The game of baseball shall produce the good, the bad and the ugly

In the last few weeks three events took place in the sport of baseball. One was on the professional level, one in college with the most disturbing one happening at a little league game played by 7-year-olds.

That is the order in which I will share the events. We’ll start with the good, go to the bad and finish with the little kids. This one may be more disturbing than ugly, but I feel it should be reported on.

THE GOOD! Eight years ago, Albert Pujols entered the world of free agency. He had spent his entire career with the St. Louis Cardinals, a career that was amazing and will undoubtedly result in a call from baseball’s Hall of Fame.

I have a friend who is a big Cardinals fan and I asked him at the time how much St. Louis should pay to keep the big slugger. His response was classic: “they should back the Brink’s truck up to his house.”

Well, that didn’t happen and Pujols signed with the Angels for a hefty sum of money. He went to a different league and hadn’t returned to play in St. Louis until recently. What kind of reception did Cardinal fans give to their former superstar? Let’s take a look.

Cardinal fans have long been recognized as the most knowledgeable in baseball. They applaud a groundout from one of their faithful if it moves a runner along. They know the game. But they were spurned by Pujols and that had to sting. Cleveland fans know the feeling with LeBron. Packer fans with Brett Favre.

Eight years is a long time for unhappiness to ease and the Cardinal faithful found it within themselves to shower love on Albert Pujols. He received standing ovations each game and another when he hit a home run in his last at-bat in the series finale.

The homer only cut the Angel deficit as St. Louis went on to win. That may have had something to do with their reaction. I think however, Cardinal fans showed a lot of class. They remembered what Pujols had done for their baseball fortunes. They also remembered what an outstanding citizen he was off the field.

The whole thing was good and made me smile.

THE BAD! I watched the College World Series this year with more than a casual interest. Former New Riegel graduate Michael Kirian is a pitcher for the Louisville Cardinals. Though I retired before he came along, I did teach his father Gene.

So naturally I was pulling for Louisville. When the Cardinals took on Vanderbilt in an elimination game I was glued to the TV set. Luke Smith started on the bump for Louisville and pitched quite well until things became, well, bad.

After striking out a Commodore hitter for the last out in the eighth inning, Smith went over the line. He dropped some F-bombs on the hitter as he left the mound. Smith said he was celebrating the strikeout, but even the announcers thought he had gone too far.

I couldn’t help but think two things. One was the fact that he was certainly going to fire up his opponent with his behavior. The other was the message he was sending to kids watching in Omaha or on TV. The former made me think about my own coaching experiences.

When I coached girls basketball at New Riegel in the early 1980s, we played in a couple of holiday tournaments. We arrived in time to watch the first game and my kids started openly rooting for one of the teams. Their logic was innocent enough — they liked one teams’ uniforms, or they had a really short girl — but I’m thinking that we don’t want to antagonize a potential opponent the following night.

My players didn’t stop cheering as they were simply having fun and thought their coach should relax. When Smith went a little overboard I was wondering what his coach thought about his antics. He went back out for the ninth nursing a one-run lead and promptly gave it up.

I hope kids watching his verbal outburst do not assume that it’s a proper way to behave. They do tend to imitate what they see… Whether college athletes want to accept the mantle or not, they are role models to kids. Hopefully, the coach has had a talk with Smith, as well as his teammates, and this type of behavior won’t happen again.

This was a bad situation and made me sad.

THE UGLY! When kids go outside and engage in playful games it is a scene that makes an observer happy. Many times things are just fine until “adults” enter the picture.

That was the case recently in Colorado when two 7-year-old teams met for a baseball game. It seems some of the parents in attendance became unhappy with the calls made by an umpire. It should be noted that the umpire was a 13-year-old!

Well the unhappiness quickly escalated into shouting matches and ultimately led to a brawl. The game was halted, police were called and the two teams will no longer get to play for the remainder of the season. The “adults” will go to court for prosecution.

How does this happen? For starters, I would suggest that the outcome of a baseball game played by little kids isn’t nearly as important as many parents seem to believe. Of course, you want your children to be successful, but you can take that too far. Playing sports is a good way to teach young people how to handle adversity. They will certainly experience many negative moments in their lives and in far more important areas than playing a game.

I wonder how the parents feel about their own behavior in this ugly situation. I hope they have learned a lesson and have used the experience as a teaching moment for their kids.

Games are meant to be fun and that is what the youngsters will not experience again this summer. Parents meanwhile should keep their eye on the ball as you are the biggest role models in your children’s lives.

Al Stephenson is a columnist for The Advertiser-Tribune.

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