Saturday, October 26, 2013

Kid's Game

I love baseball.  It is a game of skill as much as talent.  There is so much strategy evolved, working a pitcher when you know the bullpen is tired, moving a runner to third base from second with nobody out, pitching around a dangerous hitter even with the game on the line.  It is a team game made up of individual battles throughout.  It is a beautiful game!  The problem is that you have to know the game to appreciate its beauty, and the way you get to know the game is to be exposed to the game, and herein lies my concern.

A few years ago, I think it was, FOX was bringing a new moving camera to baseball that would allow better camera angles during the playoffs.  I was selected to be part of the test group in Atlanta to see if it affected the gameplay.  We played a simulated game before our playoff series to see if the camera bothered the hitter, pitcher or fielder.  Once the game was over, and we said it was not that big of a distraction, one of the producers bragged like a proud papa about how this camera would bring in the younger fan to watch more baseball.  I responded not so lovingly, that it would help the younger fan watch the playoffs if start times where actually before his or her bed time on the east coast.  Needless to say the producer explained profits, advertising dollars, prime time etc. to me.  I then went on to argue his point with the counter point of short sighted gain verses the long term gain of exposing kids to baseball.

With this as my viewpoint, I was so encouraged this year with the amount of day games in the early playoff rounds, but the early playoff rounds are not our crown jewel.  Talk to an old timer about watching the World Series as a kid.  There's usually a story about a teacher who snuck a TV into the classroom, or a dad who let a kid skip school after lunch to watch a game.  Baseball was a big deal!  And it can be again.  I never want to be known as one to point out problems just for the sake of whining, so here (for what it's worth) are my ideas to addict a new generation to baseball.

1.  Day Games: One day game per city in the ALCS, NLCS, and World Series.  The game time would be a LOCAL time.  Present the product to local kids.  Give them a sense of 'our team.'  If the Dodgers play a 4 p.m. game in California, and my kids in Florida have to get to bed before it's over that's not a big deal, as long as the Rays game started no later than 4 p.m. EST.

2.  Floating Schedule and less off days:  Having hard dates that World Series starts is frustrating.  When the teams are set, let's get playing!  Let's not let baseball leave the national conscience for five days at a time right before our biggest stage.  Also, having a day off to travel west is not that big of a deal for players.  (I totally understand one coming east).  Both of these would have eliminated what happened Friday October 25.  Friday is obviously not a school night.  Kids can stay up late.  Sportswise on television, with all due respect to Boise State and BYU, there is nothing to compete with like college football on Saturday and NFL on Sunday.  There should never again be a World Series without a Friday night game.

3.  Destination Series: This point is more of a 'blow the whole thing up' and shoot for the moon.  Pick cities that love baseball, all of ba
seball, New York, San Francisco, St. Louis, Boston, etc.  The Super Bowl doesn't usually have a home team.  The World Baseball Classic has proven to me this could work for baseball.  Keep it a best of seven series.  Do it all in eight days.  In my very flawed plan it would start with a split double header on Saturday, and continue with a game on Sunday evening.  Monday would be a day of rest.  Tuesday and Wednesday would have single games, and in a dream world there would be a game six on Friday night, and game seven on Saturday.

I know, I'm no expert, but once in a while one of my crazy ideas works...What do you think?  Sound off on my twitter @diazfoundation

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Letter to Parents

I am now coaching a travel ball team in my hometown for the fall.  This is the letter I handed to the parents on our first practice last week.  I love the fact that I can say these things and due to the general character of the people of my area, they are accepting of it.  Here's to a great fall year for these young men!  Note:  I stole a large part of this letter from a previous letter that Mike Matheny wrote years ago!  He's one of my favorite manly men in baseball!!

