Wednesday, April 22, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Kids should play Legion summer ball

Leader sports editor

Summer baseball is almost here, and with that renews the controversy over whether kids, especially older ones, should play localized team baseball or join traveling leagues or prospect camps. The debate usually centers on creating opportunities to be noticed by college coaches and professional scouts. Since The Leader doesn’t cover, in much detail, ages below high school, this space will address the debate as it pertains to American Legion vs. prospect/elite clubs.

Athletes will, the prospect proponents argue, get to play in front of more coaches and scouts in one weekend of prospect games than they will an entire summer of American Legion games.

This common point misses the major one, so we’ll deal with it quickly and move on to the more important matters.

The prospect ball proponents are, to put it plainly, right. But only on that one point, and it’s a minor one if our priorities are in the right place. There’s also the economically logical pitfall of that argument.

The prospect clubs cost, at the low end, around $1,500 to join, and some are closer to $5,000. Whereas college baseball scholarships are very rarely full rides, and the cost of playing for a club that gets one noticed could easily end up being more than the scholarship gained is worth.

Beyond that, the likelihood of being drafted by a professional organization out of high school requires a talent so unique and notable, those athletes don’t need to shell out dollars for notoriety. A good recent example of this was Jacksonville’s D’Vone McClure.

He did forego American Legion ball after his junior year, but not because he wanted to be noticed. The fact that he was going to be drafted was a foregone conclusion. The only question was how high. He went to Florida and played in a major-league sponsored camp with other draft prospects in order to help scouts get a better idea of who they wanted and how highly to prioritize them when the draft came around.

People like him are extremely rare.

All that, though, is beside the point. What are youth sports really about, or at least, what are they supposed to be about? It is already understood that what follows will be instantly dismissed as folly by many.

It intends to dispute the modern idea that certain virtues are justifiably sacrificed at the altar of self-fulfillment, and purport that fulfillment, paradoxically, more often stems from self-sacrifice.

American Legion baseball teaches the right virtues, and finishing out a youth career with friends is more important than gathering a load of scholarship offers. American Legion ball is more fun, it nurtures friendships, which itself teaches the importance of friendship, and that is vital to healthy development and long-term fulfillment.

Friendship is something that everyone shares a soul-deep need for. Paying a lot of money to leave friends, leave a long-together team, and chase a personal goal, especially one that can probably be attained even by staying with friends, teaches young people that team and friend can justifiably be sacrificed for personal ambition.

Some might read that last sentence and wonder where the problem lies. Today, almost anything is justifiably sacrificed for self-fulfillment. Indeed, self-fulfillment has become the primary virtue.

The problem lies in the fact that it’s a lie. Fulfillment never comes when right virtues are sacrificed.

A pauper with a handful of good friends lives a more fulfilling life, even if less comfortable, than a lonely rich man.

How important is friendship? Proverbs tells us that, “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Also, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but an enemy multiplies kisses”…… “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another”. Finally; “A brother is born of adversity.”

The last two deal with deep relationships. There is no sharpening or refining if there is no relationship. There is no adversity to forge a brotherhood when nothing is on the line. And nothing is on the line in prospect games, which are more similar to stage auditions than sporting contests.

If you fail in the American Legion playoffs, you fail as a team and you have teammate friends who share your failure and disappointment. If you fail to get a scholarship or get drafted from a summer of club ball, you fail alone.

And that’s not the worst part. The worst part is if you succeed in getting that scholarship, you succeed alone.

True despair in life is not borne of weariness of pain or disappointment, but of a weariness of success and pleasure.

Ecclesiastes, a book written by, professionally and materially, one the most successful men who ever lived, attests to that fact.

There is, perhaps, no secular youth sports organization that better emphasizes the true character building purpose of sports than American Legion. Much of it is right in the pledge that participants must take. “I will keep faith with my teammates.” That phrase, “keep faith” goes even deeper into the essence of friendship and relationships than have been touched upon in this space.

It behooves any young man who loves to play baseball and has a local American Legion program, to stay with his friends and learn how deep it can go.

For those interested, Cabot’s American Legion program will be holding tryouts on Sunday, May 3 at the high school field. Jacksonville coach Bob Hickingbotham plans to have three teams this year, and is holding a meeting at 3 p.m. Sunday, April 26 at Dupree Park for anyone interested in participating.