Thursday, June 28, 2007

June 25th Braves / Nats Adventure

Left work at two Monday, and I thought I’d gotten home too early…40 minutes before we were supposed to leave. Ceil had the house looking good, with cookies baked and cokes getting cold. Two moms were there, including Becky. All the boys were outside playing basketball. By the time we painted letters on the boys, took pictures, and loaded the cars, we didn’t leave til 3:45. Anna went to a sleepover, and Matthew was watching Teribithia at the Picture Show. Seemed like we hit every red light, and we didn’t get parked until 4:55. The gates were already open, and there was no line for dollar tickets. The Andruw bats were punier than advertised, not that I had any hopes up.

The boys took up space on the front row in left field for BP. Matt Diaz looked at them and asked what they were supposed to spell…they weren’t in order. Diaz said it was ok, he was dyslexic. The boys got four balls, including two that Will retrieved with his cup-on-a-string device he made (not my idea). It was the first time he had brought it, and it worked well. Will’s friend Preston’s dad Lee had also driven, and we sat several rows back catching up, and saw another little league dad we knew. Lee saw a ball coming that I hadn’t…it landed on our row a couple of seats away and didn’t bounce, so I quickly grabbed it. We had five families represented, so each family got a ball. The practice balls are different from last year’s, which had green wording. I caught a glimpse on the HD screen of someone who looked like Mark Richt, and sure enough, later that’s who threw out the first ball, to catcher Francoeur. Richt’s throw wasn’t as crisp as I’d expected.

After BP we tromped over to the right field upper deck, and probably went up too high. I then painted their backs with other letters, so more words could be spelled. Only then did I realize I’d planned for two boys to each have a T on their back. The boys lined up to spell GO BRAVES, and were showed on the HD just before the game started. They then changed to TIM HUDSON, but that never made the screen. They also spelled JONES, ANDRUW J, EDGAR, and BRIAN M, but the only other word to make the board was THORMAN. It was funny when one or two of them would run to the concession stand, to see the L or US or WE or NY run past. Some people wanted to sit near us, perhaps to get on the screen. Two girls the boys knew came from the lower level to sit with them…the boys enjoyed that a lot. As we were packing up to leave Preston was kind of dancing, and he made the big screen by himself.

Langerhans was the first pinch hitter and got a nice ovation. His average is lower than Andruw’s, and he struck out…you could see the frustration from the upper deck. Interestingly, when the Nats took BP, only the pitchers shagged balls in the outfield. Willie Harris looked good at the bat on and in the field.

Not long ago Ceil and I ate Mexican at a place down on Chattahoochee Avenue, and I ran into an old co-worker I always run into…in the airport, etc. Last night he was at the game, visiting friends in our section.

Later we heard that they actually made the TV broadcast. Had I realized that, I would’ve had them make more names, specific to each batter. During the game they only showed fans between innings, so they just relaxed during the game. Our cars got separated leaving the parking lot, and I got out quicker. I didn’t drive fast, but later Lee called wanting to know if we should stop at the Varsity…as I was passing the Windy Hill exit. Instead I took the two boys home who live near Jim R Miller Park, and Lee took home Spencer. We both made it back around eleven, then I took the Norman boys home.

I always try to keep that Andy Cheating message in my head…it’s easier than some other messages. Years ago I shared that with my old boss before he moved to Orlando, though he knew it wasn’t company policy to agree. The ogre I have to work with these days is a lifer…luckily he’s not my boss (he just loudly asked if I was typing War & Peace). Leaving yesterday at two is part of that cheating mentality, though I know I make up for it when I travel or work late. I used to have a position where I worked 7 – 4, which was nice…some at my old office now work 7:30 – 4:30…but we’re not a big flex time company. Funny…sometimes we run into people like that, with a completely different mentality.

Yesterday when I left our small parking lot was completely full…one guy had to park on the grass. First time.

Baseball Feelings

I tried to write that travel ball post from my perspective and beliefs. As a dad I’d love Will to go as far as he wants in baseball, but our family’s emotional/financial/etc. situation is such that we can’t commit the time and resources that’s expected to play the East Cobb baseball lifestyle, like Francoeur & McCann did. Those that do, that’s their choice. Will does have some great opportunities in his Living Science Servant Leader program…the payoff appears greater than pursuing baseball full time.

That last sentence sounds weird to say about a 14 year old, but that’s the reality in East Cobb. Like we said about the lack of African American ballplayers, it’s because baseball in America has become an expensive sport, like golf. This Sunday the AJC reported on the Walton, Dunwoody, and Holy Innocents baseball teams…all their players went straight from school ball to summer travel ball. It might be different if Will could drive, but our top priority isn’t to ferry Will to practices/games five days a week, and have me gone on weekends. But if Will doesn’t do this, it’ll be hard for him to make the team when he can drive.

The whole thing makes me less enthusiastic about youth sports. When I watch the Little League World Series, while TV portrays the boys as innocent youths, most teams practice/play year around, and Williamsport is one tourney of dozens they’ve traveled to. It’s a business! These days whatever a kid is interested in, there’s opportunity to devote all extra time to that pursuit. I liked the old days, when kids could be kids and play outside, etc. The boys on his travel team play football, and you can tell they’re not at the same level with those who play baseball year around. Will would like to play basketball, but timewise it’s a strain to do both.

Society today elevates children to a higher status than previous generations did…equal to parents? Pressure to conform to this frustrates me…it’s hard to ignore in East Cobb. I don’t have time enough to nurture my relationship with Ceil, much less manage a loaded social calendar for three children. I need to spend more alone time with Anna and Matthew as well. That and keep up a house, manage finances, etc. Life is busy for everyone, I know. I’m not the best at handling everything that comes our way…we’re thermometers, not thermostats.

