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Stories about poor sportsmanship in youth baseball today are rampant. We’ve all experienced it on some level. Trash talking on the field. Social media spamming after a game. Parents standing in the parking lot after a loss openly disgracing coaches and umpires…and sometimes even players. Lots and lots of stories.
Well this story is different.
If you’ve been the parent of a 12 year old baseball player, chances are you’ve either been to Cooperstown Dreams Park or have at least heard about the wonderful opportunity they offer 12u teams each summer. Each week from June til the end of August, 104 teams gather from all across the country for a massive tournament that ultimately crowns one overall champion each week. Most kids who participate in the tournament at Dreams Park say it’s one of the best experiences of their lives.
Such was the case for a town team (non-club team) from Wayne, NJ – the Wayne PAL Wolfpack. The 12u Wolfpack ventured up to Cooperstown the first week of August 2016 hoping to have some fun and maybe win a few games. The Wolfpack had a rough start in pool play, finishing 1-5. As a result, they were seeded 85 out of 104 teams for the final day of tournament play.
Game one of the elimination round began at 8 am for the Wolfpack against the 86th seeded team. The Wolfpack got the win. They moved on to round two, thinking that was probably going to be their only win of the day….and they began making plans to visit the Hall of Fame later that afternoon.
But the magic that exists in Cooperstown had other plans in store for the Wolfpack that day. They won the second game against the 60 seed. Then they won game #3 against the 41 seed. They had played 3 games straight since 8 am….no break….no food….nothing.
Game #4 was against the 24 seed. It was an incredible battle. Kids who had never pitched before were on the mound. During the game, the 9th seeded team came into the parent section of the Wolfpack bleachers to watch the game. These kids would ultimately play the winner of this matchup and they were there to size up their competition. The kids from team 9, The Tigers, an all-star team from California, were delightful – chatting with the Wolfpack parents, inquiring with awe how a little town team could be doing so well in a tournament like this. They were fantastic kids. They heard the stories about how nobody had eaten anything since breakfast and how the Wolfpack players were functioning on Gatorade, cheese balls and, most importantly, adrenaline.
And guess what. The Wolfpack won that game, too. Their 4th win of the day. They had 10 minutes of rest before facing that 9 seed from California in game #5.
The Tigers were no match for the Wolfpack and things quickly spiraled out of control. But in the 4th inning, something wonderful started to happen. Several pizzas appeared in the Wolfpack dugout. Nobody knew who had ordered them….and the Wolfpack parents presumed the coaches had somehow managed to get some food for the kids who had now gone almost 10 hours without a meal.
Then, as the final out was being made in a 17-1 mercy, a chant could be heard coming from the Tigers parents’ section. “Great Job Wolfpack! Great Job Wolfpack!” Yes….the opposing team’s parents, knowing the incredible story of this PAL town team, were cheering the kids on in recognition of their incredible day. The pizza? It was from the Tiger parents. They had ordered it for the kids from NJ who they knew were running on fumes. At the end of the game, the Wolfpack players made a victory lap around the field, high fiving the parents from California.
The Wolfpack made history that day at Dreams Park. Only 2 other teams had ever gone that far with a seeding that high. The Wayne PAL Wolfpack was the talk of the entire complex. Everyone was chatting about “Team 85”. Even the next day, in a local shop in downtown Cooperstown, locals gathering for a morning cup of coffee were overheard talking about Team 85. It was the story of the week.
Equally as memorable, however, were the players, parents and coaches from Team 9 – The Tigers – a group of people who truly understood how awesome youth baseball can be and who were excellent examples of good sportsmanship that day. We should all strive to be like the Tigers.
As we approach the Showcase Season it got me thinking about a few things.
As baseball trainers, we get involved in so many different aspects of training. Whether it’s hitting, fielding, pitching or catching, there are literally hundreds and hundreds of drills (and our own variations of those drills) that we can do. We preach about the mental approach to baseball, vision training for hitters and catchers, biomechanics, strength and conditioning, and exit velocity for hitters. We tell our players to trust what they feel as a pitcher, anticipate when playing defense, and on and on. But sometimes, it’s as simple as this: “See the ball and hit the ball.” Now don’t get me wrong, that’s easier said than done. But if you’re working hard and are focused on your goal, whatever that may be, at some point you have to let your training and your instincts start to take over and trust yourself.
What I really mean by all of that is this: When your goal is to excel at the game of baseball, or any other professional or life goal for that matter, you can’t over think it. You can’t let the fear of losing, being told no, a scout telling you you’re not big enough or fast enough, or even failing a few times stop you from trying to achieve that goal. As humans we tend to over think situations and over analyze what people say. If this is what you love and you’re working so hard at it that it consumes you day to day, then it’s time to stop over thinking what you’re hearing from the outside and just go do it. Have that goal, raise your expectations, and don’t look back.
Now the odds of becoming a professional athlete are not high (and being a professional baseball player is one of the hardest to achieve in pro sports), but if being in the game of baseball is what you truly want to do in this life, if you can’t see yourself doing anything else, then you will achieve it in some capacity. Think bigger picture. Whether it’s on the field as a player, being in the front office, a scout, a coach, or a broadcaster, the game and the business of baseball is bigger than just being a professional athlete.
So for you young ball players out there, set that goal, work at it every waking minute, love it because it’s your passion…but don’t over think it. The path is there; you know what you have to do and what you have to give up to get it. If it’s truly what you want, then it’s easy – there’s no discussion…See it and go get it!
In celebration of Mother’s Day, we’re taking this opportunity to thank all the baseball moms for everything they do to help their children – our players – be the best athletes they can be.