Every once in awhile, something happens during a little league baseball game that you can kind of sense that what happened on the field may have a more lasting impact on a player than usual. There have been movies made about how a kid dropping a fly-ball in a little league game impacts them for the rest of their lives. Yes, it is meant as fiction, however there is no denying the fact that some of that stuff stays with a kid long after the game is over. Last night during my son T's baseball game, I think I witnessed something that if nothing else, made another kid's season a lot more fun.
    T has one amazing friend that has been his best friend for years. His name is T.J. The relationship they have is truly something special, not only to T, but to Angie and I as well. You see T.J. brings something out of T that nobody else can. Whenever they are together, T's whole attitude just lightens up. They are silly. They laugh uncontrollably. They play games. Run around. It's a lot of fun for us as parents to watch. We couldn't have hoped for a better "best friend" for T than T.J.
    They started playing baseball together a few years ago, and even the other coaches in the league kind of know that they are a package deal. They moved up into a different level this year, and T.J. has had a tough time getting used to the different level, and you could tell his confidence wasn't where it has been in the past. T has been a pitcher most of the year, and has had a lot of success. At the beginning of the season T.J. had mentioned he wanted to give pitching a try as well. With just a couple games left in the season, we asked him if he wanted to get on the mound and try pitching. He hadn't done it very often in practice, so nobody knew what to expect. His warm-up pitches looked a little shaky, but he wanted to give it a go. He walked the first batter on four straight pitches. It's tough being a coach, especially when it is a kid you really care about. You don't know if he is going to get up there, have a rough outing and never want to get on the field again. So the next batter comes up and he threw a strike. The place went crazy! Next pitch a ball, but they catch a guy stealing. One out! Then he throws a couple more strikes and that's out number two! Next batter - walked. Originally the head coach and I had said we would pull him after two walks, but we looked at each other and said we need to leave him in. The next batter comes out swinging and T.J. gets ahead in the count. He throws another pitch low and away but got the kid to swing. He strikes him out and the inning is over!
    I had a hard time containing my excitement for what we just saw. The smile on his face was awesome! He walked off the mound with a confidence that we hadn't seen all season. I know it is just one inning in a little league baseball game, but I can't help but think that is something that is going to stick with him for a long time. No matter what happens the rest of the season, that is probably going to be the best experience for me as a coach this year. As a dad, I'll remember all the stuff that my boys have done, but as a coach, seeing T.J. get up there and do what he did will definitely be the high point! Way to go, T.J.!!

If you are a baseball fan, you understand that there are countless "baseball codes" when it comes to playing the game. Some are based on superstitions (which ballplayers seem to live by). Some are based on respect and self-policing. Examples like don't talk to a pitcher if he has a perfect game going. Don't stand at home plate and admire your homerun or you can expect to get nailed by the pitcher the next time you are at the plate. If your top player gets hit by a pitch, your pitcher hits the opposing team's top player. And on and on it goes.
     Last night, Cole Hamels threw a 93mph fastball right at 19 year-old Bryce Harper during his first at-bat. Hamels said it was just a part of "old school baseball." He didn't deny hitting him for a second. He was trying to make a point that the kid was still a rookie and that this is a man's game. Harper didn't charge the mound. Instead he hustled out a single by the next batter to make it to third and then proceeded to steal home. A nice bit of payback for the youngster. And yes, the next time Hamels was up to bat, the Nationals pitcher fulfilled his duty to protect his player and plucked him with a pitch.
     I'm a fan of baseball, and all that comes with it, but this "tradition" has got to stop. It's a terrible example for kids to see. And anytime you are throwing something 93mph with the intention of hitting someone, there is a serious chance for injury. What if Harper failed to turn completely and instead takes it on the arm. Broken arm. Lost games. Long-term problems. Who knows. I understand an older player getting frustrated at the stuff Harper has done in just a short time up in the majors. He's playing like a veteran. Getting solid hits. Hustling like nobody else out there. But to risk all of that future to prove a point is absurd. Hopefully MLB will send a serious message to Hamels, the other pitchers that are thinking about doing the same thing when they face Harper, and more importantly to the kids that watch these games and look up to these guys. They need to know that this isn't the way to go about the game. Call it old-school if you want, but I think it's time to forget about this right-of-passage and think about safety.