Wednesday, June 28, 2017

There's No Crying in Baseball

Clearly Jimmy Dugan, Tom Hanks' character in "A League of Their Own," never coached in a YMCA league. If he had, he never would have never claimed that "there's no crying in baseball."

My son is playing his first season of player-pitch baseball this summer, and we're encountering some growing pains. He's actually done better than I thought with the idea of being selective at the plate (especially with a wild pitcher), but that doesn't mean it's always good.

Take Friday night's game.  We're facing a pitcher who's struggling to get the ball to the plate, and when he does, it's usually with an "eephus pitch" that happens to drop down right over the plate.  It's not any evil strategy on the other team's part; it's the only way this boy can get the ball to go 45 feet in the air.  But it's frustrating for the boys on my son's team.

Adding to the frustration is an umpire who decides to have a huge strike zone that's much larger than what the boys have dealt with in previous weeks.  I recognized this problem when I watched a pitch land six inches next to the plate being called a strike. Eventually, my son got his at bat.  He took a couple of pitches that went wide, then took a strike. He was still fine, though he was a little unsure of himself so he swung at a pitch he probably shouldn't have.  Then came an inside pitch that he didn't swing at.

Strike three.

It should have been ball four, but not with this umpire. The umpire explained to my son that the ball crossed the edge of the plate, and my son tried to explain the he thought the ball almost hit him.  Finally he slowly walked away, and I could see the look of heartbreak in his eyes.  I slowly walked up to the backstop, and the tears were flowing.  I tried to tell him it was OK, but I realized it was going to take much more than that.

So I walked around the backstop and into the dugout to give him a hug. As the inning ended, the rest of his team went out to the field, but he had already drawn the short straw as the player who had to sit out while the other team batted.  (Eleven players on his team that night; only nine position players needed on the field at a time.)

So we hugged.  He kept repeating how the pitch almost hit him and how unfair that the pitcher was throwing these "curve balls".  I mostly listened, but then started explaining that sometimes things don't go your way. If the umpire is calling that a strike, then that's the rule of the game...whether you like it or not.

And really, isn't that the way life is? Things aren't always fair.  Sometimes the rules change based on who is interpreting them.  It happens in school.  It happens at work.  It happens in your personal life.

Saturday afternoon, I showed my son the replay of the called third-strike that replay showed was about a foot off the plate.  I pointed out that umpires and referees are human too and make mistakes.

I make no presumptions about my son being any sort of athlete; he certainly doesn't get any talent from my genes. We're doing this for fun, and while that strikeout wasn't fun, I think he may have learned a little on Friday night.

The good thing is that he didn't dwell on it for long.  After I realized that discussing the situation wasn't stemming the tears, I decided to change the subject.  We started to play catch in the dugout; usually that's not such a good idea, but he needed a distraction.  The smile came back, and when he got another turn at bat, he beat out an infield single.

That, and a clean fielding play in the outfield were the highlights of his weekend on the diamond. It may have started with tears, but ended up with smiles.

And that's why we're doing this.  He had fun, and maybe he's learning something as well.  That makes it good for both of us.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Tanner Lee Pre-Season Hype May Have Gone Too Far

I happened to glance at Twitter Saturday afternoon, and a Tweet from the Omaha World-Herald caught my eye.
I clicked on the link, and my jaw hit the floor.  The results?

33% said Tanner Lee would be a first team All-Big Ten honoree
35% said he would be second team
19% said he would be third team
13% said he wouldn't be an all-Big Ten honoree

Internet polls are infamous for their unreliability, but frankly, the very premise of the question seems unrealistic to me. Why is that? I simply go back to Lee's statistics from Tulane:  53% completion percentage, 23 touchdowns, 21 interceptions. Yet, 87% of respondents think he's going from being an AAC washout to one of the best quarterbacks in the Big Ten.

For comparison sake, Tommy Armstrong completed 52% of his passes his first two seasons with 31 touchdowns and 20 interceptions.  Armstrong's passer efficiency was in the 120's; Lee's never topped 110.

Let's take it a step further: all spring long, the coaches kept saying how close the battle was between Lee and Patrick O'Brien, a redshirt freshman who's never played one down of college football.  So if we are to believe that Lee is an all-conference candidate going into this season, then Patrick O'Brien would also be a candidate for all-Big Ten honors, if he were to play.

As a redshirt freshman.

And then there are the other quarterbacks in the league:  Penn State's Trace McSorley, Michigan's Wilton Speight and Ohio State's J.T. Barrett are all more accomplished quarterbacks than Lee.  Heck, I'd even argue that Indiana's Richard Lagow, Northwestern's David Thorson and even Purdue's David Blough (with upgraded coaching) have all proven more than Lee thus far.

Nothing would be more fun than to have Tanner Lee live up to these lofty expectations; if Lee plays at that level, then Nebraska is a serious contender, if not the favorite, to win the Big Ten west. So for goodness sake, I'd love it if the hype pans out.

But I'm having too much difficulty to reconcile what Lee has actually accomplished and what people are expecting. Are the fans and media setting Tanner Lee up to fail with unreasonable expectations?  What if Tanner Lee is simply a quarterback with good fundamentals who simply throws like Tommy Armstrong without the mobility.

How fast will fans turn on him if he doesn't deliver a west championship and all-conference honors?