Tough night around here tonight. My eight-year-old Lucas had his first baseball game of the summer today. His team got stomped. The game was called after their opponents built up a 15-point lead. He’s really taking it hard. I was trying to comfort him at bedtime, telling him that life is like that, and that sometimes you lose, and you lose badly. But you don’t abandon your team, and as long as you know you played honorably, you have nothing to be ashamed of.
Still, it was an ugly thing to see — not the kids, but the way the coaches of the other team managed their players. These are 7 and 8-year-old boys. Most of them are just learning the game. I don’t know why the teams were so overmatched, but when I asked if this was normal, five other parents said cynically oh ho ho, there’s a story to this sort of thing, and welcome to cutthroat summer-league baseball in this town. I’ll have to find out more about this, because if this turns out to be one of those deals in which status-obsessed, over-competitive parents ruin sports for little kids, then count me and mine out. I don’t want my kids absorbing those kinds of values. I want my kids to learn the value of excelling in competition. I want them to learn how to win with grace, and I want them to learn how to lose with dignity. Mostly, I want them to learn the value of fair play, and, you know, to have fun.
Fair play and having fun? I don’t think that was what today’s game was about, at all. I would have been ashamed for my son to have been on that winning team today. The little boys on my son’s team weren’t very good. They were trying to figure out what to do with the ball when it came to them, whom to throw it to (if they managed to catch it in the first place), and so forth. Basic baseball. Meanwhile, the coaches for the opposing team were waving their hitters on round and round the bases, sending them home as fast as they could, running the score up.
To be sure, there was no cheating, not in the least. The other team was just bigger, and massively better, than our team. Still, where is the honor in thrashing 7 and 8 year old boys in a summer league? Where is the sportsmanship? Where is the satisfaction, rubbing the noses of little kids in their own haplessness and defeat? The other team was a far better team, that’s certainly true, and under no circumstances should they have thrown the game. But what kind of lesson does it teach those boys, young as they are, to keep urging them around the bases, piling up runs, while their opponents, weak and confused, tried to figure out what to do with the ball? Standing on the sidelines watching all this, I could see the spirits of our little team wilt as their opponents ran roughshod over them. Would it have killed those opposing coaches to have had their runners hold up at second base, as a matter of good sportsmanship? Their team still would have won by a very healthy margin, but they wouldn’t have crushed these little boys, and the kids at least could have played a full regulation game, instead of having to call it by the 15-point rule.
This is not the major leagues. This isn’t even the 11 and 12 year old league — an age by which point kids who play baseball know what they’re doing. These are little children who are trying to learn how to play the game of baseball, and to love it. As much as it hurts my heart that my kid is so busted up — not about losing, but about the humiliating margin of their loss — I am more proud that my son was on the losing team today than on the winning team, given how ugly they won. It was shameful. Things have changed since I was a kid in the summer leagues here.