Saturday, June 30, 2012

Cooperstown Dreams Park: The Book that Sums Up the Experience

Josh Berkowitz, a Jewish dad and diehard Boston Red Sox fan from Massachusetts, wrote a book about an unlikely youth baseball team that competed in the premiere U10 national tournament at Cooperstown Dreams Park, in Cooperstown, NY. Josh was the coach of this unique team.

My son, Nic, played in the U12 version of this premiere event two years ago. My site is loaded with information about the Cooperstown Dream Park tournament. Countless parents and coaches, from many teams across the country, visit my site every month to read my CDP information. Visits to this content make up a significant portion of the 40,000 or so pageviews I get each month.  I guess that is why Josh reached out to me to review his book.

In the book, Josh writes about how fear held him back in life, so I am wondering how he mustered up the courage to ask me, a Catholic Yankee fan, to review his book. That takes some guts. I have nothing against Jewish people whatsoever, but I have a strong bias against Red Sox fans so a positive review was not a given.

Regardless, Josh's publisher sent me a copy of the book. The postman delivered it on Friday as an ominous dark cloud passed over my house. Then strong winds followed shortly. I could sense something foreboding. I got up to take a look and then went outside to take down the umbrella that covers our backyard table. I saw the mail truck fight the wind while leaving my development. I ran around to the front of the house to get the mail hoping to get there before the rains poured down. I had to hold on to my Yankee hat as I made my way. I could hear wood from nearby trees creaking under the pressure, almost screaming in pain against the forceful wind. This spooked me a bit. I quickly grabbed the mail which contained a small package, some bills and a letter from Mitt Romney that happened to blew out of my hand. I ran after the letter even though Mitt is probably a damn Boston Red Sox fan too.

The winds continued to intensified. Trees started to fall and electric and cable lines fell to the ground. I ran back to the house and suddenly found myself alone with no electricity, no internet and no cable TV. It would remain that way for 2 days. I did have a small white package to open.

I watched my American flag struggle to hold on to the pole as I ripped open the package. I considered getting the flag down, while I pulled the book called Third Base For Life: A Memoir of Fathers, Sons and Baseball by Josh Berkowitz from the envelope. I looked at the flag again. It was not safe to go outside, so I decided to let the flag fend for itself. The house was still bright from natural light, so I grabbed a Yuengling beer and I started to read the words of the Red Sox fan with some reluctance.

The book opens on the first day of school at Rashi, a private Jewish Day School in Newton, Massachusetts. A place where teachers indoctrinate innocent boys to hate the Yankees, I thought to myself as I read. I almost did not get past the second page.

With nothing better to do, I read on. I soon realized that Josh and I have a few things in common. We both love baseball. We love Italian food (It's the only food he mentions in the book besides Kosher food, but Josh is not Kosher). We both have teenage sons who play baseball. We both have loving supportive wives. And we both realize that our kids have more confidence than we ever had.

Before I knew it, I was emotionally invested in the compelling characters. Josh describes the real life quirky people so masterfully that you instantly feel for them and feel sorry for them. There is a kid with a diabetes pump, a hemophiliac, a mexican born boy adopted by a gay Jew and his partner. There is a bully you'll hate for awhile and the "private jet" rich kid. The list reminded me of my post that listed all of the stereotypical types of youth baseball players.  And of course Josh mentions lots of over protective parents, irrational fans and clueless coaches. If this were a fiction book you would criticize the author for creating characters who were too far fetched.

Josh also described the Cooperstown Dreams Park youth baseball tournament experience in such vivid detail. If you had already been to Cooperstown Dreams Park you will likely feel like you were there again. I welcomed back memories that distracted me with delight. If you are going to Cooperstown Dreams Park in the next year or so, read the book, you will appreciate the experience even more when you get there. By the way, Josh's description of the pro-like caliber of the 10 year old players is not exaggerated. My son played on an amazing 10 year old team that finished 2nd in the CABA World Series beating an All Star Team from Puerto Rico and another from Panama. Some 10 year old kids can really play the game at a high level.

Josh weaves his story skillfully with both pleasant and sad twists that will keep you reading. And throughout the story he tactfully teaches kids and dads alike the importance of overcoming the fear that holds us back.

If you love youth baseball and feel good stories you will enjoy this true David vs Goliath story about an all Jewish youth baseball team. In this story, however, there are 95, no make that 94 Goliaths. I won't ruin the ending by telling you the story. I can tell you that very few of the rocks tossed by the sling of David were very accurate or effective, but as Bill Murray famously chanted in the movie Meatballs - It just doesn't matter.  It just doesn't matter.  It just doesn't matter.

