Youth baseball is as American as apple pie. Baseball complexes and fields cover our landscape from the massive, brightly lit complexes with manicured grass and fancy scoreboards to the hidden, weed-infested and forgotten diamonds of our parents’ past.
Every generation and all aspects of society can talk baseball. Days chasing a tee-ball to the fence racing against 4 other teammates turn into retired evenings listening to the local team on the radio, just because baseball will always be great on the radio.
There are so many reasons baseball is great, and while writing this post, I feel like this will just have to be a series of post. Instantly, I knew what the first reason should be:
The Unwritten Rules of Baseball
Baseball might be the most complex sport out of them all. It can also be simplified into throw ball, hit ball, catch ball. This happens often, but even on those plays and on other plays so much more can happen. That simple play turns into: check your fielders, get the defense adjustments, toe the rubber, get the signs, check the runners, come set, check the runners again, look into the glove, deliver the pitch, load the bat, protect the plate, hit a soft fly ball to right field, bust out of the batter’s box, sprint to first, judge the flight of the ball, break for the ball to make the catch, secure the catch, check the runners while jogging the ball in, toss the ball to the second baseman. Both of these situations could have been the exact same play. Hopefully that proves my point?
A young ball player will never fail to make a mistake in front of a veteran. The older, grizzled ball players can pull out any unwritten rule, whether it be well known or made up on the spot. A common term in baseball for acts that go against the purity of the sport is ‘Bush League’. A Bush League player is one that breaks any amount of unwritten rules. This accusation is tossed around all the time, sometimes correctly, sometimes not.
Being on a baseball team in a lot of ways is like being involved in a secret club. Each team has different handshakes, gestures, phrases, and attributes that are learned over time. It can take newer players some time to fit in with these in place. This can be a good or bad thing, depending on the personalities on the team. It’s common though for the team to have a universal perception of the purity of baseball. Because of this, the unwritten rules of baseball differ from team to team, and league to league.
One of the first unwritten rules I learned was to not step on the white, chalked lines before the game or when taking the field. This was a respectable rule, because it kept the field looking nice and pristine, but if there has already been a game or more played on the field, the lines were likely just smeared dirt that would take a long jump to avoid. As much as I think this one might have been created by a groundskeeper, I still respect and teach this rule. Especially on a clean, freshly chalked diamond.
Many of the unwritten rules change in youth baseball, and some should be adapted. The rule that says do not throw a strike on an 0-2 count should be forgotten with the 9 and 10 year olds and only adapted by a pitcher with established control and the right mentality. Not stealing third with 2 outs can prevent you from grabbing an important run on a wild pitch or balk that come more often at the younger ages.
Baseball attire is important to me. The game has been through so much and has touched so many lives that it deserves some respect. I believe a baseball hat should be worn correctly when in a baseball environment, meaning from the first step out of the car at the baseball complex to the dugout and onto the field. Jerseys should be tucked in as well. Other pieces of the uniform are up to opinion. My son has fought me on socks for years. I conceded that battle long ago, as he loves the long pants that rest on top of his shoes. Hopefully one day he shows off the entire sock with his pants pulled up. To me, that is baseball, but it also shows where the unwritten rules can vary.
Act like you’ve been there is a rule that covers many areas. With a huge lead, bases shouldn’t be stolen. Routine plays don’t need a lot of cheer, but a simple tip of the cap by the pitcher after a great play goes a long ways. At young ages, a home run might be a big deal, but even the youngest of players need to hustle around the bases. Celebrations need to keep in mind that there will always be another tournament and season, but that these moments should be remembered. A wild party in front of the other team isn’t what baseball is all about. Any amount of cheering can be done in private, but on the baseball field, the scope of the achievement should be taken in mind.
Often at a youth baseball complex, you’ll find many actions that could be considered Bush League or in breach of the unwritten rules. Players dance and clap off base to distract pitchers, coaches use all sorts of loopholes to give their team an advantage, jerseys range from t-shirts to clown outfits, and the quiet game of baseball is littered with sounds of music, cell-phones, siblings playing, non-baseball conversations, and much more. Out in right-field though, as little Johnny stares in at the batter, the game can still remain pure. The unwritten rules can still be followed.
Players are expected to keep their emotions in check. Tom Hanks believes that one of the unwritten rules is that baseball players shouldn’t cry. I’m betting most would agree on this, and also the more commonly known rule to not let the pitcher know you hurt him. If that ball left a bruise on your bicep, you can’t rub it afterwards. You’re expected to take your base and tough it out. That’s a lot to expect from a third grader. As much as the ones that shake it off and sprint to first make me smile, I’m quick to sprint in for a kid that needs assistance. As parents and coaches holler out ‘Take one for the Team!’, we need to realize that the smile on their face after the game is most important.
That’s usually solved by an after-game treat. Are we bribing them to love the game like we do? Or is this just another great thing about the game of baseball? Both are probably correct, and I don’t see anything wrong with that.