A Stones Throw 5-29-14

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Jerry Striegel should be fired – immediately.

Before last week, I am sure few people had heard the name Jerry Striegel. Even today, I doubt that most people know who he is – or care.

I will admit, who Jerry Striegel is is not important. But, what he is and what he did – or what he did not do – is important.

And, we should all take note and care.

As a background, Jerry Striegel is the baseball coach for Rochester High School in Seattle, Washington. Dylan Fosnacht is an infielder – part time pitcher – for Rochester.

Last week, the part-time pitcher became a full-time pitcher.

At least for a day.

After the normal 20- to 30-minute warm up period, Fosnacht took to the mound. Fourteen plus innings and 194 pitches later he was removed from the game.

Fourteen innings and 194 pitches.

Plus – another six to eight warm -up pitches at the start of each inning.

That means Dylan Fosnacht threw at least 300 pitches.

That means, in a time when full grown, fully developed, professional pitchers are constantly put on “pitch-count” restrictions in the neighborhood of 100 pitches in order to save their arms, high school coach Jerry Striegel allowed a still developing high school part-time pitcher to throw 194 game time pitches.

I don’t care if Dylan Fosnacht does not have the talent to ever become a professional baseball player. I don’t care if Striegel checked with Fosnacht after each inning to see how he felt.

A high school coach should be responsible for the well-being of his players.

The same is true – perhaps more so – for those who coach in developmental leagues. This includes little league baseball, softball, soccer, basketball, lacrosse, volleyball, or even synchronized swimming.

The important thing is that when a four- year old or a 12 year-old joins a team, coaches, parents, and fans need to remember the goal should be to develop the skills and sportsmanship of those who are participating.

More importantly, it is important to remember that a child’s body has not fully developed. He or she must be allowed to develop physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Some aspects of that development are basic, such as never to allow a young pitcher to throw a curve, or any other breaking ball, until the body has developed to the point that the elbow and shoulder can handle the stress a breaking ball causes.

Most young pitchers are not aware of the harm that throwing a breaking ball at too early an age can do.

Unfortunately, many coaches either do not understand the dangers – or worse – don’t care. And, even more unfortunately, many parents are the same.

I can remember many years ago when I was a little league coach. I would not allow my pitchers to throw a curve. I had one eleven year old who was pitching for the first time. The first two innings were rough. He walked a couple of batters and gave up several hits.

The whole time, his father sat in the stands screaming “throw your curve.”

I finally took time-out and walked to the stands. I told the father that I appreciated his help but that my pitchers were not allowed to throw curves at their age and if he really cared about his son’s future he would not have him throwing curves in the back-yard.

The father got up and left the field.

I did not see the father at another ballgame the rest of the year or the following year. In fact, I did not see the father again until four years later when he knocked on my door. When I opened the door he just stuck out his hand and said “Thank you.”

He then told me that his son had just been selected to pitch for a high school all-star team. He told me that the pitchers who threw breaking balls in little league all had sore arms and could no longer pitch.

By then, his son had a strong arm and a good curve.

He credited me with the fact that I would not allow his son to throw a curve as a little leaguer.

I can’t take credit for the curve or the development – only for allowing the body to develop.

There are analogies for all sports.

Should a young football player be taught to lead with his head while tackling? Should a young football player be taught to play while in pain – or while still “dizzy” from a hit?

Should a young basketball player be taught that scoring is more important than technique? In this vein, it seems very little time is spent on teaching a young player how to shoot. As a result, many six-foot tall high school players play at 5’8″. That is, they shoot from their chest – not from above their head.

Because that is what they had to do to get the ball to the rim when they were young. And, because no coach took the time to teach the proper way to shoot. In a game where height is important, why not utilize every inch of a player’s height?

Perhaps as important as physical development, we should keep in mind when dealing with teams and leagues designed to develop the skills and maturity of its players that sportsmanship is important.

Maybe more important.

After all, fairness and sportsmanship will play a part in a young athlete’s life throughout his/her entire life – whether he/she continues to participate in athletics.

Again, unfortunately, many coaches either forget this – or don’t care.

A case in point was obvious during my granddaughter Erin’s sixth grade soccer game last week. Throughout the game, the opposing team, which was supposed to be one of the best in the area, continually used overly rough tactics. An elbow here – a push there – and on and on. As the game progressed the game remained scoreless.

And, the opposing team’s rough play increased.

To the point where a player was hurt.

My granddaughter’s team has been taught to immediately “take a knee” when a player is hurt.

With the girl on the ground, writhing in pain, the team “took a knee.”

The opposing team did not.

In fact, the opposing team coach looked at the coach of Erin’s team and said, “What are they praying for? This is not a church.”

I agree.

A playing field is not a church.

But, taking a knee while an injured player is attended to is not prayer – it is courtesy and sportsmanship.

Something the opposing coach, and many others, do not understand.

Come to think of it, not only should Jerry Striegel be fired, but any coach who values winning over the well-being of young, developing athletes should be removed.

Instead of applauding the curve ball thrown by a 10-year-old, we should question why that 10-year-old is allowed to throw a curve.

Early age sporting activities are developmental by design. How a young athlete develops physical, mentally, and emotionally can depend as much on his coaches as on his parents.

This is a great burden for those who coach our young athletes. By accepting the coaching job, these coaches, most of whom are non-paid volunteers, have accepted that burden.

– Mike Cooney