It's For The Kids

Jul 13, 2009

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.”

    1. Brian Becker

      Jason said: is all this crying because lost??? lol

      Why, yes, yes it is. We here at are sore losers! <grin> jk

      Honestly, my agreement to publish Toni’s article was to give voice to the 8 coaches (from different leagues), and even more parents, who have expressed frustration with the “manipulation” and promote change.

  1. Brian Becker

    A possible solution to all of this is to not allow coaches to request players from the park’s list once the season starts. Set up a mandatory filling of rosters based on game attendance.

    2 Players are added to any team that forfeits a game for not enough players
    1 Player is added to any team that plays a game with only eight players

  2. Brian Becker

    Thanks for your post, Ken. Yes, somehow in all the action after the game, the coaches from both teams did not shake. I can assure you that it wasn’t intentional on anyone’s part. I’ve called each coach and shared with them my congratulations and my apology if they felt slighted, it was unintentional as we got our kids ready for the trophy ceremony.

    The games last night were fun to be involved in. The boys on all the teams, including last night’s championship game, played great baseball.

    I didn’t see any anger on the field last night and all the coaches seemed to get along great from my viewpoint.

    As for the “system being manipulated” comment in Toni’s article, I would echo your words that Greg has done a stellar job of keeping the system on the up and up. He protects the system very well and is good at it. The article addresses that the system has a loophole that can be exploited. The best proof of that is the number of times I’ve heard coaches and parents say “All the teams do that.”

    So, KUDOS to Greg and the Parks Department for jobs WELL done. But I do hope that the system can be discussed and strengthened for the betterment of the game.

    Congrats to Bluff Transmission for a well-played game. Their congratulations are posted on our home page as well as’s second place finish.

  3. Ken Hosler

    I couldn’t agree more with the first six paragraphs of your post. Your background must include some newspaper experience as your thoughts were very well written and your words certainly do paint a picture. However, I do take some exception with the last few paragraphs.

    The “system” you refer to has been in place at the park department during the last several years and I’m familiar with it because I have coached a park dept. team each of those years. If a team loses a player during the season for whatever reason, the coach can call the office and request a player from the pool of players who signed up late and are on a waiting list. You cannot “request a random player” as you suggest. You get the next player on the list and Greg Riggs will not tell you who that player is. Do I totally agree with that set-up? No. Trust me, I’ve been victimized by it every year because of another team(s) picking up a player. However, the system in place is what it is and most coaches know that going in.

    As far as “manipulating the system,” if that’s how you feel, you should take it up with the Park Dept. In addition, you choosing to use the word “cheating” is definitely inappropriate because it is simply untrue.

    In all of my “spare” time, I am a high school football official and I surely echo your sentiments regarding “sportmanship being extremely important.” That is one of our goals as officials is to make sure that positive sportsmanship is carried out in every game we officiate. Instances last night I witnessed of angry coaches yelling at the umpire, coaches verbally sparring at a parent from the opposing team, and coaches from the losing team refusing to shake the hands of the coaches from the winning team were certainly not examples of positive sportsmanship “for the kids.”

    The latter of those was especially in bad taste in my opinion and to several others I spoke to after the game. I’m sure the coaches probably regret that decision today as it most definitely was not behavior “for the kids” to witness. That being said, we are all human and make mistakes. Our emotions will run high, especially when our own kids are involved. We wouldn’t be concerned and involved parents if that weren’t the case. Our ultimate goal though, mine included, should be to set positive examples “for the kids,” both ours and others. After all, young eyes are always out there watching our actions.

  4. Harold Ellinghouse

    Toni, Your comments are very well said. There are always a few parents who want to work the system to their advantage and ruin it for the kids. It happens in every town. In Piedmont, the ball park that usually has the most problems is the smallest where the parents are the closest to the fields and the umpires. If it is a close call, the umpires get it.