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Youth Sports… the Cliff and Jamie Story

Cliff Bottom Row 2nd from Left Jamie 2nd Row 2nd from Left

As a young kid I participated in many sports including baseball, basketball, BMX racing, tennis and others. Along the way I gathered many lifelong lessons and relationships that I carry to this day. As a parent I have made sure that sports are a part of my Daughter and Sons lives so they to will benefit from the enormous value that sports can contribute to ones development and character. Recently I was reminded just how important sports were to my development and the lessons and memories that will live with me for a lifetime.  I never accomplished much as an athlete like most and I refuse to create some false narrative to brag to others about how great I was, like so many others do.  Often we hear from people that tell us how great they were at sports, how they should have been a professional, how something or someone kept them from realizing their full potential.   We all have heard stories like this and simply take them with a grain of salt, smile and secretly know it’s a bunch of bullshit.   In full disclosure, I was an OK athlete, not usually picked last but rarely picked first, I was kinda small and skinny for my age as I grew in my later teens.

 

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I coach my son’s competitive baseball team and it is a very difficult balance between competition, fairness, winning, development, parents expectations, kids feelings, proper training, tough love and sanity.   This summer our team is slotted to go to Cooperstown to play at the birthplace of baseball and have a magical baseball experience with a group of kids that have known each other and played together since they were 6 years old.    During the spring season prior to this summer we lost a few players and families because they felt our team wasn’t competitive enough, wasn’t able to win enough or had kids on it that weren’t good enough to play with them.  This event troubled me deeply as I lost a dear friendship because of it.   I was unwilling to alter the team and change the roster and cut kids based on talent and deny them the Cooperstown  experience that we have been anticipating for years.   During the Spring we did loose a few more games because of the defections, we were not as competitive but looking back I wouldn’t have changed a thing.    Cooperstown is supposed to be the pinnacle of youth baseball, an experience that these kids will treasure for a lifetime and something I was not willing to rob any of them of regardless of our win / lose record.    I never thought I owed anything to the families of our team beyond Cooperstown but I knew I owed them that and I wasn’t willing to trade friendships and loyalty for any amount of wins.

A few years ago I connected with a former teammate of mine and was deeply touched and profoundly impacted by a simple conversation on Facebook messenger.  I am sure Jamie doesn’t know how much he impacted me but it was significant and I would like to thank him for doing so.   Jamie (James) Mills reached out to me on Facebook and just wanted to say hi to an old friend never thinking about the impact that a simple message would have on me.   When I played with Jamie he was an extremely good baseball player the one I thought as a young kid could be a professional, the one I thought could really become a famous baseball player.  Jamie was a big kid for his age, hit home runs and threw the ball so hard my mom had to cut up a sponge so I could put it in my catcher mitt so my hand could handle the abuse.  Jamie and I didn’t go to the same high school, didn’t socialize in the same friend circles and haven’t seen each other since we were 12 years old because I went and played baseball at a different park.  When I look back on my baseball career the glowing memory or thing that I remember the most was that I was Jamie’s catcher.  In my mind I identified my entire baseball memory as the kid that caught the best stud pitcher in the area, his success was my success.  During our brief Facebook messenger conversation I mentioned to Jamie that my son plays baseball and I asked him what became of his baseball career, thinking he might have played in college or maybe the pros.  This was his response that for some reason affected me so much… You mentioned playing ball with your son making you think of the past, I honest feel that when you were my catcher I had the most fun and pitched my best games. I never amounted to much after that (as far as baseball is concerned). I used to wish I went farther in baseball but I think I was just meant to be a soldier and a pilot”.

In the moments after reading Jamie’s message I realized I had no idea how many games we won or lost, I have no idea what my batting average was nor could I begin to tell you the details of any game I played in with Jaime.   What I did know is that it was the experience with Jaime that was forged in my memory, it was the friendship that was created and that will never be forgotten.    Jaime didn’t talk about our record or stats his first description of our playing days was “fun”.  As a coach I constantly struggle with the pull of competition, winning and my competitive spirit but I often find myself remembering a short Facebook message from a friend I once played with a long time ago to help guide me.   I know I have not always made the right decisions as a coach but I know deep down I have tried my best to manage the expectations of 12 kids, 24 parents,  step parents and some grandparents.   It isn’t easy being a youth coach but I haven’t regretted it a day and if asked to do all over again I would say yes faster than a Nolan Ryan heater.  I want to say thank you to all the players and parents that have allowed me to play a small role in their lives.