The Sandlot Written By Dalton Ruer
Before there was a Benny “the Jet” Rodriquez, or a Smalls or the infamous “Beast” there were millions of kids in cities all over the country playing ball in their local sand lots. That’s what made the movie such a success. Adults every where could relate to the great times had just playing the game that they love.
I count myself lucky to have been able to play at a time when I could simply walk a few blocks and just “pick up” with whomever happened to show up that day. We would often play from sunup to sundown with only the occasional break for meals.
For those of you that didn’t have the luxury of playing in those days let me explain how it worked. The two best players were always the captains. We didn’t need anyone to tell us who the best two players were. We just knew. In fact we knew how talented each player in the neighborhood was.
A bat would be tossed in the air and the captains would take turns holding the bat just above where the other captain was. They could use their hold, a few fingers or just a finger. The one holding the very top of the bat where there was no more room for the other captain got first pick.
I’d like to say I was the most talented kid in my neighborhood. I’d like to say I was the kid picked first. I’d like to say I was never chosen last. But unfortunately I wasn’t much of an athlete and had very little skills when I first started playing. Sometimes when only a few kids showed up to play on a given day I was in fact that dreaded last pick. When I was picked last I’d go home and cry and tell my mom to move to a neighborhood where there were kids worse than me.
Before you start getting all emotional I’m kidding. That’s not what I did. Nor did anyone else. We knew we’d be chosen last before the picks ever happened just based on who was there. We also knew just how good we needed to be not to be picked last. When others went home to go to the beach with their families we stayed and played. When the sun started setting and others ran home for dinner we stayed and played. When there weren’t even enough to have teams we’d simply pitch to other, chase the ball down and take another turn. When nobody else was around we used our trusty rubber balls. You could throw them against the sides of buildings for pitching practice as or practice your throwing and then field the ground ball when it came back to you. We played and we played and we played and we played. To get better.
We played with kids ranging from 11/12 – 17/18. We didn’t need adults around teaching us the game because we learned from each other. There is no better teacher than a kid 5-6 years older than you showing you how to do it.
As for rules we handled those on an as needed bases. We mainly played on the football field at our local high school. Generally we played about the 40 yard line batting towards the goal post. If the older kids in the area played we would scoot back to make it a further home run for them and they weren’t allowed to hit to right field. If a younger kid played we’d often soft toss the pitches to them. Whatever it took we knew what the right thing to do was in order to keep the games fair. And we did them.
So where is all this nostalgia coming from? Well after my article last week Mitch Alexander and I spent a great deal of time chatting about what’s going on in the game today. He brought up the great idea of just dropping kids off at the field and letting them play ball. The way we used to.
In a day and age where every single minute seems to be scheduled for players as young as 4 I sure wish their was a “sandlot” where girls could just show up and play the game they love. If they like to play they could play 1-2 games. If they really liked playing they could competed 3-4 games. If they loved the game they’d be there from sunup to sundown.
What if the next practice you have you simply hand the equipment to the players and let them decide how to split up the team and what rule adjustments need to made depending on how many players are there.
What if your league has several age groups of teams and you do a practice game with a different age team and simply pick the 2 captains from the older team and let them start picking players? Let them define the rules. Let them determine who plays were. Let them determine how to adjust for the younger hitters/players.
What if the next friendly your team hosts is truly that “a friendly?” You don’t invite the umps. You simply prepare the field for the girls and the parents and coaches simply have a cookout together while the girls play.
Aaaaahhhh just crazy I talk I guess. Who would really just let a group of girls play the game they love without direction and structure and rules.
Dalton Ruer: Coach Ruer has been using softball to encourage and motivate athletes for 15 years. Throughout the year he is a private softball instructor to many college bound athletes in Georgia. He facilitates team based clinics and instructs at many elite and college recruiting softball camps. His specialties are helping players verbalize their dreams and establish a plan to achieve them and helping players overcome the fears that are holding them back from being exceptional athletes. He has produced 6 instructional DVD’s covering all aspects of how to win the short game and how to dive for the ball. Keep up with Coach Dalton by visiting his blog and resource site at CrossTrainingSoftball.com. Join Dalton On: Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, YouTube
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