Friday, August 13, 2004
Updated: December 6, 9:42 AM ET
Turn down the spotlight
By John Kruk
With the regional tournaments wrapping up this week, you're going to start seeing a lot more Little League on TV. I'll tell you, though: I think the coverage of the Little League World Series could be heading into dangerous territory.
It's a tough call.
On one hand, you want to show these kids that what they've accomplished is special by putting them on TV and making a big deal out of it. On the other hand, you don't want to turn things into a circus where the game and the tournament become bigger than the kids.
The most dangerous thing is the parents. The bigger the arena, the more they get hypnotized by living through their kids.
We all know how crazy some parents can get at a game. In fact, when Roger Clemens was accused of behavior that got him thrown out of his son's game, people weren't shocked by the behavior, but by the fact that Clemens was involved.
Let's clear one thing up real quick. Turns out that Roger didn't do a thing, and the whole situation was blown out of proportion by the umpire at the game and the media.
I don't care about any of that. That kind of stuff happens all the time. What shocks me is that people didn't notice that a bunch of 10-year-olds from Texas were playing in a tournament Colorado.
This wasn't to qualify for the World Series. This was just a tournament.
When I was playing Little League, we played the next town in an all-star game and I thought that was a big deal.
See, this is where it's a tough call again. Is this good for the kids? What are they getting out of this?
I don't know. When my son gets older, I don't know if I want him traveling all over the country just to play in a Little League tournament.
The one thing I do know is that the 10-,11- and 12-year-olds of the world aren't planning these tournaments. They aren't the ones negotiating national television deals. So it all goes back to the parents. And they need to ask themselves: Are you doing this for your son, or are you doing it for yourself?
I met an 11-year-old recently. He asked me about playing ball when I was growing up. He said, "You probably could only play baseball when you were young, too."
I wasn't sure what he meant at first. But it turns out that he isn't allowed to play anything but baseball. Seems his parents think it's the best shot he has at making it in professional sports.
Are you kidding?
Where do you start with this one?
First of all, you should never -- I mean never -- deny your kid an opportunity. Yeah, I played baseball growing up. But I also played football and basketball, too. I wasn't turning down any chance to play.
"Sorry guys. No football today. My mom and dad think I need to work on my bat-speed drills. And then we're going to break down some film from last year's games."
Does that sound like a normal childhood to you?
Second (and this may be bigger than the first point), who the Hell knows if a good 11-year-old baseball player is going to be even a decent 14-year-old player?
You better hope he his. Because with all the stuff you're throwing at him, you're going to have one messed-up kid on your hands if he fails.
Look at the Little League World Series again. Every year -- I mean every year -- there are a couple of kids who absolutely dominate that tournament. And how many of those studs turn out to be major leaguers?
Sean Burroughs was the fat kid from California who led his team to the title, and he's on the Padres now. Chris Drury won the title for Trumbull, CT -- and now he plays hockey for the Sabres. Throw in Danny Almonte, who seems to be able to pitch well against kids his own age, and that's about it. Out of all those kids in all those years, you only have a few who can maintain that level of play.
Sure, there are hundreds of big leaguers who played Little League. But I'm sure they weren't always the best players on their team.
That's the point. When someone is 12 years old, you don't know if he has the stuff to make it. So why push him to think he does?
There are too many parents out there who think they are raising winners, when all they are doing is setting up their kids up to fail.
And as a parent, that's the last thing you want to do.
|Should these kids be on national television?|
I used to get so excited about the Olympics.
What did it for me was the purity of the people who participated. A couple weeks ago, I was down in Disney World in Florida, and I had the opportunity to meet a couple of former gymnasts -- 1984 gold medalist Mary Lou Retton, and 1996 gold medalist Kerri Strug.
It's amazing how, to this day, they are still proud of what they did -- not for themselves, but for the USA. They knew the impact they had, but their joy came from what their wins meant for America -- not because they were going to get endorsements and maybe a talk show and a signature clothing line.
Sure, that stuff is great, but it shouldn't define your reasons for competing.
Today's Games? I don't know if anyone feels that way.
As a fan, how am I supposed to get excited about someone winning the 100-meter sprint? Now you have to wait a few years before you can get excited. You cross your fingers and hope the guy doesn't get caught up in a doping scandal that will cost him the medal.
You think all the theatrics -- with flexing and having someone spray your shoes with a fire extinguisher -- looks dumb when a guy wins a race? It's 1,000 times worse when everyone finds out the guy was on something.
Is all that worth the risk? Do these people really think that they aren't going to get caught? If you're taking something illegal -- guess what -- someone knows about it and they're going to let someone in on the secret. And it's only a matter of time before someone cashes in that secret to save his own skin or expose you when you get too many Nike commercials.
Jose Canseco once said to me, "Kruk, we can do two things with you. We can make you look like a bodybuilder or a sprinter within a year."
What, so I can hit a few more homers, be in the limelight a little longer -- then drop dead from all that crap in my body?
I wasn't about to cross that line. But I guess it's harder for these athletes.
They only get to shine a few times in their careers, at best -- and only every four years.
Still, I don't know how you can ask yourself if it's worth it, and come up with this answer -- yes.
Punching the clock
|Mary Lou's values seemed to have passed by most Olympians.|
I wrote a few weeks ago that being an actor isn't work. That article prompted one gentleman from New York City to write me.
He said that I was just plain wrong. He told me he was relatively successful -- appearing on Broadway, for one. But he also told me about his three other jobs, and how he still has to go to rehearsal and acting class.
Well, I have to tell you: It's still not work.
Work is something you do to make ends meet and to support your family.
When it's something you love? You can't call it work.
Now, this guy's other jobs? Yeah, that's work, because I'm sure there's something else he'd rather be doing than waiting tables. But when he steps on the stage? No way. That isn't work. And if he still thinks it is, well, then maybe he needs to find something else to do.
My dad worked 10-to-12-hour days in a bottle factory in West Virginia. Something tells me he could have come up with other things he'd rather do with his time. So yes, that was work.
When I go to Bristol every Sunday to talk about baseball -- no, that isn't work. When playing baseball became work for me, I walked away. Why? Because I could. And I'll tell you, when TV becomes a job to me, you better believe I'll find something else to do.
Now, I know we all can't just drop everything and go do the things we love. There are plenty of people out there with responsibilities that I couldn't even begin to take on. And I know I've been blessed with a life that gives me more freedom and opportunity than others. But if you are doing something you love -- please, don't disrespect the rest of the world by calling it work.
John Kruk is an analyst for ESPN's "Baseball Tonight."