Ceil and I have made choices…home schooling, her staying at home, me steering away from travel. This impacts all areas of family life. I hate to see Will’s baseball opportunities limited, but choices are hard. As a typical male, I know I’m still just skirting the ‘how do I feel’ region.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Hawks Drafting Horford?

With a paper in the office, I had just read the Bradley article this morning. One reason I read it was because both SI Kids (a few weeks ago) and now SI project the Hawks to pick Horford. Basketball is Bradley’s sport, so he’s a little more credible when he writes about it. Conley is supposedly not a number 3 pick, and Bradley explains why Conley wouldn’t be a good pick at three. Crittenton appears to have a good head on his shoulders, and Conley and the Texas A&M guy have more experience…all three could still be available when the next pick comes around. Josh Smith could blossom into a star, or he could be like Andruw…where people wonder if he’s getting the most from his talent. If we get Horford, that kinda blows the Sheldon Williams pick…but perhaps Horford is the best choice.

Sunday the Hawks debut their new uniforms, according to today’s Uni-Watch column.

Nice pitching matchup tonight. Though I’m taking Will on Monday, Matthew probably isn’t going because Will’s taking a bunch of friends. I haven’t ruled out the Sunday night game, because it will be one of Matthew’s few chances to see the Tigers. I took Will to see them several years ago, when Fick was playing for them.

The Chris Drury article was another good one from SI. I used to read them cover to cover…in college I’d read the whole thing the day it came. When I started working I finally subscribed, instead of reading the copy at Tech. Since them I’ve saved every copy. Since we’ve had kids I haven’t been reading everything…particularly hockey, horse-racing, boxing, and auto-racing. But I will read an article about a big personality in one of those sports. I’ve been doing a better job of ‘finishing’ an issue lately, but I’ve still got a few piled up. I’ll take a bunch to the beach.

Will did not win the HR derby…he only hit one, as did his friend Zach. Twelve-year olds only had to hit it into the outfield grass for a home run. He did win a fielding competition, where to advance to the next round you had to field more balls than you opponent without making an error. Then last night at practice his travel team had a HR derby on their big field…hitting from the second-base side of the pitcher’s mound. Only two homered…Will had six, another boy had five.

Sometimes I think I should go back and become an accountant…how much schooling would that take? I really only took accounting when I was at Dekalb, I think…the two quarters I went there when I flunked out of Tech. I made A’s in the accounting classes without much problem, which was good for me…I was never a great student. Our Accounting department will be moving to Chicago eventually…within the next two years, but perhaps it’s still something I should look in to.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Bluffton Baseball

The SI piece on the Bluffton U baseball team was heart-wrenching. Nice tidbit in there about Hank Aaron spending time in the hospital room talking to a boy in a coma. Too bad it was buried in that article…it’ll never be read by most people following the Bonds chase. Also a good article on Yao Ming.

I don’t know when / if our small group will meet again. The moms and kids are swimming together at least every other week, and the women celebrated a birthday. Most of the guys got together to watch game one of the NBA finals, and that went well. The Intimate Encounters study our small group was doing is over. Our leader Lee is ready to divide or end the group, but his wife and some of the other women want to keep going. Part of it has to do with difficulties some of the children are going through…three of the families have sons with troubling times…behavioral and medical (not including Matthew!).

There hasn’t been a great dollar movie, though the Sandra Bulloch one looked ok. Ceil took the kids to see Firehouse Dog, and maybe one other one as well. Anna reads the Nancy Drew books, so she was all over the movie. Did you know that actress is Julia Roberts’ niece?

When I fly I’m usually catching up on Sports Illustrated’s. I can’t believe all the people who fly and they just sit there with nothing to do. On the way to Houston I had an empty seat next to me, so I got out my laptop. I have a list of things I want to write about…most from my past. On the SF trip I’ll make sure my crowd brings books, games, iPods, etc. I make sure I have plenty to read and do when I travel. I enjoyed the Astros game, but the next night I would’ve been happy going back to the hotel as opposed to going out to dinner with a coworker. When I woke up Friday, HBO was showing old baseball footage from the 40s and 50s.

One of the ‘new’ guys in our office brings a paper every day, which is nice. Sometimes you miss things just going on, particularly other areas besides sports. Other times you’ve already read the article on line.

Good news / bad news…Will’s tourney in Conyers has been cancelled, so no long drives. He doesn’t play one last DH at home instead, on Saturday. I’ve finally been putting in the stats for the travel team for my own fun, and have just a few more to go. After the Sunday game one of the assistant coaches asked me if I’d done the stats…Will has been on his team before I knows I put them together. His son isn’t that bad, though he’s small, and is relegated to rightfield and the bottom of the order…but right now he’s third or fourth in OBP. Even though the competition is tougher, only a few have good numbers.

Grady Visit

Last night Anna, Matthew, and I took Ceil downtown to visit a friend in Grady…she has no health insurance (she’s getting better, they thought she might’ve had a stroke). We hit Northside Drive at 7:25 and ran into worse than usual traffic…I’d been expecting it to be bad due to the game, but it was worse than I thought. We dropped Ceil off and went to the Varsity. Usually they rush you through (or they did in the old days), but last night service was slow. So I listened to that first inning on the radio…Skip was put out by ESPN’s long commercial breaks.

Will got home around 11:45…I noticed the game ended around 10:15, I think. He said he won a HR derby at camp, but I don’t know if that was a big deal or not. When they took out James the other night, I checked the inning, thinking whether it was a quality start.