Dear Parents,
There’s a letter on the internet from Mike Matheny, the St. Louis Cardinals manager, to a group of travel ball parents that he was coaching.  I’m going to steal a lot of it here to explain what I’ll be coaching your kids this fall.  My goals this fall are the same as Matheny’s were a few years ago while coaching his team.
            First lets start with class.  My goal is to have your boys handle themselves with class.  Whether it is on the field, in the classroom, or at home.  I look back at all the life lessons baseball has taught me so far, how to be part of a team, handle disappointment, how to work, how to fail, how to succeed, etc.  The main thing it has taught me though is how to do all these with class.  We will not throw equipment, I’ve done this plenty, and it never once helped me get a hit the next at bat.  We do not cuss.  There’s running for that.  We will not yell at, whine to or even really pay attention to umpires.  To borrow from Mike’s letter,
 Let the record stand right now that we will not have good umpiring. This is a fact, and the sooner we all understand that, the better off we will be. We will have balls that bounce in the dirt that will be called strikes, and we will have balls over our heads that will be called strikes. Likewise, the opposite will happen with the strike zone while we are pitching. The boys will not be allowed at any time to show any emotion against the umpire. They will not shake their head, or pout, or say anything to the umpire. This is my job, and I will do it well.”
My goal is to have your boys recognize what they can control, control it well, and realize what is out of their control and let it go.  They will learn this from me, but the place they can learn this the quickest is on the car rides home with you after the game.  Instead of, “Coach MattE, is a moron,” (which I’m bound to be at times) for the growth of your kid on and off the field please use this strategy “I know you think you should bat higher in the order son, I do too, but that’s not how coach is doing it, and just be the best ninth hitter in the tournament, and he’ll have to move you up.” 
            Another goal of mine is to impact your boys positively as they grow into young men.  I will pass on my cell phone number.  Please, call me about anything dealing with your kid other than baseball.  If there’s a teacher, who gives him a hard time, let me know, sometimes a third party can help.  If there’s a problem at home let me know.  If his grades are bad, let me know, we can run better grades into the young men!  All of these potential conflict points will be dealt with from a biblical perspective.  That doesn’t mean that I will shove my Christian beliefs on your kid or you for that matter, but my faith will shape how I try to respond to most situations, and when asked, I will not sidestep that I am a Christian.  Again, please call me if your kid is struggling to let me know how to help, but please know any calls about baseball will go unreturned.  We can always talk in person about that.
            My third goal is to make sure we represent this game well.  This is a TEAM sport.  All 11-12 kids will have a chance to impact our tournaments.  We will not win every game.  Some of this is by design, we need to know who can do what, but know this I really enjoy winning.  There’s a scoreboard, and I want to win, but not at all costs.  We will not risk you kids elbow, and possible a college scholarship one day for a shiny trophy from Jim Smith’s travel ball invitational.  We will not play in tournaments every weekend.  The games are the test, and the fun part, but not where your kids get better.  Your kids get better practicing, and we will practice better than 99% of teams out there.  However, baseball is a sport that is improved through repetition, and hitting on Sundays with us will hardly help your kid excel.  It will only help him stay even.  As far as individual lessons go, let me quote from Matheny’s letter again,
I am completely fine with your son getting lessons from whomever you see fit. The only problem I will have is if your instructor is telling your son not to follow the plan of the team... I will teach mental approach, and expect the boys to comply. If I see something that your son is doing mechanically that is drastically wrong, I will talk with the instructor and clear things up. The same will hold true with pitching coaches. We will have a pitching philosophy and will teach the pitchers and catchers how to call a game, and why we choose the pitches we choose. There is no guessing. We will have a reason for the pitches that we throw. A pitching coach will be helpful for the boys to get their arms in shape and be ready to throw when spring arrives. Every boy on this team will be worked as a pitcher. We will not over use these young arms and will keep close watch on the number of innings that the boys are throwing.”
Having said this about individual lessons, sometimes throwing in the backyard with dad, mom, or brother. Or hitting into a net off a tee daily will help as much as paying $100.00 an hour for lessons to a guy who is a parrot.  You know the guy, all he says is “nice swing, good, nice swing, head down.”  Our pitching coach will offer lessons, and there will be arm conditioning involved, as well, and if you are able to afford this expense I highly recommend having your kid work with him.
So now you know what to expect from me, and here’s what I hope to expect from you.  Trust.  I hope you can trust that I have achieved more in this game that I ever dreamed, and I truly am out here just to pass it on.  I hope you trust that when I bat a kid 10th or play him in left field it’s nothing personal or permanent!  I hope you trust my coaches and me with baseball.  We will not get too busy fixing “mechanics” early on.  We will get to them, but the most important this is the “approach” and we will hammer on the physical but mostly MENTAL approach, as this can cover a lot of mechanics.  Please trust us during games.  The dugout is your kid’s office, please practice letting them work uninterrupted.   Get them in the habit of being responsible.  Give them enough snacks and drinks to make it through a game, so we are not constantly seeing mom, dad, or grandma at the “office” asking if they are thirsty.  I am excited about this fall. I thank you for taking the first step in trusting us by giving us the honor of coaching you son!  If you have time, Google Matheny’s letter.  It’s a great read!

                                                                                    MattE Diaz