The Way to Save Baseball: Coaches are the Key
Tuesday October 2nd, 2012
Robert Whitmer: Now you might say that baseball doesn’t need any saving. Like I have said on this very site, however, everything that has a beginning also has an end. My Grandfather, who was a very intelligent man, told me a very wise saying before I embarked on missionary service for my church. He told me that “even the church is one generation away from being non-existent.” He told me to stop and think about that for a little bit and tell him what I thought he meant. I was your average 19-year-old and wasn’t really paying much attention to what he was saying, but that phrase stuck with me. As I was doing my service I realized what that phrase meant to me. I needed to try my hardest to teach people because if I didn’t, then what I was teaching about becomes null and void. Everything in the world is in the same boat no matter what it is. Imagine if the human race just decided that everyone, starting today, who is 15 and under was no longer going to learn how to drive a car; what would happen? Eventually cars would become extinct. Nobody would know how to drive and as a result, nobody would need cars. Such is the same with baseball. Baseball is one generation away from being extinct.
I heard the other day on a well-known sports radio program that plays during the day that baseball is a dying sport. I listened as the host hypothesized that the whole purpose for Bud Selig to create this Wild Card playoff was to get people talking about baseball before the playoffs were upon us. He continued to say that it had failed to work. Are you kidding me? We are looking at the playoffs on a daily basis right now because we have so much of an unknown as to who is playing who going in to the last day of the week. Now part of the equation that I would tend to agree with him on is that from a playing perspective, it is somewhat of a dying sport especially in the lower-income communities. Why is that you might ask? How many times have you driven through the lower-income housing areas and seen the beautiful, plush green grass with perfectly painted baselines and the perfectly measured pitching mound in the middle of the concrete jungle? More often than not, you see the basketball goals that are on the corner that double as a church parking lot for a couple of hours on Sunday.
From the kids that we do get interested in baseball, how many of them are two sport stars? Let’s be real here because that’s what’s important. If you have a son that plays baseball and basketball and is exceptional in both sports, which one is he going to be able to become more financially stable in faster? The minor league baseball players don’t necessarily get paid all that well whereas basketball players straight out of college can make a paycheck with 8 zeros in it. Football is the same way. The Bo Jacksons and Deion Sanders of the two sport fame are no longer seen anywhere. Kids are choosing one or the other. What can we do to persuade the kids to be patient and work hard for what they get as their reward from baseball? No wonder why baseball is America’s game. Did you hear what it takes to get a good paycheck (comparatively) in the sport? Hard work and patience is what it took for this country to be the powerhouse that it once was and will be again. We must retain the interest of these kids.
It’s all about the kids. We discussed that the sport is one generation away from extinction. It is also proven that “train up a child up in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Does anyone remember the premise for the movie Rocky 3? Rocky fought Clubber Lang and was training in with Apollo Creed in his corner in his plush, comfortable house. He had the media there asking questions and stopping him often from his training in order to ask him questions. He did not put in his 110% and as a result, he lost the fight to the challenger who had that “look in his eye.” Apollo finally convinced Rocky to go back to his roots and get that “eye of the tiger” back in him. When Rocky finally agreed they did not train in the luxurious, air-conditioned gym that Rocky was used to. They went down to the back-door gym that just looked like another door a building. When they walked in, you could imagine the stench that was in the place. All you saw was sweaty guys working out in a poorly ventilated gym that obviously had no air conditioning systems. Apollo pointed out Rocky that all those guys in the room had that look in their eye that, if they were put in a ring with him, would rip his face off and there was nothing he could do about it. Rocky ended up training there, getting the “eye of the tiger” back, and winning his belt back by beating Clubber Lang in the rematch.
It’s all about the kids. If we are to save our sport and train up our kids to work hard and be patient, we must start somewhere. Around the country there are various programs and facilities that are set up to train the kids and teach them how to play baseball, but where do they go from there? Do they get tossed to their high school coaches that many times are just teachers that are willing to stay after school and run practices, put a team together, and go play? If that is the case, we are doing a disservice to our children. We should be looking for facilities that are willing to train our kids and support them more than a teacher willing to volunteer. We need facilities that are backed by either a proven track record of getting the kids to the next level or, if they are that new, backed up by trainers that have experience on the levels of playing that the kids want to get to. Either way, the kids need to start young. Remember that if we “train up a child in the way he should go: when he is old, he shall not depart from it.”