For a few years, due to what day July started, we were going to MB the week after July 4th, during the All-Star game. So the in-laws wouldn’t come for Will’s birthday, since they’d be seeing us in a day or two. There was also a big July 4th cookout they didn’t want to miss. But this year we got it back to the week after the All-Star game, which is better for everyone. The Pelicans aren’t in town that week, though.

I’m a sucker for the baseball all-star game, and the Monday night stuff. Watching it at home will be better for me, though I’ll be less productive. Guess I’ll do laundry those nights. I like the NBA all-star game and the night before stuff, even though it’s not real basketball.

We are having company for the 4th…Ceil’s old roommate. Her husband and 15-year old son are running the Peachtree with me and Will…so I may not be able to stop at SPdL this year (I need the rest!).

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Father's Day Weekend Recap

Plane landed around 7:15…got home around 8:30 Friday night. Ceil had taken the kids to see Nancy Drew…they didn’t get home until 9:30.

Saturday I took the kids grocery shopping while Ceil was cleaning/organizing. Will played at 5 pm and lost to a good team…he made several good plays at short.

Sunday Will and Anna cooked me breakfast, then Will had an 8:30 am game. He had thrown a bunch of pitches Thursday night, so he wasn’t on the top of his game Sunday. It was another good team, but the Titans scored three in the top of the first…Will singled and scored the first run. Then Will hit a batter and walked one, and gave up three runs. Then Will doubled and the Titans scored two, but Will hit the same guy and gave up two. He was finished after 4 innings with the score tied 5 – 5, and then they lost 8 – 5 after six. They don’t have any outfielders who’ll go get the ball…this cost them the game, thought the other team did hit well.

Will & I got home from the game before Ceil got home from church. She cooked tenderloin, then we didn’t do much…watched the US Open and Braves. Ceil took them swimming, then I played ball with them in the yard.

Anna and Matthew started Johnson Ferry Vacation Bible School Monday morning, with friends…they weren’t asked until after I had left for work that morning.

Will started a baseball camp with Matthew’s coach’s (Tim) two sons, the instructors are pretty good. Tim called me twice this morning with updates…last night I had told Tim things Will needed to work on…he’s been lunging at the ball and hitting popups, dropping his back shoulder, and not keeping his weight back. I’ve been working with him, and these coaches identified the same things this morning. Will only has one more weekend of games, but hopefully it’ll stick with him.

Wednesday Will is going to the Braves / Red Sox game with some teammates. They don’t have the best attitude, so we’re not wild about the idea. Nice pitching matchups today and tomorrow, but Wednesday it’s the number 5 starters.

Will’s been wanting to take a bunch of friends to a game with BRAVES painted on their chests, for his birthday. We may do that next week against the Nats. Interesting blog by DOB, concerning his cab ride with Hudson.

You’d think Bradley could come up with something else to talk about…luckily I missed the ESPN guys talking about it. Braves fans have their pick of 81 games to attend, while any Boston fan living in the Southeast knows for months in advance the three games they’re interested in. Thanks to the old Superstation days there are plenty of Braves fans wherever the Braves go. Sunday night it’ll be different with the Tigers in town. I thought about going, but the 8 pm start and all the commercials will keep me away, and I’m probably not alone.

That lefty sidewinder Boston brought in had good stuff…tough to bunt off him, so I forgive Woodward for bunting into a force at second. Rowland’s Office had earlier complained about the lack of execution/fundamentals, but that could be said for many teams. Thought the ESPN crew just looked at Poronto’s stats and started butchering him unfairly. You don’t bring in you best relievers when you have a huge lead or you’ll wear them out. Then the crew turned it around and was right saying Cox wanted McBride to finish the game so the aces could stay rested.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Webb Bridge Tourney Games One & Two

Will's Titans played one of the best teams in the state Saturday, a team from Roswell. One of the Titans' lesser ranked pitchers kept it close for the first three innings before the game got away, and they lost 11 - 0.

Will had a good game at shortstop, throwing out three runners at first. One was a nice backhand going into the hole, and on a grounder up the middle Will fielded the ball going to his left, stepped on the bag to force the runner, and threw to first to complete the double play. Will also made a quick slap tag on a base stealer for another out, just as the runner slid painfully into Will's leg.

Details on the Thursday 8 - 1 win: Will had at least two RBI, and finished the night going three for four...including the home run. He pitched four no-hit innings, striking out five and walking two, with 35 of his 64 pitches strikes.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Houston and Home Runs

Monday night I talked to Ceil about going to Houston, and she gave me the go ahead. I got in Tuesday to work to find an email from his coach…not the expected Friday game but tournament games Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday. I went ahead with the trip…it wouldn’t hurt to miss one of Will’s 60 games.

Wednesday am I walked in the airport at 5:50 for my 7:15 flight, and the security lines were back to the middle of the atrium. Made it to the B20 gate at 6:40. Didn’t push back until 7:40. Had an empty seat next to me on the plane, so I got out the laptop and polished up my emotional dumping piece on travel ball that I wrote in April…last night I posted it to the blog.

Great seats at the Astros game. The guy I’m training took his wife, who is a big fan. They’re pretty quiet, but aren’t big Clemens or Pettite fans. Found the lot where I had a parking pass, on the opposite side of the stadium from a bunch of fan stuff outside…so I didn’t walk around there, instead entering the park at 5:50. Didn’t bother trying to sell the fourth ticket. Walked around to the LF porch for Oakland’s BP…only a few balls were hit there, but I never got up from my seat. Walked around some more, and didn’t make it to my seat until the anthem was played. Robert and wife were already there. Row 9 on the outfield side of the 3B dugout.

