Category Archives: Children

Youth Baseball in Red Sox Nation: The Tryouts

“Tonight, you need to take your son to his summer league baseball tryouts, OK?” my wife said to me on a recent Sunday morning. No problem, I replied. I assumed that every child would be placed on a team appropriate for his level of skill, and that my baseball-loving son would simply be auditioning to show coaches which team he belonged on. What is it that they say about assumptions?

56 kids showed up for the tryout at a field with four diamonds. Each checked in at a table and received two stickers with a number — one for the front of the shirt, one for the back of the shirt. Then, they all found a partner and started warming up. What a sight: 28 pairs of 8 year-olds playing catch, each with visions in their heads of making a summer travel team, hitting .400, and eventually playing for the Boston Red Sox. Even the ones who can’t catch or throw very well.

Parents toting thermoses set up their lawn chairs at one end of the field to watch. I struck up a conversation with a friendly looking dad, and it was then that I learned that only 26 of these children would make a team — that there would be an “American” team and a “National” team (each consisting of 13 players) and that 30 kids would be cut. Those 30 kids would have NO team to play on this summer. (“The spring league is for participation,” the other dad told me. “The summer league is for development and competition.”)

I was stunned. In my own baseball experience, I didn’t face do-or-die tryouts until sophomore year in high school (I still remember Coach Cohen reading my name at the end of that tryout, indicating I had barely made Brookline High’s JV team. In fact, the stick I picked up off the ground and held in my hands as he read my name sits on my dresser, the only good luck charm I’ve ever had.) Thinking from the point of view of an 8 year-old ballplayer, I was stunned at the harshness of it. And I was bewildered by the idea of 30 moms and dads consoling their third graders about not having a team to play on this summer. What would I say to my son if he were cut? Honestly, I couldn’t even begin to imagine that conversation. The kid lives for baseball. It would be devastating. I decided to cross that bridge if I came to it, and hope for the best.

The children were split into four groups of 14, and they cycled through four stations (hitting, ground balls, fly balls, and live infield situations) where they were evaluated by two to three coaches, each scribbling away on his clipboard after every play. Suddenly, it dawned on me that the skills my son had developed during those endless hours of wiffle ball in our backyard, and the thousands of ground balls and fly balls we had practiced in our front yard, and the two seasons of coach-pitch little league were being evaluated right now. It occurred to me that if I’d known the cut-throat nature of our town’s summer league tryouts, I’d have practiced a lot more with my son over the last year. Then it occurred to me that it was probably good that I didn’t know this, since it might have brought out the the “crazy over-coaching dad” that’s probably inside of me somewhere, which definitely would have killed my son’s passion for the game. His wiffle ball experience will have to carry him, I reasoned.

My heart sank every time he swung and missed. I wanted to bellow some encouragement to him, but with all the other parents silently rooting against my son, it didn’t feel right. Then he connected. I was surprised at my pride. Then a line drive, and another one. A couple of foul balls, a miss, then a weak grounder to third. “NEXT!” yelled the evaluator, and he was back in the field. Was that good enough? I asked myself.

He looked solid on the grounders – got in front of every ball, kept his butt down, used two hands, made some crisp throws to first base. For a moment, I deluded myself into believing I’d taught him his technique — the truth is, he was simply imitating his favorite player, Nomar Garciaparra.

At the end of the tryout, the coaches called the kids in and had them get down on one knee at home plate. Then one of the coaches brought out a gigantic trophy and explained to the youngsters that last year’s 8 year-old team from our town had gone undefeated and had won that trophy, and that the tryout group couldn’t touch it until they had won the right to have their own team’s name engraved on it. Nice. 30 of these kids are going to get bad news in a few days, and now that news will be even more painful to receive. I assure you, none of those 56 kids was in a state of mind to be inspired by the trophy – they just wanted to earn the chance to wear a town uniform!

Part II of the tryout continued one week later. The kids were obviously grouped by ability this time, and I was relieved to see that my son was in a group of somewhat capable players. I just wanted him to make a team — any team! I hadn’t begun to compose my “Michael Jordan didn’t make his high school JV team” speech, and I really didn’t want to. 30 of us parents were going to have to come up with something to ease their pain, though. I dreaded that, for all of us.

In the final twenty minutes, the coaches had the players line up at home plate and they timed them running from home to first, then again from home to second. As the kids crossed the base, the timer yelled out the results for all to hear, and another guy with a clipboard wrote down the times. I felt like I was at the NFL pre-draft combine. Then, the five fastest kids raced, then they narrowed it to two, and those two raced…. and we have a WINNER! And everyone cheered for the fastest boy. (The point of this, other than pure enjoyment for the adults running the tryout, completely eludes me.)