Deep in the back roads of Texas there stands a place like we described in the previous to paragraphs. It is a training facility that teaches and trains kids on how the play baseball the right way. I was lucky enough to be able to sit down with the owner of Power Alley Sports and speak with him about his facility and what goes on there. I first stumbled upon this place as I was looking for some batting cages to go and get some swings in with my buddies. When I stopped there to get their hours of operation and pricing, I interrupted one of their practice sessions with one of their teams. After I got my answer on the cages I inquired about the training that was going on. After I got a brief run-down from Lance Loftin (one of the coaches and trainers) I gave him my card and we set up a time for me to go back. I went back and met with the other coach Trev Sanford (also the Owner) and he went into detail with me. Both Loftin and Sanford played baseball in college for Texas State University. Both currently work for the Blue Jays (Loftin) and Royals (Sanford) as scouts. Remember when we discussed that a training facility would need experience and a proven track record? These guys have it.
Power Alley Sports is the business front for their CenTex Baseball Prospects teams. Coach Sanford told me how he goes and recruits the players from their high school teams, similar to how a college would, to come and play for him during the off-season. He has recruits from as far away as California that meet up with the team as they travel and get the kids in front of college and pro scouts and playing against teams of similar caliber of talent. Many of these kids are the best player on their team or even their class and they come and play for Coach Sanford. What does he offer that other facilities cannot? Before I answer that, let me continue in my story. Before I sat down with Coach Sanford, I watched about an hour of a two-hour workout that the 18u and 17u were going through. I recognized, obviously, Loftin and Sanford from talking with them, but there were some other people I hadn’t talked to before. Talking with a couple of them afterwards, we had a former minor league player (interview coming soon) and a current minor league pitcher for the Pirates. Power Alley takes these kids and helps them, through past and current players; see that their goals are reachable. You can succeed. You can get to where you want to be, but it takes work.
Finally what I think we need is needed to keep out kids in baseball is patience on the side of the coaches. I wanted to see how the methods at Power Alley would be applied to my daughter who, although she loves baseball, has never really swung a bat in her life. At 9 years old she stepped in during their hour and a half “hit night” and started off on the tee. She missed everything including the broad side of the barn. With a few adjustments from a former professional player who happened to be coaching that age group that night, she was making contact off the tee. After 30 minutes they switched to soft toss from beside the hitter. Again my daughter, who is a perfectionist, digressed and got frustrated. The coach took the time to work with her on her swing and timing as though she was the only kid in the group that had about 10 kids. She started having success again and the confidence built. By the end of the night, she was hitting underhand lobs from 20 feet or so on a consistent basis. I don’t say that to brag on my child but to brag on the coach. Had he got frustrated with her after she digressed and not helped her, she would have never gone forward. She has that look in her eye that she can be successful. She wants to work harder and practice more and more. There isn’t a Saturday that goes by that I’m not asked about going to the field behind our house.
Coaches are the key. They are the ones that are keeping the sport that we love from becoming extinct. Coach Sanford and Coach Loftin have this facility and other coaches have similar ones around the country for that reason. They don’t want baseball to be, as my grandfather said, “one generation away from being non-existent.”
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***Today’s feature was prepared by Robert Whitmer, MLB reports Baseball Writer. We highly encourage you to leave your comments and feedback at the bottom of the page and share in the discussion with our readers. You can also follow Robert on Twitter (@rwhitmer)***
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Posted on October 2, 2012, in The Rest: Everything Baseball and tagged baseball, bo jackson, bud selig, clubber lang, deion sanders, fix baseball, lance loftin, mlb, mlb reports, mr. t, power alley, robert whitmer, rocky, trev sanford, wild card, world series. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.