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This isn’t T-ball anymore: Youth baseball competition is intense


The Mariners’ pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training this weekend, but they’re getting a late start on the season. Some youth baseball teams already started practice this week. Their tryouts were held in January.

It’s just another example of how the competition in youth sports is as intense as it’s ever been.

Youth baseball takes a decided turn when kids become 9 or 10-years-old. They are now eligible for the Minor or Major Leagues where the kids finally get to play “real” baseball. No dad’s pitching. No more tees. No more “it’s OK if you dropped the throw to first or booted that grounder.”

Managers expect kids to make plays. Parents expect their kids to excel. Everyone expects to win, and that means packing the teams with the best possible players. There are no more friend requests, and no more coach requests. The kids have to enter the meat market known as tryouts.

Ed Lundberg, the former president of Mill Creek Little League, tells it’s part of growing up.

“I think that transition is a right of passage,” he said. “I think it’s just something in Little League that happens and eventually elevates to the Majors Division so it’s something that has to happen. People take it serious, but at the end of the day, they’re still 9 or 10-year-old kids, and we want to go out and have fun with them.”

But the last two weekends of tryouts were not about fun. They were about pitching mechanics, bat speed, making the throws, beating the stopwatch, and looking better than the kid next to you.

I was shocked, both as a parent and as a first-time Minors Manager, for how intense tryouts are. There are spreadsheets, graphs, and multiple coaches from each team with pencils and highlighters. We were all breaking down these kids like they were pros.

I felt awful after my first day, considering the things I had written about kids I had never met or even seen before. “Slow.” “Bad arm.” “Weak bat.” “Doesn’t hustle.” “Not athletic.” I became caught up in trying to field the best team I could.

Lundberg said it’s easy to forget we were all looking at children.

“But you’re the only one who’s going to see those things,” he said. “If anybody ever asks anything, just say, ‘Hey, I’m writing great things about you.'”

But the kids were watching and they were asking. I found myself covering my sheets and hiding my ratings so I wouldn’t upset anyone.

“That’s why everyone has their own marking system,” Lundberg said. “They’ll never be able to tell what you’re writing.”

Then comes this question. “What did you write about me, dad?” Managers also have to evaluate their own kids. It’s not easy taking off the “dad hat” and watching objectively as your son misses a pitch or drops a fly ball. It’s certainly not fun telling your son how he graded-out, to be truly honest about his performance.

But that’s the transition from carefree baseball to the next level. As I told my son, “Try your best, you’re going to get picked no matter what, even if you boot every ball and fall down when you swing. I’m the manager.”

I mean what kind of dad doesn’t draft his own son?

This isn’t T-Ball anymore, and I’m not sure if it’s the parents or kids learning more about life through the tryout process.

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