Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Lessens From Little League

[[switching to first person]]

When my son was young and in little league, I fulfilled a lifelong ambition to coach a team. It was a blast. Well, at least most of the time it was. There was nothing like taking the Bad News Bears (let's face it, all little league teams are that when the season starts) and win or lose, turn them into good sports who tried hard and learned some skill along the way. That was the good stuff.

The bad? One example sums it up. As the team coach, I took the usual position at the third base coaching box when our team was up to bat. There was one game where we were getting smoked. The score was something like 17 to 3 after two innings. There wasn't any set standard for which bleacher a parent would sit on. The one closest to the road was the most popular no matter if the son or daughter was in the opposite dugout or not.

This particular and disastrous game, one highly vocal parent (female I might add) rooting for the other team did not seem to notice the score. Despite the whoopin' we were taking, this parent kept up a violent diatribe that went something like this: "Strike this kid out, he ain't nothin'." or "This pitcher is terrible, knock the ball out of the park." It was endless, and it was all the worst kind of cheering.

Finally, seeing that my kids were already down, I walked over to this woman and asked politely, "Ma'am, the score is 17 to 3, do you think it would be okay to tone it down a little bit? Our kids are already feeling bad enough." Now any reasonable parent would listen to this polite request and maybe respond in kind. But not this woman. Her response was to hurl some highly blue language in my direction telling me to go back to whatever egg I came from.

Now obviously, in the position I was in, there was little I could do. To this day, I know that woman should be ashamed of herself. It is doubtful that she is. But I had some measure of revenge after my little league coaching career ended. I became an umpire. My first real test was the town's championship game.

Before the game started, I asked the two coaches and their captains to meet me behind the plate. I told them two things. First, I told them that this was the two best teams in town and they better swing at anything close because I wasn't going to be an umpire of a championship game of walk after walk. You can argue the validity of that and I will understand. The second thing I told them was that as the town's best, they had a responsibility to project the highest standard of decency. I would not allow the teams or their fans the ability to put down any player on the other team. I told them I didn't even want to hear a, "He's no batter, he's no batter." I told them to cheer for their teammates but not to cheer against the other team. To back it up, I would throw out any player, coach or fan that would go against that directive.

Needless to say the coaches had very wide eyes looking back at me. But when they saw I was serious, they nodded. After the game, many parents and players said the game was the best little league game they ever watched. The final score was 3-1.

And the lessen in all of this? Perhaps I was too strong in forcing my beliefs on those teams and their fans, but listen, there is too much negativity in the world. It seems to get worse every year. And what brought this all up, you ask? Umm...err...would you believe the State of the Union address?

Uh oh, we're talking politics here? No, not really. I'm not going to espouse my political agenda, though I do have one. I'm talking about the urgent need both political parties have to obfuscate and deride any thought the opposite party has expressed or tried to put into motion. I'm pretty old at this point and have probably watched forty State of the Union addresses. Isn't it pretty sickening that no matter what party is in the White House, the other party members stoically sit in their seats to make sure the world knows that they are superior?

The President talked about how sick Americans are of partisanship. Aren't we? And yet, before he delivered that part of his speech, he blamed the previous administration for the problems he inherited. I don't know if he is wrong or right. He probably is. But did he have to say it? After his speech, the Republicans got their chance to respond. Was it any surprise that the new Virginia governor (who looks like a Republican presidential candidate) used such a soundbite of negativism such as, "top down politics"? It's stupid.

The President is right. Should it take 60 votes to get anything done in this country? Does every bill have to be about how each party can use the thing to either strengthen their party's chances in the next election or damage the other party? Should every idea expressed by the opposing party be slammed by the party that didn't state the idea?

Right now, politics in America are like that lady in the bleachers. It is vicious and it is winner take all. That isn't what we want. It's not even close.

What Washington needs is an umpire like me. If you're going to be nasty and negative, you're not going to play. Of course, that will never happen. But if those in office were truly serious about wanting to do what the people of this country want, then they should all take a pledge and put it in writing that they will cheer on their own teammates and not cheer against the other side. Imagine that, will you?

It's no wonder so many of us in this country are fed up and yes, cynical. The job in Washington is not much different than a little league game. It is a chance to teach our children about a higher vision of decency and competition. Sure, one team is going to win. But decency uplifts the winners and the losers every time. Wouldn't it be a life-changing moment if we could all, you know, root for our leaders and be proud of them?

1 comment:

Billy the Kid said...

I remember that little league game. If I remember correctly a young boy with sometimes more mouth than brains, said something to that lady as well. He might have pitched inside to her son as well, yet I just can't quite remember...