On the way home, my son spoke with total self-confidence. He was sure he had made one of the teams. I suspected all 56 of the young men felt the same way. “If you do make a team, do you care which team you’re on?” I asked. Nah, he said, I just want to play. I was about 43 times more nervous for him than he was for himself. So, this is what it’s like being the parent of an aspiring athlete, I thought. (Butterflies, and a total lack of control over the outcome.)

Then came the wait. 3 days, 4 days, 5 days, and no word from the league. “Did you get an email?” was the first thing my wife and I said to each other when we talked on the phone from work, or when we arrived home in the evening. “Nope, nothing.” Finally, an email came late one night. Based on the recommendation of our evaluators, we are pleased to offer your child a position on our Summer Eight Year Old National Team.

I woke up my wife to tell her. We both felt the relief sweep over us, like we had just dodged a cannonball. And our son? When we told him the next morning, he was actually a little bit disappointed. Turns out he had his heart set on the American team, which he perceived to be the more prestigious of the two. Did I mention he’s got a lot of self- confidence?

I couldn’t help but wonder about the other 30 kids who’d been cut, all of whom wanted to play baseball this summer. And what about their parents? At the same moment my wife and I were feeling a rush of relief, they were all preparing their consolation speeches. What could they say? “Michael Jordan was cut from his high school JV basketball team” is a good start, but then what? Perhaps towns should give all parents a Handbook on Talking With Your Child About Tryouts when they arrive on that first day. I know I could have used something like this had my son not been so fortunate….

POSTSCRIPT: My son read this article and said to me, “Daddy, half of the article is about what you would say to me if I didn’t make the team. But Daddy, there was no chance I wouldn’t make one of the teams.” Son, did you think about the other 30 kids who wanted to play summer baseball too, but got cut? “Daddy, they didn’t believe as much as I did.”

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No East Coast Kids Saw This

There are two minutes left in game four, and the Celtics are up by 4. The Celtics have just overcome a 24-point deficit, on the road, for one of the greatest comebacks in NBA Finals history. My 9 year-old son would have loved to have seen this. Too bad the game started an hour after his bedtime (though we let him stay up, and he made it through the first quarter before passing out on the couch). A whole generation of future Celtics fans is missing the creation of new Celtics legends — even if they want to see it live. They’ll have to settle for seeing the highlights on Sports Center tomorrow. I know it’s a business. I know that’s why the games start so late (9:00pm) and end so late (about 11:45pm). I get it. That doesn’t mean it’s not a real shame, though.

What Have You Done 500 Times?

So Manny finally connected for his 500th career home run (and then his 501st, 502nd, and 503rd). Only 24 people in major league history have achieved this milestone. That’s one of the marvelous things about baseball — performance is so quantifiable. We KNOW that Manny Ramirez is one of the greatest 24 home run hitters of all-time. It’s simply not debatable.

So this got me thinking — what’s the equivalent of hitting 500 home runs in non-athletes’ careers? What’s a high level of accomplishment in your field that only 24 people in history have ever reached?

I was a teacher for eight years. Perhaps the equivalent to 500 home runs in teaching is having 500 former students credit YOU with having taught them an invaluable life lesson.

For a pediatrician, how about accurately diagnosing 500 difficult-to-diagnose cases, keeping the patient and parents calm, and prescribing proper follow-up care?

For a minister, priest, or rabbi, the equivalent might be delivering 500 truly superior sermons.

For a parent of five (like me), I’d say showing up for 500 little league games, soccer games, swim meets, karate tests, dance recitals, school plays, class art shows, teacher conferences, and graduations — without missing one — would be the equivalent of hitting 500 home runs.

Probably during the season of 2011 or 2012, Manny will hit his 600th home run. I don’t even want to think about what it would require to be a 600-homer parent…..

Race To See A No-Hitter

I have always wanted to witness a no-hitter in person. Tonight, I finally did. Did I have a ticket to the game? No. Did I watch the whole game? No. In fact, I slept through a couple of innings. But I was at Fenway for the last two outs. Here’s how I experienced Jon Lester’s no-hitter.

From 7:30 to 8:00pm, I got my boys (9 and 6) ready for bed and read aloud to them. As they fell asleep, I also fell asleep in my chair with the book on my lap. At about 8:30pm, I sat on the couch next to my wife and we spent perhaps 15 minutes perusing digital photo albums of our kids with the Sox game on TV in the background. I noticed the Sox were winning 5-0, but it wasn’t until the middle of the seventh inning that I noticed the zeros in the Royals’ hit column. “He’s throwing a no-hitter!” I said to my wife. “I have to drive down there!”

