A message from a youth-baseball mother: Parents and coaches, stop abusing your kids

Assistant Coach yells, too, and takes special pleasure in making the kids cry.

“What’s wrong with you?”

“I’ll pay you $5 if you catch the next two balls.”

“This is ridiculous! You are pathetic players!”

“Are those tears?” he asks his son, who stomps off the pitcher’s mound and heads straight for the dugout. “Can I make anyone else cry today? This is great!”

Both men laugh and high-five each other.

When his son gets back up to pitch, Assistant Coach sneers.

“Can you do it right this time?” he asks.

His son looks at him and mouths the words, “Shut up, dad.”

“I’m not going to shut up,” he taunts. “I’m going to be in your ear every minute of every game so get used to it.”

Some of the parents scream, too.

“You’re letting your whole team down,” Mom chides from the stands to her son, the catcher. “When I get you home, I’m going to kill you! You’re an embarrassment!”

Sometimes she can’t sit still. The anxiety is so strong, she has to pace or stand off to the side. She laughs when Assistant Coach asks if her son needs an umbrella to catch a ball.

While they are having fun, I look at the field and count five crying kids.

The rest of the team frowns and looks genuinely miserable. Including my son.

“Isn’t this supposed to be fun?” I ask.

Attending games at this pony league in North Tampa feels like visiting a bizarre world where the most inappropriate behavior is not only accepted, it’s encouraged. Berating and degrading children, calling names and humiliating them in front of their friends and neighbors is pervasive.

This isn’t the first year we’ve been involved in youth baseball. Last year, we were regulars at a little league park in Lutz. Much of the behavior is the same.

We’re all used to seeing parents behave badly in the name of sports. Dads with beer bellies as big as their egos, trying hard to recapture the glory of their youth as it slips further away, are a common sight.

This is their life, all wrapped up in confronting umpires, screaming at kids and starting fights with fellow coaches. For two or three hours every Saturday, they want to remember what it was like when they were kings, back when they had their whole lives ahead of them.

Now their best days are gone and their sons, goddamn it, are going to help them get those feelings back.

Parents like Mom simply hate to lose. They glare at the All-Stars and criticize those parents who don’t seem to care as much, yet easily breed champions. It isn’t fair.

There are also many parents who are mortified by such behavior. They tell the coach to calm down, gently reminding him this is Fall Ball. (A change of season validates the bullying of children?)

One umpire is consistently positive. He’s the only person I notice on the field who regularly supports the kids and tries to motivate them with kind words instead of insults.

The only one.

Several parents complain, but when I suggest action, they walk away mumbling, “I hate confrontation.”

I hate it, too. But I won’t stand by while adults emotionally abuse their children.

This past Saturday, Mom once again screamed at her son to get out from behind the plate.

“You are lazy or tired! Tell the coach to pull you out.”

Head Coach removed him from the game. The boy took off his equipment, sobbing. I’d seen enough. I walked up to the stands and stood staring at the four or five batshit crazy parents who were ruining everyone’s day.

“What you all are doing to your children is insane,” I told them.

“Shut up!” Mom yelled at me. “Worry about your own son! Get out of here if you don’t like it! I am sick of everyone telling me how to raise my son. I’m raising him to be a man.”

Her son proceeded to the dugout where he hyperventilated. Mom took him aside and tried to get him to drink some water. Finally, after attracting more than a few concerned onlookers, the poor kid had to be taken home. Mom insisted, as she escorted him, hysterical, to the parking lot, that he was simply “dehydrated.”

I tried to goad the coaches into a confrontation. When they noticed, incredulous, that so many kids were crying, I got real close to the fence and hissed:

“I wonder why?”

“Great motivation, guys!”

“These kids are going to cost you a fortune in therapy bills.”

Both coaches scolded players who were spitting on each other and calling players “idiots” when they missed a ball.

“These kids are modeling the behavior they see in you,” I told them.

But neither coach engaged with me. I guess they prefer to fight with children, who aren’t as quick to talk back.

It isn’t okay to mimic and make fun of crying children. It isn’t okay to threaten them with physical violence if they don’t do well on the field. It isn’t okay to berate them for missing a fucking ball.

This weekend, after a rousing post-game talk where Head Coach told the kids he was embarrassed for them and Assistant Coach called them “girl scouts,” my husband and I walked our youngest son to the parking lot.

“Are you okay after games like today?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said. “I’m glad I have parents like you instead of them.”

I guess not all lessons on the ball field require good hand-eye coordination.

After two weeks of practice and a few rain delays, game day is finally here.

The sun is playing peek-a-boo behind just a few clouds in an otherwise clear and bright blue sky. An autumn breeze doesn’t lower the temperature too much, still in the high 80s, but I sit in the shade and feel comfortable. Never a big sports fan, I’m now transformed by my children’s enthusiasm.

I’m ready to see my youngest son get out there and enjoy himself.

Baseball is the great American pastime, after all, requiring skill and the kind of good hand-eye coordination I never got from drama and dance classes.

Yes, listening to the crack of the bat and kids cheering on their teammates is just about as good a gig as you can find on a Saturday afternoon.

Which is why I’m suddenly surprised.

Head Coach is screaming at his players, 9- and 10-year-old boys.

“Lazy. You’re being lazy!”

“Are you a spectator or a ballplayer?”

“Dive for the ball!"

"Can any of you catch?”

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