Before every inning 3B coach Rene Lachman would toss a kid a ball. Jason Kendall got 3 hits, including his first HR of the year, barely into that LF porch. A few weeks ago in the pregame Pete ran down all the players who had yet to homer, and said Kendall was always on the list. Didn’t see the dugout scuffle between the angry Astros reliever who had blown the game and the starter, though I had a good view of the dugout. During the stretch, after “Take Me Out..,” they play “Deep in the Heart of Texas.”

After dinner last night I called home but no one answered at 10:30. No surprise…Ceil was going out with friends, Anna and Matthew were at the Earharts, and Will had his game. Cell phone was busy, so I called Will’s coach. He gave me the news…Will homered in his first at bat, a first-pitch drive of over 300 feet. Later Will told me he got 2 other hits and was robbed of a third. As I had suspected, he pitched and allowed no runs, struck out 5 or 6. They won 8 – 1.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

My Struggle With Travel Ball

Much has been written regarding today’s spoiled professional athlete, how coddled they are. High schoolers (and younger) are wooed onto elite teams and bestowed sneakers and other gear. Is this necessary? Where does this begin? Should this be avoided? How are you and I involved?

A recent AJC article glorified travel baseball and soccer as a family-building experience. The family interviewed spends thousands each season on each of their three children, aged 9, 11, and 14. They spend an overwhelming amount of time racing around to games and practices. Mom’s spreadsheet tracks games, practices, uniforms, carpools. Vacations were “merged” with out-of-state tournaments. Without time to worship corporately with other believers, Bible Study materials are sandwiched into the busy schedule. Relationships were built with parents of teammates.

Many boys hop from travel team to travel team each season, searching for more playing time or a better team, running from negative experiences on former teams. Dads have visions of sons making the coveted high school team, earning college scholarships, drafted by a major league team. Travel team coaches and paid baseball instructors boast of the scholarships and draftees they have produced.

Travel ball tournaments (most called “World Series”, “Classic”, and “National Championship”) are held several times a month, often on holiday weekends. Teams wind up playing the same teams they play in regular season games…regardless of where the tourney is held. My son’s Shaw Park team traveled to Cooperstown…and played a team from East Cobb (there were ten teams from the northwest Atlanta suburbs in that week’s NY tourney). A Gwinnett team traveled to a Disney Tourney only to face several other familiar Gwinnett teams. A far-away weekend tourney can be a fun experience, but when they’re once or twice a month they not only become a drag, they also take a toll on young pitcher’s arms.

Coaches slow the game by calling each pitch, and force adolescent boys to throw repeated curveballs…against the advice of professionals. Teams are decked out in multiple sets of expensive uniforms. Multiple sets are certainly needed for the number of games they play. But must they be so elaborate? Is it that the coaches want to field the best-dressed team? Are matching team warm-ups, practice jerseys, and batbags (all bankrolled by the parents) necessary? To me the simplest uniforms look the best.

Whether the boys themselves? I witness travel team players wearily emerge from the parking lot head down, dragging the huge team-issue batbag with their name sewn on. The AJC actually ran a photo of the featured boys in this exact pose. Most play the game lifelessly, without emotion, as if they’d rather be somewhere else. This is repeated three-to-four times a week, often twice on Saturday, and sometimes Sunday as well.

By comparison, Rec Leagues play twenty games or less. The players are less apt to hop from league to league, and instead often play together season after season. This allows boys (and their parents, and even siblings) to develop deeper friendships. There are more smiling faces. Players miss games because of other important activities…Boy Scouts, academic testing, church retreats. A loss is not the end of the world.

Despite what you hear from the travel teamers, the level of play is not that much lower in rec leagues. You see the same mental errors in travel games. Pitching differences are not significant. There may be better athletes positioned as outfielders, but often they’re brooding because they’re not playing shortstop…and play suffers.

Girls have Gymnastics, Irish Dance, Ballet, Cheerleading, Horseback Riding Competitions, etc. Whatever happened to children playing after school, in the neighborhood, using their imaginations, building forts, playing house, riding bikes? Must each child’s activity be pursued for endless hours and dollars?

Families are certainly free to live life the way they see fit. My brother’s two children played soccer year-around from an early age. All four even refereed matches. Soccer even led them to take a trip to Europe. My nephew played on the high school team. Tutorials could be found around the house, primers on the multiple steps necessary to get college coaches to take notice. This fall he enters a small private out-of-state college on a partial scholarship, with hopes to transfer to a larger university after a few years. Where the time and money spent worth it?

The Burn-Out Factor. Do eight-year olds really need to play a sixty game season? Grooved “home-run” swings are taught to Pinto leaguers to take advantage of the short fences in coach-pitch leagues. But when the boy advanced to kid-pitch ball he doesn’t have the tools to hit normal pitching. The boy is washed up – at nine! Others tire from playing so many games at an early age, tire of grownups barking needless commands, and turn to IPods, skateboards, Playstations, or girls.

Experts say a child learns confidence by experiencing success at an activity. What defines success? If a child sticks to a single activity their entire childhood, most eventually plateau and progress no further. Does this defeat outweigh the previous positive experiences? Would it not be better to develop success and competency in numerous activities? Few become big leaguers, few become concert pianists. Better to reach adolescence, college, and the real world armed with the tools to excel in the classrooms of high school, college, and life.

The Bible teaches that the relationship between husband and wife should be the preeminent part of the family. If the parents have a strong and secure relationship, the children draw strength and security from that relationship and are able to develop normally themselves.

