by Andrew Pollak, Maricopa (AZ) High School
Baseball is the greatest game on earth. My family believes it, I believe it and if you are reading this magazine then more than likely you believe it too! I am a high school coach in Arizona and have witnessed the greatness this game creates but more importantly I have witnessed a few areas where, we as ambassadors of the game, can help it grow. In my opinion there comes a time in a young player’s life where the game seems to take 5 steps ahead when the players truly need all four previous steps. I have witnessed players move to bigger fields, play more games, practice less and have no time to play other sports. This is all a culmination of the dreaded phrases that are becoming too familiar; “Burnt out,” “Bored,” or “I’m not having fun.” Where I coach, we struggle to have high participation numbers and it breaks my heart that we are unable to use this great game to help kids become better people. At the end of the day, we ALL got into coaching because we have felt the impact of a good coach and want to affect kids the same way.
It is time to face the truth. Who causes burn out? In all honesty, it is the adults. Adults think the players should be on multiple teams, where they are practicing and playing games during the week, tournaments on the weekends, and private lessons where they can fit in. Adults over use their players. Who can throw the most strikes? They pitch seven innings a week. Who can catch and throw? They catch four to six games every weekend. Why isn’t my player playing a lot? Find them a new team. If we as adults can step aside and take an honest and unbiased look, we could truly see the craziness going on all over the country.
Boredom! Why is the game boring? You know it is not, I know it is not, but the players say it is. Go watch any 10 year old baseball game. There will come a point where the pitchers struggle to consistently throw strikes. Walks are boring, they teach our kids nothing about the game, and players’ minds start to wander. I propose that the game needs more machine pitch. Machine pitch will do nothing but make our players better. Hitters know it will be a strike which will promote aggressiveness in the strike zone. More balls will be put in play and force defensive action. More defensive action leads to more situational teaching and learning. No pitching means less stress on pre-teen arms. The game will move at a faster pace and lead to more excitement. I believe nothing but good will come from more machine pitch baseball. What won’t machine pitch teach? Pitchers learning to hold on runners and work on the running game? I say, “Is that what I would want my 10 to 13 year old to learn?” I personally would want a player right before high school to know where to go on any ball hit, with runners on any base, and truly love the game.
Finally, MAKE IT FUN! Bring them sports drinks at practice. Buy them pizza. Let them play whiffle ball or over the line. Keep them wanting to come to practice. Once again, with your ego aside, what is truly important? Winning weekend tournaments, chasing the mythical verbal commitment or making our players better. I would hope everyone would choose to make our players better people. Better people make not only baseball better but our world better.