If you are a big baseball fan, you know about the tragic news involving young stud pitcher Jose Fernandez. Fernandez lost his life in a boating accident in Miami. The baseball world was stunned, but his teammates on the Miami Marlins were shattered. This was not only a teammate, this is their brother. Because when it comes to baseball, especially at a Pro level, you check your ego at the door, and as a team, you fight toward a goal; winning. Individual achievements at the big league level are nice and Major League baseball keeps track because the world needs lists, but in the end, for a team, it’s about making it to the playoffs, and then winning the World Series together.
Nevermind that Fernandez was a huge part of the Marlins success this year. Right now for that team, that’s irrelevant. That team was more shaken by his death and knowing that emotionally, they don’t know if they can go on without him. In an eye opening pre-game ceremony before their game against the Mets last night, a truly emotional display took place. Every single member of the Marlins staff wore Jose Fernandez #16 jerseys. They stood on the mound and remembered their brother.
At moments the packed crowd was silent, allowing this broken team to mourn. After their moment, they collectively again took the field and beat the New York Mets, as one, for Fernandez and for themselves. They did their best to move forward.
Being a team is so important. In Youth baseball, teaching kids about good sportsmanship, respect for each other and solid foundations isn’t always at the forefront of a kid’s mind. They think about how many doubles they can hit. They ask, “Why does Little Bobby strike out every time he comes up to the plate?” They try to point fingers of blame at their teammates if they lose a game. That’s why I have said so often that if you’re a Youth baseball coach, you really do have the toughest job in the world.
Not only are you dealing with team schedules and strategy and trying to build up your team’s confidence. You also have to deal with many emotions. Taking a team of 12 kids and making them understand unity and what a team truly is. These are kids. Emotions after a strikeout are enormous, especially in a big moment. But now you gotta deal with the rest of the team coming down on that kid and teaching that they need to move forward together. It’s not easy. There is tremendous pressure for a coach to balance all the emotion and still enforce respect for each other. But it can be done and over time, that team will learn that while individual achievements are great in the building blocks of a player’s career, that “team” mentality will take you a heck of a lot further because that bond runs deep.
My son’s been on some pretty great teams in his young career, but has also been on some terrible ones. And I don’t mean ‘terrible’ as if they lost every game and hated every minute of it. I mean ‘terrible’ because he had coach who couldn’t bring a team together and he lost control of his team. There was name calling, disrespect for each other, chaos. The Parents saw it immediately, but the coach couldn’t understand how to fix it, because he never set the tone on day one.
Anyway, there was one particular team that our family was very fond of and it’s a perfect example of a really good group and coach. My son was injured and his club had a big tournament coming up. While we thought about bringing him for team support, my wife and I just couldn’t fit it into our schedule. The team went on and did fine… winning a few, losing a few and life went on.
About a week later my son received a package. He opened it and in it was a signed baseball from his coach and teammates along with a tournament t-shirt. To say my son was overjoyed would be an understatement. That season, although he missed much of it would forever be one of our favorites, despite his injury, despite him not being in the line up much. That’s because that team knew how important unity was. Their brother wasn’t left behind.
You can’t throw 12 kids out on a field and expect them to get it. They will not. You need a good coach to set the tone early. Explain how important unity and good sportsmanship is and make sure the team follows through. If they don’t, those kids will not truly understand what baseball is all about. If they do, you just helped a group of kids not only become unified as a team, but you’ve instilled life lessons into their growth for not only baseball, but for life.
Keep kids motivated together! Make them understand how important teamwork is! And if they don’t get it… show them that lead photograph of the entire Marlins team sobbing, wearing their #16 Jose Fernandez jersey together, reflecting on losing their brother. Let that young player see it for themselves.
That photograph speaks volumes for a little boy on their journey to the major leagues and to be honest, will forever stay in my own mind. It was truly touching, and explains so much about just how important ‘Team’ is.
-Rob Monaco, Little League coach & Commissioner
Read more items like this on our Facebook page The Heart of Youth Baseball.