Instead parents often focus on career and their children’s activities, putting them ahead of their relationship with each other. Children then begin to place an increased sense of importance on themselves, thinking they’re more important than others around them, instead of learning to treat others as more important than themselves.

Is this increased sense of importance brought on by parents and coaches not the first step in a child becoming a coddled athlete? Is this the only way to produce an elite athlete?

Necessary Arrogance? Chipper Jones has often said an athlete needs a “necessary arrogance” to perform on the highest stages, meaning one must possess self-confidence and determination to excel under difficult circumstances, to succeed after past failures. This may be true. But the athlete’s loved ones are real people who must live with that arrogant athlete, who are effected by the actions of that athlete. Often left behind is a trail of broken relationships and single parent homes. While this happens in all areas of life, could it all be traced back to the “I’m most important” attitude being ingrained in today’s youth?

I am certainly not a model husband and father. I do see the ideal and “strive” toward the goal of leading my wife and family, and to serve God, wife, family, and others. There can be different paths to the goal…some harder, some less traveled. The makeup of my family and marriage does not lend itself to the travel ball path. For that I have no regrets…other things are just more important to me. My wife has often said if God wants my son to play baseball, He must have another way to get him there. More important are the relationships and lessons learned along the way – best from a variety of experiences.

Living in East Cobb, I’m certainly in the minority. I’d like to think it’s not because I’m cheap, but instead believe families and individuals are meant to focus more time on other activities. If a partial college scholarship or professional baseball are such long shots, the time and money would be better spent on higher return investments.

Case Study #1: My son played rec ball exclusively until he was about to turn thirteen. Blessed with a great attitude and athletic ability (mom’s side of the family!), he loved the game and worked hard to excel. He always loved fielding, and the “hit-a-way” device improved his hitting. With a late birthday, after playing at the Bronco level as a ten year-old, he moved up to the 13 – 14 year Pony League as an eleven year old. Though the smallest on the field, he rose to the challenge of playing at a higher level.

More than anything else, making this move was key to his development as a baseball player. At 13 he was able to fill in for the 15 – 17 year-old Colt team last fall…batting leadoff. Now he stands out all the more playing with and against travel teams his age. But at this point playing with and against boys his age will not aide his development.

Travel coaches want him on their team for their own best interests at heart: visions of tournament championships…not to coach and instruct him up to a high school / college / pro level. That’s what private tutors are paid for, I suppose.

Case study # 2: Brian McCann and Jeff Francoeur went the travel team route. McCann’s dad was a baseball tutor. Francoeur starred for Parkview in football and baseball. Their focus was on athletics. Their families had the resources to go this route. The recent SportSouth special on Francoeur detailed how his mother returned to work not long after Jeff began playing travel ball. As the baby of the family, when Jeff’s older siblings moved on, perhaps that left more parental time to drive to distant games and practices. McCann and Francoeur beat the long odds. All the talent and hard work has paid off for them, financially at least.

Both played East Cobb baseball. The Braves’ recent number one draft pick did as well, singing the praises of the tough competition, much tougher than high school. He played with East Cobb even though he lived over an hour away in Henry County. High school coaches encourage players to play summer and fall ball. Summer ball schedules can consist of daily games and travel throughout the South, and further…Puerto Rico, Charleston, Nashville, Cincinnati, and further.

Case Study # 3: A very family-oriented friend’s daughter decides to try soccer, and friends steer her into a competitive travel league. Time commitments are greatly understated. After a couple of seasons an injury gives the pre-teen time to reflect, and decides to give up the sport. Coaches meet with administrators, racking their brain on their perceived “failure”: What did they do to lose this girl? They could not understand that a family could have other priorities and interests.

African-American groups bemoan the lack of their race in Major League Baseball. Though an inner-city youth has basketball leagues available at an early age, and football can be picked up in middle school, the few rec baseball leagues available lack the developmental aspects of travel ball. Since few African-American youths play constant baseball year after year like their white and Latin-American peers, even fewer advance to colleges or the professional ranks. Like golf and tennis, baseball in America is becoming a sport of the rich.

To develop an elite baseball player in America today, is there an alternative to travel ball? I really wonder.


Pre Weekend...Ceil wants me to do something with Matthew, since he's been kinda neglected lately, I guess...going through a rough spell. I've been trying to get out in the driveway with him as much as possible. All the kids and sometimes Ceil play "baseball" with a tennis ball and racket. Perhaps we can go to the Braves game.

No tourney game in Ellijay tonight, and the games up there tomorrow are at 1:45 and 3:30. The Sunday games start at 10:45, but depending on seeding, the first game could be 12:30 or 2:15, with the final game at 4 pm. They sure don't have a long time limit. One of the better hitters is hurt, and one of the best pitchers won't be there tomorrow. I have no idea how Will's coach decides who pitches, though he's spread it out pretty even. Guess he's trying to give the weaker pitchers as much experience as possible, to better ready them for these tourneys,when lots of arms are needed. It would be great if they could save Will for Sunday, but I don't know if that's possible.

Last night picking up Will at his pool party, my friend Lee picked up a young lad and was about to throw him in the pool when my friend Lee was pushed in the pool. Later I tried to push Will’s friend/teammate Andrew, but he was wet and shirtless, and therefore slippery. I quickly gave up, so I wouldn’t be pushed in. Andrew’s dad David showed up and tried to throw another dad Jeff in, but gave up, not wanting to be thrown in himself. Next week I’ll get Ceil to pick Will up.

Got to work hard...a project I've been putting off is due.

