An enormous amount of energy from a wide cast of participants goes into carrying out a successful summer youth baseball season. You’ve got the Park Department staff, coaches, parents, players, concession staff and ball park maintenance staff, each playing a vital role in pulling it all together. Now we know that baseball enthusiasts come in all ages, but the cliché is true that the baseball program is primarily “for the kids.”
There are many facets of Poplar Bluff’s youth summer baseball program that are positive and life-enhancing for sure. On any given weeknight over 200 kids are on the fields at McLane Park. There is something easy-going about having a very well-kept, central location for all your kids’ games that occur with increased frequency come June and July.
McLane Park is one of Poplar Bluff’s most beautiful and useful assets. From the time you drive into the park with its manicured grass and pretty flower beds, you can’t deny the convenience of knowing that this is where the baseball happens every night. The ballpark is clean, the fields are well-groomed and well-lit, the concession stand is well-stocked and the staff, friendly. All of this clearly helps create a welcoming atmosphere for the kids and everyone who comes to cheer them on.
It’s fun to watch your child play baseball. Their infectious energy, enthusiasm, skill and determination always bring smiles. What could be better for any kid than the time spent with a parent or coach learning the skills needed to perform so well on the ball field? Many of Poplar Bluff’s coaches are the type who instruct, guide, inspire and empower kids to realize and develop their potential in the sport. Parents who help their kids practice and help them keep their commitment to their team are imparting invaluable life-wisdom.
The game of baseball can and should teach our kids lessons that go far beyond just winning and losing games. Parents and coaches are frequently heard urging their players to keep their heads up after bad plays, not to cry after missed opportunities, not to throw helmets in frustration, to applaud great plays by their opponent, and to be sincere with their congrats after the game whether they’re the winners or losers. These are important things to learn and so hard to pull off, yet we expect such admirable characteristics to emerge from these young players.
Baseball, at any age of play, is extremely competitive and tries the nerves of even the most even-tempered. There are numerous displays of excellent, cool-headed leadership from coaches, as well as appropriately measured cheerleading from the stands on any given busy night at McLane. And the equalizing of any playing field is most clearly reflected after each game when both teams of sweaty kids belly up to the concession stand, laughing and joking around like the good buddies they are.
Now if real life resembled a Norman Rockwell painting, I would stop here and we’d all sigh at these benefits that the baseball program creates “for the kids.” Unfortunately real life is not that perfect and Poplar Bluff’s youth summer baseball program is no exception.
This summer our young ball players have also witnessed angry coaches, irate parents and even police being called to the ballpark to quell serious altercations. These “heat of the moment” outbursts clearly set a wrong example, but are no less damaging to the kids than coaches and parents who abuse the system to gain advantage.
The “system” allows for teams who lose players to add players during the season by contacting the park department and requesting a random player. It’s easy for coaches to find themselves short-handed because of families having to move out of the area, player injuries, summer camp or a kid’s loss of interest. However, when teams already having a full roster add one or more star-quality players from local traveling teams, it smacks of impropriety.
Our children need to be shown that sportsmanship is extremely important, fairness is honorable, cheating will not be tolerated and that manipulating the system won’t be swept under the rug. That is, if the baseball program really is “for the kids.”