Being good at anything doesn’t always come easily, I think we can all agree on that. We’ve all seen the Can’t-Miss, Youth League All-Star graduate to high school sports…struggle…and then disappear from the landscape. Hey, it happens! Sports can be brutal, and if you’re paying attention and seek the truth, it’s always there—in BIG BOLD LETTERS—telling us what’s up. The same difficulties and obstacles go for parents and coaches, too—if not more.
Hi there, my name is Lou Birdt—I’m the CEO of YSPN360 and, like many of you, also a parent, a coach, someone who ultimately wants to improve the youth sports experience.
I wanted to share two stories with you that I experienced: one as a player and the other as a college pitching coach. These stories have lessons for both coaches, players, and parents. I’m hoping you’ll capture the essence and message I’m trying to convey before the end of this—and won’t be afraid to use my experiences to help you, your youth athletes, a coach, or maybe all three!
So here we go…
I was always on the smaller side. Not only was I short, but I was also a beanpole. Almost universally, I was the smallest kid on my team. As a youth player, I made one all-star team. It was my first year of playing ball in a little league in Southern California. Growing up, I was hooked on baseball—I was “all about the game,” as the kids say. I lived and breathed the game. It occupied my brain for, well, more than my teachers probably would have hoped. I guess you could say I was obsessed with it. (By the way, the year I made the all-star team, my Dad was the coach, so I’m not sure I even earned it.)
The game never came naturally to me. I was always out-muscled and didn’t throw as hard or as far as most of the other kids. I couldn’t hit the ball as hard or as far as most of the other kids. But, I kept going back because I loved the game—that part, oddly enough, did come naturally.
The Dodgers were my team, and Steve Garvey and Davey Lopes were my idols. I think I liked Garvey because he crushed the ball. I liked Davey Lopes because of his grit and toughness, and because we both played second base. My first batting stance, of course…was Davey Lopes. It worked out better for him than it did for me—Baseball Gods can be selective—but I had a stance and a fighting chance.
As I progressed—and yes, continued to be average to less-than-average—my love for the game only grew. (Again, I don’t know why.) I never hit a home run. I struck out a lot and was never “the guy” on any of my teams.
Instead, my historical footprint on the diamond resonated…differently. The actual scene went something like this: As a twelve-year-old, I cost my team our division championship because I made an errant throw in the fifth inning. I think we had a comfortable six-run lead, with only two innings to go. I had a routine groundball hit to my left—super-easy play—but as I fielded the ball and began to make my throw to first base I thought, “Hey, I’ll make this throw the same way I watched Davey Lopes make this throw a thousand times!” and I slung it sidearm. The only problem was, unlike Davey Lopes, my throw sailed halfway (maybe more) up the first base line, almost to the catcher. The leadoff hitter reached safely—probably could have crawled, really—and after that, floodgates. It seemed like we were out there for an hour…when the dust settled, we lost.
But—BUT!—I still loved the game! (I still loved Davey Lopes!)
As high school began for me, my baseball experience continued on the same route. There was an abundance of struggle and no reward. I got cut my freshman year and only made the junior varsity team my sophomore year. Similar circumstances followed, I got cut my junior year and made the varsity team my senior year— just to accumulate a total of 10 at-bats. Not exactly what you’d hoped for or dreamt of as a kid. But hey, I did go 3-for-10 in those 10 plate appearances, so I had that going for me (I mean, that’s Hall of Fame credentials right there!). Did I mention that I was only 5’8” and weighed a whopping 135 pounds? And that was after graduating from high school…well before Jose Altuve made that particular set of genetics look cool.
But, I still loved the game!
Then something happened. I started to grow. And then grow a little more. The following fall, I tried out at our local junior college. I’ll never forget walking out on the field for that tryout. It was a beautiful, September Southern California day, and I was really excited and ready to go. (I was now about 5’10” and 150 pounds, by the way.) Anyway, I walked out onto the field, and…what in the world…about 150 guys were also out there. I couldn’t believe my eyes!
I was ready for the challenge, though. That was how blind I was to my situation. (It makes me laugh when I think about it.)
The coach brought things to order and told us to go to our preferred position. So what did I do? I put my head down and hustled out to second base. What happened when I got there? I am surrounded by 15 to 20 other guys who decided to do the same thing! I’d never seen anything like it. My teams had maybe… 20 total players on it before. And now—well, I’m looking at all these guys who want to play the same position as ME. Yikes!
But I did my best—and I made it for about two months before I was cut from the team.
All hope was not lost, either. Around the time I was receiving my walking papers, I heard that another local junior college, about 20 miles away, was looking for players. So, of course, I went out there.
The number of players trying out at this time was a lot less than my first attempt—thankfully. But one problem remained: I wasn’t very good.
Then, it happened…
After a couple of weeks, the head coach pulled me aside and asked if I’d pitched before. ( Me? Pitch? Huh?) The most pitching I’d done, to date, was throwing batting practice in high school because it turns out, I could throw strikes. That also turned out to be a pretty significant skill for a pitcher!
So, I went with it. I started pitching.
In the beginning, I wasn’t that good, but I was enjoying the experience—and I was still playing! Of course—the Baseball Gods being funny again!—I got cut… again…the second time in literally a month.
But, I still loved it!
So, let’s stop here and do some math (yes, I know; Math=YUK!): in four years, I got cut four times and had a total of 10 at-bats. Lesson over.
Not really. I thought I’d give it one more try and went back to the junior college that was closer to my home and asked if I could try out as a pitcher. They agreed—although I think “relented” was more like it because I kept asking.
Anyway. I threw my ‘pen, and the head coach said, “OK…w
That, my friends, was a great day!
When the dust settled on my college career, I pitched four years. I experienced three league championships and played an essential role on two teams that competed in the College World Series. And get this, I even played a half season of professional baseball.
Man, I love this game!! Still!! Thank you, Davey Lopes!!
But what’s the point, right? What does this journey have to do with that journey—more so, your journey?
For you guys and gals out there—who things may not be going as you had hoped—my vision, my message for you is this: Don’t. Give. Up! You never know what the future holds for you. If you love something, don’t let it go. Dream big and do NOT let anyone tell you that you’re not good enough. You’re going to have your highs and lows—such is life—but don’t give up on yourself. If you don’t, no one else can. And above all, love the game, or whatever you dream of doing.
For the coaches reading this, my message echos the same prinples: Do not give up on your kids. Fight and argue as much as you want, the reality is you do not know what the future holds either. (Otherwise, you’d be a famous Soothsayer with a talk show that comes on after The Price is Right!)
In all seriousness, though, had I listened to my high school coach, I would have given up on baseball the moment he told me I was too small to pitch at the next level—I mean, what’s the point of continuing my journey, right?
But I kept going, because I loved the game and wanted to play. And—crystal balls be damned—by my redshirt-sophomore year in college, I was 6’1″ and weighed 195 pounds.
Point being, you never know…
Contributor: Lou Birdt, YSPN360 CEO