Ellijay Bobcat "Classic"

The Titans lost all three games they played this weekend up at the Ellijay tournament,
scoring a total of only six runs. Will played well, accounting for half those runs.

Saturday they lost game one 5 – 3 to Milton. Will reached base all three times he batted, including a double off the right field line. He had the only stolen base of the game, and scored a run. Will played shortstop the entire game and had 2 putouts and 2 assists. One grounder was hit up the middle, and the ball was deflected off the pitcher’s glove toward Will. He had to charge in and barehand the ball, before firing to first to retire the batter.

The results of the first day of the tournament determined the seedings for Sunday’s single elimination games. When the Titans fell behind 4 – 0 in the second inning of Saturday’s second game, that sealed the deal that the best pitchers would be saved for the more important Sunday games. Little Colin game in and pitched well in relief, only allowing two runs in three innings.

Will caught the entire game. In the first inning Cartersville’s faster runner reached first and took off on a steal of second on the first pitch. Will gunned him down to end the inning. Cartersville put 17 more runners on base, but no more stolen bases were attempted the entire game.

In the third inning Cartersville had runners on second and third with no out. Coach Dore pulled the infield in. The next batter grounded to Audi at short. The throw was low and to Will’s right. Blocking the plate, Will caught the ball on the short hop and turned left just in time to tag out the sliding runner. The next better hit a fly ball to left field. Kendle caught the fly and fired home. The runner on third tagged and raced home. The throw was strong and was going to bounce once and come up right to Will’s midsection. But when the ball hit the dirt it bounced off to the side at an angle. Will had to make a quick adjustment to make the catch. The runner came in and did not slide, instead trying to bowl Will over. Will braced himself and took the blow as he tagged out the runner to end the inning, and wasn’t even knocked down.

Will had another putout in the fifth. The runner on second tried to score on a two-out single to left. The left-fielder’s throw beat the runner by a couple of steps. This runner didn’t slide either, and tried to elbow Will as he made the tag. It was a hot day with a cloudless sky, and the occasion mountain breeze only stirred up dust from the all dirt infield.

Afterwards we all ate at a good BBQ place. When we returned home that evening I thought my dark feet were sunburned, but they turned out to only be covered in dust. And all I did was sit for two games! The dust also inflicted me with a mild bout of asthma.

Sunday the Titans played the Mustangs from Adairsville Georgia. In the heat Will pitched another gem: Five innings and only one hit allowed, seven strikeouts against three walks. His only trouble game in the second: the cleanup batter hit the first pitch of the inning for a ground rule double, then Will hit the next batter. Will struck out the next batter, but the runners advanced on a passed ball. Then the umpire called a balk on Will, allowing one runner to score. The other runner scored on a groundout before Will struck out the next batter to end the inning.

Will threw 85 pitches in five innings. The Titans led 3 – 2, thanks to Will’s two-out fifth-inning double down the left-field line that drove in two runners.

Needing only three outs to win, the Titan’s hearts were broken in the bottom of the sixth inning. The leadoff batter grounded out to Will at shortstop. The next batter hit the ball in the air to left field. The left-fielder took two steps in to catch the ball, but then stopped and let the ball bounce, allowing the tying run to reach base. With the runner on second the next batter hit a high fly ball to deep left-center. This time the left-fielder hustled after it. The ball hit off his glove and fell to the ground. The left-fielder did fire the ball to cutoff man Will in short left-field. Will wheeled and fired home, but not in time to nail the runner. Now the winning run was on third base. The next batter hit a weak grounder in the hole that the third-baseman couldn’t get to, and by the time Will gloved it, the winning run had scored.

Will was more quiet than usual on the way home, and he took a long nap that afternoon, instead of going swimming. He thought things would be different on the travel team, where he would be just one of several talented players…but his frustration showed when teammates couldn’t make plays in the field or avoid baserunning mistakes.

Last Weekend

I booked a quick business trip to Houston Tuesday morning. The guy inHouston was checking to see if the company seats were already doled out, and he emailed me that I get the company seats. I'll be there therest of the week.

So Friday night Matthew and I went to McDonalds for a happy meal, Petsmart to look at the animals and stuff, Fuzzywiggs to look atWebkinz, Wendys for a frosty, and Kroger. Got home and saw Soriano had three home runs, with 2 or 3 at bats to go. Had he hit a fourth I would've killed myself for not going.

Will and Anna (and I) then watched the SportsSouth coach's corner on Mark Richt, talking about his wife's cancer, his son being recruited,about Bobby Bowden leading him to Christ. Bowden and Dooley also were interviewed. Saturday night after the Braves game they aired the much-advertised special on Francoeur...pretty good, taking him from boyhood to his ML debut.

Sunday night we had our last small group, this time dinner at our leader's house in east Roswell/south Alpharetta.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Clete Boyer

Interesting that a sportswriter wrote the Clete Boyer obit...I hadn't noticed. Last year I saw Boyer holding court in Cooperstown, signing autographs in front of one of the numerous memorabilia shops on Main Street.

Little League has kept us so busy that I've only made it to one Braves games so far this year. In August we're going to SF, and have tickets to a Giants/Pirates game.

Yearwood quit Genuine Parts after all these years and is now working over here near me, near Gwinnett Place Mall. We haven't had lunch yet.

Good article in SI on Tony LaRussa, about all he's been through in his career and this year...having to call Hancock's father to tell him his son had died. Also since he and Tigers manager Jim Leyland used to coach together and are still buddies, that may have been the reason why LaRussa didn't press the umpires in last year's World Series about pitcher Kenny Rogers having a foreign substance on his pitching hand.

