Nate Graziano laments the lack of hustle and sportsmanship our kids are showing in sports…and looks to the bad example set by the pros as part of the cause.
I used to think it would be time to size up coffins when I started beginning sentences with the clause: “When we were kids.” However, after watching my 10 year old son play little league for the past two years, I can only conclude that either I’m ancient at 40 or there has been a serious shift in the way some boys approach the game.
If you haven’t watched a little league game in awhile, you might be astounded to observe some of the lack of hustle and sportsmanship demonstrated by some of our children—my own is not immune. For example, you might watch a 9 year old player, after a called third strike, stay in the box for a few seconds, feigning astonishment. Or you might see a left fielder jog to a ball hit into the gap as the runners round the bases.
You don’t have to do a ton of sociological excavation to figure out why there is such unprecedented entitlement is being displayed by pre-adolescent boys. It is one of baseball’s time-honored traditions: these young boys are emulating their idols.
Now I’m going say something that I’ve been thinking for weeks now but, so far, have kept to myself. The truth is that I’m finding the personality of the 2015 Red Sox slightly disagreeable and, at times, difficult to cheer.
There is a palpable arrogance for a team that is underperforming on offense with downright sorrowful starting pitcher right now. I don’t know, perhaps it has something to do with many, many bloated and unjustified contracts, not just in Boston but all around baseball. For Red Sox, however, this arrogance starts with the team’s iconic figurehead.
If you missed it, David Ortiz was ejected from Sunday’s game against the Orioles for arguing a check swing called the third strike by third base umpire Jerry Meals. Later this week, the MLB fined Papi and suspended him for a game—it is currently being appealed—for bumping umpire John Tumpane.
Okay. Any casual Red Sox fan could tell you that this is nothing new for Ortiz. But hall-of-fame pitcher Jim Palmer, after firing some caustic tweets at Ortiz after the ejection, perhaps put it best when he wrote in an email, “Who needs a home plate umpire when David’s at the plate?”
While no one can reasonably argue Ortiz’ worth to the organization through the years, quite frankly, for me, Papi’s act is sour. I was officially tired of his “respect me” routine when he barged into a Terry Francona press conference during a tight pennant race in the ill-fated 2011 season. Ortiz popped into the room to bitch about the official ruling on one of his RBI’s. More importantly, his incessant bitching about balls and strikes and the pimping of his long balls sends the message to boys watching that it is perfectly acceptable—in fact, courtly and cool—to act like a diva on the baseball diamond.
Then there’s Hanley Ramirez, who so far seems a lot like that other Ramirez to play left field at Fenway, only not as talented or certifiable. When the Red Sox signed Hanley to an obscene four-year $88 million contract, two things seemed to be immutable truths: he can mash a baseball and he is a head case.
So far, he has lived up to the billing.
A healthy Hanley Ramirez should feast at Fenway Park, and his bat powers an already formidable batting line-up—if they can ever click on all cylinders. And I realize Ramirez is playing a new position and learning on the job so his fielding hiccups can be forgiven. What cannot be forgiveness, however, is his total lack of hustle in left field and general insouciance. He plays the field with the enthusiasm of an H&R Block scab doing your taxes. Ramirez jogs for balls bouncing around in the corner and exudes a complete indifference to the position. Or he’s ignoring his coaches and running through signs.
When your son asks you why that guy isn’t running after the ball, and said guy is in the major leagues, you can only shrug at your kid and say, “Life’s not fair.”
Fortunately, the 2015 Red Sox are redeemed by the energy and grit of players like Mookie Betts, Dustin Pedroia and Brock Holt, the latter who would likely take a bite out of the base if it would give his team an advantage. These character guys, the classic Boston “Dirt Dogs” save the team from despicability.
There are the players that the boys should try to emulate, but sometimes they’re hard to find and they shouldn’t be.
When we were kids, we were taught the same things kids are taught today: to hustle, to play hard and to keep ours mouths shut.
When we were kids, however, our heroes hustled, too.
When we were kids, our fathers, watching a game with us on a Sunday afternoon, could still point to the television, at any given inning and say, “See? That’s how it’s done.”
Photo: Associated Press/File