A legend’s only a lonely boy when he goes home alone.
— Carly Simon
I happened upon Kevin Costner’s underappreciated “For Love of the Game” over the weekend, and while it was never in contention to win any Academy Awards, there was one scene in particular that grabbed my attention.
At the end of what had been an illustrious Major League career, Costner’s Billy Chapel managed to wring the game of his life out of his tired arm and pitch a perfect game against the New York Yankees. Later, while sports talking heads and fans marveled over Chapel’s accomplishment, the man himself sat alone in a hotel room, crying over the things that still haunted him at the end of his career.
Playing the aging jock has always been right in Costner’s wheelhouse (see the wonderful “Tin Cup” and “Bull Durham”), and that one scene in “Game” makes the movie worth watching.
I thought about Costner’s Chapel coming to grips with the fact that his professional career was over — indeed, that fame, no matter how brightly it burns, is fleeting — as I later read a report about the rising number of incidents in which the parents of children playing in youth sports physically and/or verbally abused umpires, coaches and even kids as young as 6 or 7.
The report was filled with stunning examples of adults at their worst: Men and women physically attacking and beating volunteer umpires as horrified kids looked on, parents being arrested for fighting in the stands over some insult directed toward their child, coaches being threatened with weapons by disgruntled parents and even children being attacked and hurt by adults.
Obviously, parents want the best for their children, and most can be forgiven a bit of overexuberance when it comes to supporting their youngsters’ efforts. But parents who try and live out some past glory — real or imagined — through their children rarely do anything more than steal their kids’ passion for a game that’s supposed to be played for fun. (And if you don’t think it happens around here, by the way, attend a few Lee County Dixie League baseball games this spring.)
It’s remarkable the number of parents who are convinced their kid is going to be the next Buster Posey, so they pay thousands upon thousands of dollars and take up all the kid’s free time by signing him up to play in this league or that, or paying exorbitant fees to have some self-appointed expert teach him all the things he needs to know to be a pro. (Lesson No. 1: Neither mom nor dad gets to make road trips with you.)
Again, nothing wrong with indulging your child’s passions if that’s where they’re actually inclined. But it’s amazing the number of kids who secretly resent the fact that their life essentially revolves around baseball: After-school practices with dad or sessions with the expert coach, weekends spent traveling from one city to the next for tournaments, homework completed on the ride to and from the games, rarely having time to do any of the other things their friends enjoy doing.
Don’t get me wrong, if I’d had the opportunity to play baseball 12 months a year when I was a kid, I would have jumped at the chance. But my parents never told me I had to play baseball; I simply loved the game that much. But so many of the kids who fill out rosters of these year-round programs that abound in our region do so because of their parents’ dream, not their own.
I played baseball all the way through Irwin County’s youth league program with a kid who was easily the best player in the league every year. Everyone was in awe of his talent as he continued to dominate whatever league he played in year after year. His grandfather, who was raising him, had the kid out on a field he’d built on his property every day, going through drills and taking batting practice until dark.
Everyone assumed the kid was going to be a superstar, but when we all entered high school, this kid didn’t even go out for the team. We were all stunned, amazed he wasn’t there for tryouts. We asked him why he’d decided not to play, and he said, simply, “Baseball’s not fun anymore.”
There was an old “Flintstones” episode in which a bunch of neighborhood kids whose parents had attacked Fred for his lousy umpiring came to him and apologized for their parents’ behavior. They asked if he’d help them set up a place where they could play without the strict rules of the Bedrock Little League, and without their parents being allowed to watch.
Having had an opportunity to see similar behavior first-hand, I think those Bedrock kids were onto something.
Email Metro Editor Carlton Fletcher at firstname.lastname@example.org.