It would probably do Andruw some good to sit out a game or two. Diaz and Harris have been doing so good that they don't need Escobar out there this year...maybe next if Andruw leaves. Salty is throwing out so many runners trying to steal, but he'd be the logical choice to move to first. You'd hate to lose either Escobar or Salty, but you wonder who would go if/when the Braves trade for a starter. Could/should happen by the end of July. They'll give Cormier another couple of starts first. It'll be harder to make a trade until late July...right now not many teams have given up on the season and are not yet willing to make trades. They have more minor league prospects that could be traded.

Will you watch the Spurs/Cavs tonight? I doubt it will be a sweep, but I predict the Spurs will win. LeBron has had a good run and have some momentum, but not enough to go all the way.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Another Ground-Rule Double

Will’s Titans lost last night 10 – 6 to a good Alpharetta Eagles team. Will reached base all three times.

In the bottom of the first Audi came up to bat and hit a long drive to left-center. The ball bounced once and hit near the top of the fence, and Audi cruised into second with a stand-up double.

I was talking and making the notes of this in my scorebook as Will came to the plate. My head was still down as I heard Will’s bat connect with the first pitch…another long drive to the same spot in left-center. Will’s hit bounced once and hopped over the fence for an RBI ground-rule double, his second of the year. These are the only two ground-rule doubles I’ve ever heard of on this big field by a Pony player.

Will walked on four pitches his next time up, and he stole second base. Then the catcher tried to pick Will off second, but the throw bounced into short centerfield, allowing Will to advance to third. Will scored on a wild pitch.

Later in the game Will walked again on four pitches, and again stole second. Then his fake steal was convincing enough for the catcher to throw to third. The ball glanced off the third-baseman’s glove and rolled toward the shortstop. I heard my breath as Will dashed toward third, knowing the alert shortstop would make a good play. Will was able to slide in headfirst just ahead of the tag.

Will made four key defensive plays in the field. He played the first two innings at third, but didn’t have a ball hit to him. But while a runner was on third, a pitch sailed to the backstop, only to bounce back close to Trey, the catcher. The runner had broken toward home but stopped when he saw the ball bounce back. Trey threw to Will, who threw back to Trey, who threw back to Will. The runner was keeping a good distance from the player with the ball, but Will charged and ran down the runner to apply the tag.

The rest of the game Will played shortstop. With a runner on first the batter hit a high bouncer. Will knew if he charged he would have to field the ball on a very short hop, and would be in no position to throw to second. Instead he quickly backpedaled and caught the ball on a better bounce, though it was still a tough catch. He then fired a quick hard strike to the second-baseman for the force at second. Though it wasn’t much of a double-play ball, little Daniel wheeled and threw to first and barely missed getting the second out. Later Will made a nice low backhanded catch of a sharply hit grounder…one of two batters he threw out at first.

Matthew’s teammate Alex and his dad came to the game just to watch Will play, which was nice.

Last Saturday the Titans won both games of a doubleheader, and Will hit several hard line drives and made a few good plays in the field, including a clutch catch of a foul popup while catching. But he was involved in an interesting play: While on third base the suicide squeeze play was signaled. Will got a good jump and raced home. The pitch was low and outside, but Jared was able to bunt the pitch just foul. Jared took one step toward first and was knocked over by Will’s slide into home plate. Had Jared not fouled the pitch, Will would’ve easily been safe with a steal of home.

Wild Horses

We all froze when we saw the first group of wild horses on Cumberland Island. I may have written about being alone in the middle of a field when that happened.

Later in the day we were walking through the forest on a small road when several wild horses came walking up, going the other way. All we could do was stand on the side of the road and watch them pass (and snap pictures!). One of the smaller horses appeared to be an albino.

Build-A-Bears A-Plenty

Yesterday we got the shipment of the five MLB build-a-bear team mascots that we won in a sweepstakes. It was first prize…the grand prize was an airline trip to a MLB game. It was a ‘enter once’ sweepstakes. The kids were excited...they got the Phillie Phanatic, the Cardinals Fredbird, the Red’s Gapper, the Indians Slider, and the Giants Lou Seal.

That tantrum by the Mississippi Braves manager was something. JF and Cox seem to be standing by the guy…I thought they might fire him. The Braves are about the only team to have most all of their minor league teams still wearing the same unis as the big club. In this case that’s a negative. The unis and team names could change in the near future, as Liberty said they’ll probably sell the teams and contract with the new owners. It could also spell the end of the relationship with Richmond, and then they could have a closer AAA team. That could upset the cart of the long-standing International League.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Cumberland Mansion Ruins

Note the right side of this picture lines up with the left side of the picture below. This is a big place! Take the road to the left (east) and the Atlantic is a mile away.

This weekend I received three disks full of each of Matthew and Will, and another of Matthew's team, set to music.

Eleven Strikeouts

Friday night Will pitched his best game ever, striking out 11 batters in 4-2/3 innings. The Titans played at Sandy Plains Park, against the Prowlers, their top Pony travel team. Many of the Titans played with the Prowlers last year and attend the same schools, so both teams wanted to win bad. Even with a doubleheader scheduled for the next morning, Titans Coach Dore penciled in his best two pitchers: Plemmons and Murphy. The Prowlers countered with their best, lefty Tyler Seaman.

The Titans came out of the gate strong in the top of the first, scoring six runs in the top of the first. But five of the runs were unearned, and I knew this was to be a tough game. Plemmons allowed just one run in the bottom of the first, but it came when Seaman’s long line drive hit the right-centerfield fence in the air.