Wearing sweatpants and a t-shirt, I bolted for the car and began my speedy 12-mile sprint down Route 9 to Fenway Park. Listening to the game on the radio, I was distressed when the Sox went down quickly in the bottom of the seventh. “Come on guys!!” I yelled, imploring our hitters to give me some time to get to the park. The top of the eighth flew by too as the Royals went 1-2-3, and it was at that point that I arrived at the section of Route 9 where there is ALWAYS a speed trap. Reluctantly, I slowed down to the speed limit (prudent — the car behind me got pulled over).

As the Red Sox batted in the bottom of the eighth, I hit another sand trap: construction that narrowed the road to one lane of slow-moving traffic. “NOOO!” I screamed. But I hit mostly green lights, and as Lester took the mound for the top of the ninth, I turned onto Boylston Street and searched frantically for a parking spot. Lester threw ball four to the leadoff hitter, Esteban German, at the same moment that I found an empty parking space at the McDonald’s opposite Yawkey Way. A sprint across the street and down Yawkey Way to Gate B, a flash of my Red Sox Nation VP credential to the security dude, and I was in the bowels of the park. Continuing to run at full speed, I headed for the ramp on the first base side and emerged into Fenway at the same moment that David DeJesus grounded out to Kevin Youkilis for out number two. “Wooooo hooooo!!” I had just arrived, but I was immediately in synch with the rest of the crowd that had been there for three hours.

As I walked along the main aisle towards right field, fans jumped up and down, screamed, prayed, clapped, smiles on all their faces. Several people reached out to me with high-fives as I walked by. What a feeling. THIS IS FENWAY PARK, I was thinking. I found an empty box seat just beyond first base and planted myself there to watch the last few pitches. “This is it, I’m finally going to see a no-hitter!” Strike three to Alberto Callaspo! Then, bedlam. Absolute bedlam. The crowd noise completely drowned out “Dirty Water” as it blared through Fenway.

I was there. After all these years, I can say I was there.

Questions of a Six Year-Old at Fenway

As I wrote in my previous article, on Patriots’ Day I took my six year-old to his first Red Sox game, and afterwards we cheered for the back-of-the-pack between miles 22 and 25 on Beacon Street. Someday, this boy will know all the ins and outs about baseball (like his nine year-old brother). But this is the first spring that he has begun to show glimmers of interest in the Red Sox, so a visit to Fenway is different for him than for everyone else at the ballpark. And after he’d asked me a few questions during the first inning, I knew I had to write down all of his questions for the rest of the game. Classic stuff:

Can I have a hot dog? (Sure.)

Why do we have our gloves on? (In case a foul ball comes back here, we’ll be ready to catch it.)

Why is that screen there? (To protect the fans behind home plate from dangerous foul balls.)

But how do the balls come back here? (When the hitter swings his bat, sometimes the bat doesn’t hit the ball squarely and the ball flies in back of home plate.)

Can we do something besides just sit around? (Sure we can walk around a little bit.)

(We were walking past a concession stand.) Can I have some pizza? (Sure.) Can I have a big cup of Coke? (Sure.)

(Back in our seats.) Can I have a foam finger? (Sure, let’s go catch up with the foam finger vendor.)

(The crowd suddenly cheered after a Rangers player popped out for the third out of an inning.) Is that good Daddy? (Yes, that’s good, now the Red Sox get a turn to hit and to try to score some runs.)

(The crowd suddenly cheered after Ellsbury stole second base.) Is that good Daddy? (Yes, Jacoby Ellsbury just stole second base.)

Who’s winning Daddy? (The Red Sox are winning.) Yay, the Red Sox are winning!

Why did they turn on the lights? (Good question, I really don’t know why they turned on the lights on a sunny day.)

What’s the score? (Six to nothing.) Is this normal? (No, this is really good.) I mean, are they major leaguers? (Yes.) This is stupid. (Why?) I thought that major leaguers were supposed to be good. (They are, but our pitcher, Clay Buchholz, is pitching so well, the Rangers can’t get very many hits.) Oh.

Is it almost nighttime? (No, it’s 1:20pm.) Is the game almost over? (Well, we’re in the fifth inning and the whole game lasts nine innings.) So there are four innings left? (That’s right.) Will it be nighttime when the game is over? (No, there’s a lot of daytime left.) Good, ’cause there’s a show I really want to watch on TV tonight. (What show is that?) I forget the name.

Is a trillion more than a billion? (Yes.) How many trucks would you need to carry a trillion dollars? (Um, a hundred.) No, you’d just need one, because you could have one bill with a trillion on it.

Daddy, I made up a number. (Really? What is it?) A killion. And it’s so big, the dollar bill would be as long as Fenway Park. It’s as big as a trillion billion dollars.

