Illustration by David Norby © Style Media Group
It doesn’t matter how fast a kid runs, how far they throw or how hard they hit. It doesn’t matter if they bat first or fourth or last, if they’re shortstop, starting pitcher or right field. It matters not one bit if they play all game, every game or the minimum two-innings/one at-bat. It doesn’t matter if they’re an all-star or an also-ran, if they make the game winning catch or hit the walk-off home run. It doesn’t matter how many times they’ve seen The Sandlot. Your dreams for them of a scholarship—or, let’s just be honest, a lengthy career in the major leagues? None of it makes any difference.
It matters that their hat is on straight, pants are zipped and they didn’t forget their mitt. It matters that they show up—to practices, as well as games—and take the field, regardless of whether they’re a 12-year-old vacuum cleaner at third or a clover-picker doing the pee-pee dance in right field.
What matters is how they are as an opponent. Do they play with class and purpose? Play hard but fair? Are they confident but not cocky? Do they win with grace, or lose with dignity? And, win or lose, do they go through the handshake line repeating “good game” and meaning it every single time?
What matters is how they react when an umpire makes the worst call in the world. Do they glare and whine, throw their helmet and slam their bat to the ground; or bite their lip and respect the call—even if the man on the moon could see that it was a ball?
Do they respect the coaches? Do they listen and try and hustle? Do their time on the pine without pouting? Do a lap without question when the coach catches them not paying attention at practice? Do they get the message that the lap was supposed to send?
Most of all, what matters is how they are as a teammate. It’s easy to praise the star—to share a laugh with the kid who went yard last inning. But how do they treat the kid at the end of the bench...the one who just muffed a grounder that allowed two runs to score? Do they encourage, or discourage? More importantly, how do they treat the teammate who muffs more than they ever scoop up, who runs like they’re dragging an anchor, who throws like they’ve never played catch with their dad because, well, maybe they don’t have a dad? Most importantly, how do they treat that bench kid who finds himself or herself at bat at the end of the game with two outs, down one and the tying run on third, and instead of knocking in the tying run, they strike out?
All that other stuff...none of it matters.
These are the things that do. Because how they are as a player is a good indication of how they’ll be as a person. And who they are as a person will matter far more than how they ever were as a player.
And all of that? All of that starts with you.
Find more of Tom's Takes here, and make sure to catch Tom on the Pat and Tom Morning Show on New Country 105.1 or follow Tom on Twitter @kncitom.