After Seaman held the Titans scoreless in the second, Plemmons ran into trouble with the bottom of the Prowlers order…walking four and allowing a single. All five of these runners scored. Will was brought in to pitch with one out and struck out 2 batters to end the inning, but only after Seaman’s two-out popup landed in between three Titan fielders. Sandy Plains now led 7 – 6.

Seaman continued to shut down the Titans, striking out 7 of the 23 batters he faced in his 4 innings on the mound. He walked four and allowed four hits, but just one of the seven runs he allowed was earned. Of his 94 pitches, 60.6% were strikes. But two more Prowler errors allowed the Titans to tie the game in the fourth.

But Will’s even more dominant pitching turned the momentum the Titans’ way, striking out the side the next 2 innings…5 in a row, and 4 straight looking.

In the top of the fifth the wind began to blow and sky thundered, and we could feel a drop or two of rain. Would this fine game a washed out? With one out Will fouled off a couple of pitches to work the count full, then took ball four to draw a walk. Will took second on a wild pitch, but Bryce’s fly to center was caught for the second out. Chris then singled up the middle, and the centerfielder charged the ball and fired home as Will rounded third and raced home. The throw was just off the mark, and Will slid in safely with the go ahead run.

Seaman led off the bottom of the fifth, and Will’s first two pitches were strikes. But then Seaman was able to hit a grounder just under the first-baseman’s glove into right-field for a single. It would be the only real hit that Will would allow. The big cleanup hitter then worked the count full, but Will got him to go down swinging for the first out. Seaman had advanced to second on a passed ball, but when he tried to stead third he was tagged out on a close play. The next batter had hit 4 home runs last year in a Cooperstown game, but this time could only pop out weakly to the first baseman in foul territory.

After a scoreless top half, Will continued his dominance in the bottom of the sixth. He struck out the first batter and got the second to dribble weakly to first, then struck out the third batter to finish the game.

It was undoubtedly Will’s finest pitching performance, besting his three perfect innings in Roswell earlier this year. He faced 18 batters in 4-2/3 innings, striking out 11 and walking none. Of his 73 pitches, 71% were strikes. No balls were hit hard off him.

But it never rained, at least not at our house.

Cumberland Ruins

Once an incredible mansion, site of summer parties and weddings. We had just walked south through the forest to the southern tip of the island and came out to this clearing. This is the north face of the mansion.

Nuevo Laredo Cantina

This is the Mexican place not far off Howell Mill, past the outlets. Good food not too different from Jalisco’s, huge portions. Great people watching…all varieties of people…students, professionals, no kids when we were there at 8 pm. We ran into Linda (Hal’s wife) and her daughter, who’s now at the University of Maryland (she did have a varsity soccer scholarship, but was injured). Ceil had taught her in a 2-year old SPdL SS class (maybe it was second grade?).

Directions…Piedmont to 85 South…North on 75…Exit Howell Mill…Right on Chattahoochee Avenue…Continue about a mile…it’s on the right. I hear it's one of Lang's favorites.

I'm starting to feel the pressure of planning out the SF trip detail. We are also returning on the redeye...taking off around 9 pm SF time and landing around 5 am. I knew it would be a killer, but we get a full last day. I'm resigned to having a rental car for most of the time, since public transportation fares will rack up for the five us anyway. Last night I had Anna and Matthew next to me as I looked at some web sites. Matthew said he wants to go see the Cubs, not the Giants and Pirates.

Sunday Will won the one award Mt. Paran gives, for the player with the best example / attitude...out of over 300 players. Twenty minutes after he was the hero of the game he was dumping out kitty litter.

See Salty's debut at first yesterday? Early jitters, but that throw to second is as tough as it gets. Nice dive...he should be ok. Coworker Randy is extending a business trip to see relatives in Milwaukee, and says he's going to a Brewers/Giants game. Lang is headed to San Antonio for the Finals.

It will be a typical week for the Murphys...
...Monday Ceil and I are eating Italian at the coach's dinner.
...Tuesday Will has a game.
...Thursday I'm supposed to go out with the small group guys.
...this weekend Will plays in a tourney in Ellijay, so we'll see if we get to see any of the mountains.

Monday, June 04, 2007

In the Titans Dugout

Will Wins Killian Owen Award

The Little League Will and Matthew play in was created by the Mt. Paran Church of God, and has always emphasized Christian values. Coaches are encouraged to share weekly devotions with their team, each game begins and ends with both teams praying at home plate, and values like sportsmanship and fair play are held in as high esteem as winning. Mt. Paran has over 300 boys playing on at least 23 teams in six age groups.

Several years ago the league began honoring one player who exemplifies these Mt. Paran values, the Killian Owen Award. Killian was a Mt. Paran player who died from cancer several years ago. Killian’s older brother Pierce has been a teammate of Will’s. Ceil’s long-time friend, former roommate, and matron of honor Dawn is a cousin of Killian’s father. Last year’s winner was little James Whittington, a tiny boy with diabetes who played on Matthew’s 2005 Rivercats team. Several weeks ago the League President posted these qualifications for the award:

We are looking for a child that has a love for the game of baseball, but also more importantly is a light to all those around him or her. A Child that is always ready to spread happiness and joy even in the toughest of times. A child that readily lends a helping hand to his or her teammates and coaches without being asked.

Last night at the End of Season Celebration they announced Will as this year’s Killian Owen Award winner, in front of all the players, parents, and coaches of all the teams. The president said that Will had been nominated by several coaches, and had also been nominated in previous years as well. He said Will was an example of what Mt. Paran baseball is all about, and he is a fine example for the younger players, who Will frequently works and plays with.