Tag Archives: a-rod

A-Rod and 10 Year Olds

Yesterday was one of those very cool days when things just seemed to go right. Unless you were wearing pinstripes in the Metrodome, in which case they went wrong at the wrong times.

We had our first Little League game yesterday, after losing a week to rain and school vacations. After opening up leads of 11-2 and 15-8, our opponents closed the gap to a few runs in the top of the 6th (and final) inning. Bases loaded, one out, and it was a 1-run game. We got a force at home, thanks to some smart fielding by our first baseman (10 years old) and catcher (recently turned 12). Next ball was rapped sharply back up the first base line, picked up and used to tag out the runner by the same first baseman, game over, final score 15-14. Snack bar treats enjoyed by all.

I wish A-Rod could have seen this, for two reasons. First of all, the sports media widely reported that A-Rod was particularly hard on himself after the Yankees blew last night’s game in the Twin Cities. I can’t fault him for wanting to win, but I can dislike his grimace at the plate. When he came to bat in the later innings of the game, he looked like he’d had a steady diet of pain and suffering for the past week. In the words of Willie Stargell, my original baseball hero, it’s supposed to be fun. Play ball, not work ball, right?

The second reason A-Rod needs to lighten up is that he’s a role model as a Yankees star player. Kids (most kids) look up to him, try to mimic him, want to be him. If he’s faulting himself for not being perfect, what does that say to the 10-year old pitcher who gave up six runs in a half-inning? Sports reveal our character, according to John Wooden, and we should make sure the character traits so exposed are those we want the next generation of ball players to emulate.

Here’s my advice to A-Rod: on your next off day in the Bronx, go watch a Little League game. Go check out the 10-12 year olds on the 60-foot diamond, the batters who hold up their right arms to the ump like Jeter or run their fingers through the infield between plays, dirt like Posada or Cairo. Tell them it’s perfectly acceptable to make mistakes, as long as you’re a team player and always exhibit good sportsmanship. And before anyone dismisses this as wishful thinking, let me point out that I’ve seen Patrik Elias on the little league field fences, watching a softball game, cheering politely while signing autographs and being a good role model. Sometimes it’s good to remember how and why we started playing sports.

Our kids mirror our behaviors, professional or amateur, big league or little league, on TV or in front of it.

Leadership and Tradition

Two games into the 2005 Fall Classic, and I keep thinking about Albert Pujols. In Game 5 of the National League Championship Series, the Cardinals needed a monster hit, and Pujols delivered. His body language at the plate said “gopher ball”; he can be forgiven for an extra slow start toward first because, well, even he wanted to see how he crushed that pitch. Yes, the Cardinals lost in six, and yes, Pujols goes another year without a World Series ring. But he does so with amazing grace and dignity, and only after assuring that NL pitchers are a bit more afraid of him that last year.

The more I think about the big A from the Midwest, the more I think about the big A from the Bronx — Alex Rodriguez. Let’s say, hypothetically, Pujols hit a grounder back to the box in Game 5. Would he have attempted to slap the ball out of the pitcher’s glove? Would he have taken an extra fast start toward first? How you lose your last game defines how you’re seen for the first game of the next season.

Having a great player on a team makes everyone better. Not because that one player can always pull you out of a tight spot; those players set the bar for everyone else. Want to know why the Yankees were watching the ALCS, not playing in it? Nobody was setting that bar. Nobody delivered when it mattered – not Jeter, not A-rod, not Matsui. The Yankees tradition of winning (or of greatness or of sportsmanship or of whatever) looked, honestly, a lot less like the highest payroll in baseball.

I’m all for tradition — it holds our dispersed families together; it creates a framework for looking back on four years at Princeton; it’s why most of us cheer for the same teams as our parents. As traditions develop and take root, they become initial points. Tradition is a cause and not an effect.

Tradition begets respect. Respect begets sportsmanship. Sportsmanship begets leadership. Leadership begets winning. In four months we’ll see how far back to the basics the Yankees have gone.