19 Aug 2014
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I REALLY Miss Youth Baseball!

With another season almost here, memories of our children's experiences resonate the most.

I REALLY Miss Youth Baseball!

Man. I miss these late winter days with baseball tryouts and practices. My son is in college now and my daughter quit playing when she turned 10.

Since then, I've been consigned to listening to guys at the gym talk about tryouts and their own youth baseball war stories.

It seems so long ago that we signed Chris up for baseball at Sewell Park. That's the home of  East Marietta National Little League and the  1983 Little League World Champions. I loved it! 

We (funny how even the parents are considered part of the team) played there for seven years. It started out with the pitching being done by machine.

That was great because almost every pitch was over the plate and the kids got a chance to watch the ball come over the plate and develop a sense of timing. And you never knew who was going to win the game. 

Actually, I think the home team won most of the games because they had the last at bat, although some games ended early because of the "mercy rule."

There were lots of "Keystone cops" games where a "home run" was when a hit ball could be thrown around without anyone ever catching it while the batter ran his little legs off and touched home plate before anyone could tag him out.

Then, it was on to minor league where the kids had their first encounter with "kid pitched" baseball. Holy cow! While the ball was hardly ever thrown hard enough to reach the plate, if a kid was ever hit by a pitch, you'd think a hit batter was an ER moment.

You could actually imagine a baseball game was being played, though. There WERE even some caught balls, some tags, even some batters thrown out at first base!

Finally, it was on the Major Leagues. Chris was on the Red Sox for three years. I like that about EMNLL because you had the same coach your whole experience.

The kids actually had some consistency with the same coach and many of the same teammates over several years. It was great for team-building esprit de corps while still teaching fundamentals and sportsmanship.

I recommend  EMNLL for any parent who wants a great Little League experience that balances recreation, competition and a focus on sportsmanship and mentorship.

After  EMNLL, we moved on Pony League ball at  Sandy Plains Baseball. Sandy Plains Baseball (for us, anyway) seemed more focused on recreational ball with many kids playing for the first time ever.

I remember on one team, there was a kid on Chris' Pony League team that had NEVER played baseball. It was a challenge since every kid on the team had to play. It's painful watching a kid trying to play at a level where the ball comes at you fast and the errors are more costly than at the younger ages.

The Sandy Plains experience was somewhat mixed. One season, we had a team manager who had never coached before whose son had never played baseball before.

It go so bad that halfway through the season the parents had mutinied and forced the league to fire the coach. The team had won not a single game and had lost every game by an average of 16 runs. OUCH! 

Oddly enough, the manager was replaced by the dad of one of our players. That dad was a tennis coach who taught the boys the "Zen of baseball." By the end of the season, we ended up in the tournament and missed winning the league championship by ONE run with the best team in the league scoring with two outs in extra innings. My son (and all his teammates) learned some valuable lessons that season.

We finished our baseball experience with  Eastside Baseball at Fullers Park. What a great experience we had there. Granted, we had been they gypsy family, having played at three different parks over our experience. But what a great way to end it. Chris had gone from being a catcher at East Marietta and Sandy Plains to being a starting pitcher at Eastside. 

Of course by that time the boys were much bigger and had less tolerance for the parents' urgings and advice. But the quality of play was outstanding.

Chris was by no means a fastball pitcher, but I loved it when he made some of the better hitters in the league look silly swatting at his changeup and roundhouse curveball. It was at Eastside where Chris got his first home run.

I had told Chris way back in Little League at East Marietta that he'd get a Ben Franklin with his first homerun. I was keeping score in the scorer's box as he touched home plate.

He hit the first pitch in a line drive over the center field fence! BAM! After being congratulated by his teammates, he looks up to me in the score box and shouts "You have my Ben Franklin?" I sure did, too!  

If you love baseball and you want your kid to have a great experience, East Cobb is certainly the place to be. We had great experiences at every venue.

If I were to recommend any park, I'd say  East Marietta is great if you want a smaller park and a closer knit group of folks.  Eastside Baseball is great if you want the perfect combination of recreation and competitive baseball from the minor leagues all the way through age 18, and  Sandy Plains Baseball is great if your main focus is the recreational aspect of the game. 

Either way, you can't go wrong with baseball in East Cobb.

In my next column, I'll write about my daughter the baseball player. 

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