The Main Point

Josh, this book is inspiring to all of us who have let fear hold us back. Thanks for putting yourself out there and writing it.

And I hate to admit it but I guess there are some damn Red Sox fans may have merit after all.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Youth Hockey: Coach Assaults Opposing 13 Year Old Player

Crazy Youth Sports Coach Series - Special Alert

In Vancouver, BC, the coach of the winning team tripped a 13-year-old hockey player during the post game handshake. The tripping incident followed the UBC Hornets 5-4 defeat of the Richmond Steel.

Unfortunately for the coach, the player, who fell, broke his wrist and a parent of a Steel player caught the incident on video. The coach, Martin Tremblay, who was arrested in Vancouver, claimed the tripping was an accident. He was arrested and charged with assault. Investigators are now reviewing witness statements and video of the incident.

Accounts also mention that following the incident, the coach gave fans appalled by the tripping the middle finger. Other accounts mentioned that Hornet players acted inappropriately too. Allegedly one Hornet player was caught on camera throwing a water bottle at fans in the bleachers while his teammates taunted fans with rude gestures.

The Main Point

This may be the most horrible coach in youth sports. In one isolated moment, his irrational action injured an opposing player. I would guess that in many not so isolated moments his behavior during practices and games has affected the minds of his own players. Players often mimic the coach. 

We need to weed out coaches like this. Video is a great way to do that.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Youth Sports Injuries: Consider the Big Picture

When your kid gets an injury that sidelines him or her, do you look at the big picture? 
Do you talk toughness - playing through pain like Ripken and Gehrig? 
Or do you take a more cautious approach? 
When your kid is sidelined, does he or she understand the big picture?

On June 17th, my son hit a long line drive to right centerfield. (My wife captured the at-bat on her camera below). I watched the hard hit ball with delight. When I heard the ping of the bat, I was thinking double or triple easy. The fast centerfielder got a great jump on the ball, tracked the ball well and at the last split second reached as high as possible while running full speed to snatched the ball out of the air. I looked toward 2B to see my son's face, but he was not there. He barely made it to first base. I caught a glimpse of him as he limped toward the dugout. He found a team mom who is a trainer to stretch him out to relieve the pain. He was hoping that he could get back in the game. He never made it back in.

On June 18th, my son hit the waiting room at the orthopedic doctor and was diagnosed with a hip flexor strain. The combination of baseball and golf and growing led to the problem.

He has been on the disabled list since. He missed 4 games last weekend when the team played in a big local tournament. He missed a game played at Marge Schott Stadium on the University of Cincinnati. And it looks like he will miss a big tournament in Columbus this weekend. 

He has been going to physical therapy, taking his anti-inflammatory drugs, heating, icing and stretching as prescribed. The doctor said that he would be out 1 to 2 weeks. 

He is almost ready to come back, but we are being cautious for three reasons. We do not want him to come back early and re-injure the hip and

1) miss out on the Nations Baseball World Series in Florida. 
2) jeopardized tryouts for the high school golf team.
3) jeopardized tryouts the 2013 club baseball season. (There is a chance our team is going to breakup.)

At dinner the other night, we asked him what the physical therapist said about the timetable to get back on the field. He said with a big smile, "Another week, but I am going to give it a try tomorrow night." We said, "Really."

Still smiling, he said, "You guys are not looking at the short picture here. You are constantly looking at the big picture."

The Main Point

My son misses baseball and golf but he sees the big picture. If he returns too early and tears the hip flexor from the bone, he will be out a long, long time. He does not want to risk the Florida trip or the tryouts.

I am not as patient. I cannot wait for him to start playing again.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Youth Basketball: Refs Influence Game Outcome

Should refs feel sorry for teams being out played and as a result call a game differently then they normally would?

We have all seen it many times before. One team is dominating another team, so the refs limit the fouls against the inferior team. At the same time, the refs call a tight game against the superior team. I believe that the refs do this to keep the score reasonable and to keep the lopsided game moving.

This past weekend, my daughter's team breezed through a tournament and advanced to the finals as the number one seed .

As the number one seed, we played our semi-final game from 3p to 4p against the 4th seed. We won 38-25. The 2nd and 3rd seeded teams played from 4p to 5p. The 3rd seeded team advanced. Our team beat the 3rd seeded team by 10 points during pool play.

