpless in the nursing home; as it happened, she shared that same room, recovering from a broken shoulder.

But fate had different plans. And so she survived and endured and napped and disengaged – and passed the better part of 1,400 days waiting for her turn to go.

A shattered leg suffered in a fall at her assisted-living apartment, and subsequent kidney complications, put her on that irreversible path to goodbye.

Dorothy Mae was a farm girl from Denton, Md. transported to the Philadelphia suburbs as a young girl. She worked for a little while during the war after high school, but soon married and became a “homemaker,” as we used to put down on the school forms.

She was 4-foot-11 in her prime, smaller as she aged and osteoporosis came into play. She never got a driver’s license. She never flew in a plane. She never turned on a computer. She was content to dote on Dorie for the 60 years they were married, through absence and paycheck-to-paycheck days and fertility issues that brought my sister and I to her as adopted children. And yet mom and dad conceived our brother. Two adoptees, and then they hit the procreative lottery. Imagine that elation!

Mom and I never talked about that miracle, though, nor much about my adoption, really. The details weren’t important. She and dad were proud of their children, provided a loving home. That’s all that mattered.

Dorothy was seen and loved around town, a constant presence on foot power, and she loved it there. It was a small place, where neighbors cared and knew her joys and sorrows. Yet the day we brought her back from the nursing home, to try and carry on in a house now with a bottomless hole, she asked “How long do I have to stay here?”

I knew she meant “How long until I can rejoin Dorie?”

When my dad’s grave marker was installed, it included Dorothy’s name and birth date as well – and an empty space to the right.

It was dismaying to see that, until we came to realize Dorothy’s empty space was unbearable. Until the solace she sought, three years ago tomorrow, set her free.



The Philadelphia Phillies of my youth stunk out loud.

From 1964, when they gagged away the National League pennant in the last couple of weeks, to 1974 – ages “little boy” to “oh my god, he has a driver’s license?” personally speaking — they had four winning records and won 47 percent of their games. And except for the Crash of ’64, they never even sniffed a championship. This fabled run of ineptitude actually included the 1972 season, when left-hander Steve Carlton, pitching for baseball’s second-worst team – thank you, Texas Rangers – somehow won 27 games for an outfit that won 59 in all.

I mention this because the Phillies (of my youth extrapolated) stink out loud again — on pace for their worst season since my late father, who died seven years ago at 84, was 1.

Back then, I didn’t know any better. It’s just how it was. Philly teams stunk. Sorry, kid, that’s how it is here. Want some ketchup for that scrapple?

But now it’s just sad, because the Phillies have not stunk recently. They won the World Series – just the franchise’s second WS title – in 2008. They lost the World Series in 2009. They won their division in 2010 and 2011. First baseman Ryan Howard, second baseman Chase Utley, catcher Carlos Ruiz and shortstop Jimmy Rollins were stalwarts on those teams.

But it is 2015. Rollins is 36 and batting .176 in the first season of his native California twilight with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Howard is 35 and batting .193 in Philly. Utley is 36 and batting .103. One-oh-three, which translates to nine hits in 25 games. Ruiz is 36 and hitting .242 with one extra-base hit. Roy Halladay retired a couple of years ago, his arm shot. Cliff Lee, on the DL again with a shot arm, is about to join him in the pasture. At 10-18, the Phillies are baseball’s second-worst team – thank you, Milwaukee Brewers – and on pace to outdo those ’72 phrauds by a country mile.

I was going to say that the dismantling of this now-threadbare franchise is disheartening, except it wasn’t dismantled. It was left by its heinous (mis)-management to simply languish, whistling past the proverbial graveyard, handcuffed by foolish contracts, failed player development and frivolous scouting. Fs all around. If there is a franchise “plan,” it is not apparent. And any promise of a fortuitous reversal any year soon is not forthcoming.

In the meantime, those left who still care about baseball in what’s totally become an Eagles town are required to avert their eyes. Shake their heads. And rue the Philly twilight of three beloved athletes who are marking fruitless time in a pitiless march toward the end of their careers, which might very well come in midstream a la another Phillie great Mike Schmidt in 1989. Hitting .203 after 42 games, Schmidt quit at age 39, tearfully aware he no longer could play.

A trail of tears has formed again in Philly. Valedictories hang in the air, cruel and unforgiving, circles of brilliant athletic lives all but closed.