(Look, here comes the wave.) What’s the wave, Daddy? (That’s the wave.) Why do they do the wave? (Because it’s fun.)

(We were on the sidelines of the marathon and I had cheered for many runners by reading the names on their shirts. My six year-old was incredulous.) Daddy, how do you know all these people?

Patriots’ Day: Boston’s (and my kids’) Best Day

Patriots’ Day was established as a Massachusetts (and Maine) civic holiday to commemorate and celebrate the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the first battles of the American Revolutionary War. And in Boston, we know how to celebrate our history in style — a Red Sox game at Fenway for breakfast (11:05am start time), and the world’s coolest foot race (Boston Marathon) for lunch.

Today, I was lucky enough to attend the game with two of my children (9 and 6) and their friend (9), enjoying a rare Monday day game while kids in other states across the country were busy toiling away in school. And after Delcarmen nailed down the final out, we walked three miles from Fenway to Cleveland Circle, cheering on those runners at the back of the pack, the ones who needed our wild cheers the most.

At 9:00am, my boys and I picked up a friend and posed for our first photo of the day.

Daddy needed a cup of coffee, so a quick stop at Dunkin’ Donuts was required. The Papelbon poster got us into the mood for the day.

We parked the car at a friend’s house near Cleveland Circle, and the small plot of green grass in the front yard meant that forward progress towards Fenway would have to wait for a few minutes…. boys will be boys.

The Reservoir T-stop was crawling with Red Sox fans…

… and we squeezed close together on the train to make room for Sox fans getting on at subsequent stops.

The walk from the Fenway T-stop to Yawkey Way is one of the great walks in North America.

The goosebumps get huge when you get to Brookline Avenue and see the crowd outside Fenway.

This was my six year-old’s first game at Fenway (since he was too young to remember anything), so I taught him to hold his hand over his heart during the National Anthem. He sang at the top of his lungs.

After two innings, my six year-old started getting restless. Hot dogs and pizza helped a little. But what he really wanted (and needed, it turned out) was a Red Sox #1 foam finger!

Let us not underestimate the power of the foam finger! To a six year-old, it can provide hours of companionship, entertainment, and enjoyment!

Then, in the fifth inning, it was time for…. the blankie!

By the 8th inning, many of the seats had been vacated, so the boys headed down to the very front, where they sang “Sweet Caroline” and cheered the Sox to a sweep of the Rangers.

What would a perfect Patriots Day be without a greeting from Wally the Green Monster? (The six year-old is not pictured here, because he was sobbing about his blankie, which he’d dropped into a puddle of beer.)

And I honestly can’t remember the last time I saw a player signing autographs at Fenway Park…. but after the game, Josh Hamilton of the Rangers signed for one and all… and made it an extra-special day for a lot of kids.

Then, it was time to head out to Beacon Street to cheer on the marathoners!


Petting the dog wearing the Kevin Garnett jersey was a highlight of our long walk from Kenmore Square to Cleveland Circle. And at the end of our walk, my six year-old proclaimed, “My feet ache all over. But that was the best day of my LIFE!”

A Monday without school, a day spent with family and friends, four hours at Fenway Park on a sunny day, a Red Sox win, the opportunity to high-five courageous runners as they near the finish line of a long, grueling race, and memories to last the rest of the year and longer. What’s better than that?

Opening Day! (new song)

There are hundreds of songs about Christmas, but I can’t think of one song about the best holiday of the year: Opening Day. So this past weekend, with the excitement of the home opener building, I sat down and wrote a song about Opening Day (lyrics below). On Sunday night, after my kids were all in bed, I recorded it in my basement onto my Mac laptop using GarageBand software. Five tracks: two acoustic guitars and three vocals. Click on the box (right) to listen. Enjoy!

Opening Day!
by Rob Crawford (ASCAP)

Well it’s Opening Day
Winter’s gone, let’s celebrate
Skipping school for the game
Got no choice, it’s in my D.N.A.
Baseball everyday ’til fall
Sing Spangled Stars, then let’s play ball
Yes it’s Opening Day
Life’s good again

Opening Day!
Opening Day!

Well it’s Opening Day
Winter’s gone, spring starts today
Skipping work for the game
Guess I’ll update my resume
From Japan to Canada
U.S.A. to Latin America
Yes it’s Opening Day
Life’s good again

Opening Day!
Opening Day!
This is the year we go all the way
It all starts on Opening Day

Well it’s Opening Day
Winter ended yesterday
Skipping school for the game
It’s a Red Sox Nation holiday
And the rockets’ red glare
The bombs bursting in air
Yes it’s Opening Day
Life’s good again

Baseball everyday ’til fall
No more hot stove, let’s play ball
Yes it’s Opening Day
Life’s good again

Opening Day!