The gym was exceedingly hot when our team took the court with confidence at 5p. The other team fresh off their win looked over-heated and tired. Our team took advantage and scored immediately after the tip off. We scored 4 more baskets in the first 3 minutes of play to take a 10 - 0 lead. The head coach of the other team called timeout and berated his girls. It was embarrassing.

When the game resumed, one of the best players on the other team was assessed her 3rd foul and the hot headed coach stepped on to the court and yelled at the ref who made the call. The coach was assessed a technical for walking on the court. Our point guard buried the 2 technical foul shots and our team took a commanding 12-0 lead. The neutered coach retreated to the sidelines and contained his emotions for the rest of the game.

The game played on and our team continued to dominate possession. Our team was passing and cutting and beating the other team's man to man defense with ease, but layups and short jumpers were not falling. Still it was very obvious that our team was in control.

At the half way point of the first half, the other team called time. We were still winning 12-0, but should have been winning 24-0. After the time out, our opponent emerged and started employing a tightly packed zone. Our team kept trying to pass and cut in the narrow lanes, but met lots of resistance and tough physical play. The refs, however, were not making any calls. After several obvious fouls were ignored, our coach called timeout and talked to the ref. The ref told our coach to relax because we were obviously going to win the game.

Well, our team kept missing shots and got frustrated. Our frustration lead to fouls and the other team buried foul shot after foul shot. Our team was still dominating each possession, but soon it was a 1 point game.

With 2 minutes left in the game, our team went into a slow down mode. We passed the ball back and forth. Every now and then the other team would foul us trying to make a steal. We were not even close to the bonus, so after each foul we had to throw the ball in.

Sure enough while we were trying to runout the clock, one of the passes my daughter made was intercepted and lead to the winning basket with 16 seconds left on the clock. My little girl was devastated.

The Main Point

In principle, I do not have a problem refs controlling the speed and score of lopsided games, but not in a championship game between two obviously strong teams. We lost the game because our team went completely cold. The other team won the game because they never gave up. Unfortunately, the refs played a major role in the outcome and that is just not right.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Youth Sports: Female Athletes and Concussions

My daughter, CC, is small compared to the girls that she competes against in basketball. The elbows of these much larger girls are at the eye level of CC. Regardless, she does not back down. This gives me a great sense of pride, but it also makes me a bit nervous.

If you are proud for your tough daughter, yet a bit concerned about head injuries like I am, then follow the link and watch Concussion and the Female Athlete: The Untold Story. The video was created by the University of Minnesota Tucker Centre for Research on Girls and Women in Sport.

The Main Point

Learn about concussions and make informed decisions if your daughter, or son for that matter, gets a concussion. The window of opportunity for sports is small, so parents and athletes often make irrational decisions regarding injuries. There are lots and lots of games and lot of life to live after the games are over. Take the time necessary to heal.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Youth Baseball and Golf: Can a kid play both successfully?

Friday, a big meeting at work was canceled. Since my calendar was clear, I took a vacation day from work. My son and I played nine holes of golf in the morning and then we drove to Columbus, Ohio for game two of the Nations Baseball Ohio State Championship.

Conventional wisdom says that one swing messes up the other, so players should not play both sports. My son has played both sports successfully since age 6 , so I do not believe this to be true.

Baseball Age 9 
Golf Age 9
Golf Age 14
Baseball Age 14
During a recent golf lesson, I was surprised to hear the golf pro used a few baseball metaphors to communicate to my son. That piqued my interest, so I asked the Pro if he thought playing baseball and golf at the same time is detrimental to either swing. He said, with great confidence, "Absolutely not. The set-up, load and rotational mechanics are quite similar. And, the hand eye coordination of one helps the other and vice versa."

When I got home, I googled the question. I wanted to see what other experts were saying.

Don Trahan of agrees with my son's golf pro in a post called Golf Swing vs Baseball Swing
Regarding baseball coaches wanting junior golfers to stop playing golf because it ruins their baseball swing: in my opinion and experience, that’s BUNK....The good news is their golf swing was not compromised by their batting swing, and their batting swing did not cause problems with their golf swing.  I applied the exact same swing theory to swinging a bat as to swinging a golf club and it worked for both.
The Main Point

My son played a strong round of golf in the am and was 2 for 2 with 2 doubles in the baseball game that night. I think that a good athlete can do both without any trouble. 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Youth Golf Club Fitting: Sales Job or Con Job?

I went to get my son new golf clubs and I was talked into spending significantly more money than I had planned. Was this a great sales job or a con job? Perhaps the sales pro read about me in the first chapter of the book, "The Most Expensive Game in Town" What do you think?

My son is going to tryout for his high school team in August, so for his combined 8th grade graduation, Catholic Confirmation and 15th birthday, I took him out to get fitted for new golf clubs.

We went to the Golf Exchange because their TV commercial featured the latest computer technology for fitting golf clubs. After I saw the TV ad, I went to the website and noticed that Golf Exchange was a Golf Digest Top 100 Fitter, The Ping Fitter of the Year, a Mizuno Top 100 Fitter and the Callaway 2012 Fitter of the Year.

I was sufficiently convinced, so on my son's birthday, we went to the Golf Exchange to get my son fitted for new clubs. The pro immediately asked me a bunch of questions about my son's objectives, golfing history and swing. The pro then asked my son to hit his own 6 iron in the cage to get warmed up, while he fired up the computer to analyze my son's swing.

My son started hitting the ball and numbers jumped up onto a computer screen.

He than gave my son a club with some special impact indicating tape affixed to the club head. After each shot, the pro would read the tape and then remove the head of the club and replace it with another that connected at a slightly different angle. The pro would then again put indicating tape on the club head and hand the club to my son. This continued until the optimal club head angle was determined.

The pro then asked my son to hit his driver. After a few swings were recorded, the pro called over another sales associate and they started whispering back and forth. I edged closer to try to hear the conversation, but I could not hear it clearly.

I was curious, so I asked the pro if there was a problem. He told me that there was no problem with my son's swing, in fact your son's numbers are truly amazing. The problem is that your son's driver cannot keep up with his incredible swing and it might be difficult to analyze your son's "pro-like" swing inside.

He asked me how far my son hits his driver. I hesitated thinking that he would not believe me, then I told him that he hits between 250 and 310 and on occasion farther than that. My son is 5 ft 8 and weighs 120 pounds, so I was waiting for that look from the pro that says, "I think that you are exaggerating a bit about your son." Instead, he said, "I am not surprised with these numbers. In fact, he is losing distance because of the incredibly high backwards rotation he is generating with his current club." He then told me that the right shaft on the driver will control that spin better and your son will be hitting 310+ consistently instead of occasionally.

The pro then showed the numbers to another pro in the shop. This sales pro happened to be the JV coach of a local high school. The JV coach was also amazed by the numbers and told me that my son can be a special player - we don't see numbers like that from 15 year olds very often.

The Main Point

If the pros at Golf Exchange were feeding me BS to get me to spend more than I intended, then they are the greatest bunch of actors in the world.

I bought my son Ping I 20s and scheduled an outside fitting for a new set of woods too. When I got home, I looked up the swing statistics for pros and they did match my son's numbers. I also read some Ping research that shows proper golf club fitting does make a difference.

Why would I not want to give my son every advantage as he tries out for the golf team. I sucker is born every minute, but a natural golf swing is not. I guess I will find out over the next couple of years which is more accurate.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Youth Baseball: Grandfather Bludgeons Another Grandfather with a Bat

This past week, I watched all 6 hours of the mini-series on the History Channel called Hatfields & McCoys  If you love history, this show is a must watch.

Hatfields & McCoys
The History Channel chronicled the passion, hatred and vengeance between the two legendary families that led to decades of senseless violence and murder. Human life in the late 1860's on the border of Kentucky and West Virginia was not as important as being respected and settling a score.

At one point in the story, a Hatfield boy fell in love with a McCoy girl and they had a baby. Some thought that the baby would quell the violence, but the shared grandchild of Devil Anse Hatfield and Randall McCoy, the patriarchs of the feuding families, was shunned and the violence continued unabated.

On the field after a youth baseball game this past week, the grandfather of a little leaguer didn't seem to value human life as much as Devil Anse Hatfield when he picked up a metal baseball bat and bludgeoned his grandson's other grandfather.

Just when you think that you have seen it all in youth sports, you read a story like this.

The Main Point

In the movie Hatfields & McCoys, both families often commingled at county fairs and other regional events. At these events, they would listen to music, dance and compete in games of skill all while avoiding each other. Of course, hatred confined to a small area was like a powder keg ready to explode at any moment.

Similarly, youth sports often brings people together who don't want to be together.  Divorced parents, who divvy up major holiday so that they can avoid each other often find themselves attending the same youth sporting events. These unavoidable meet-ups can be civil or explosive. I have seen both, so I was not surprised by the story of the family feud playing out on a little league field after a game.

Do you have any family feud youth sports stories to share? Please do.



Related Posts with Thumbnails