“I believe things happen for a reason,” Matheny told me this week. No, he never intended for the letter to go public, and he never saw himself as a leader for a new direction in youth sports. But he has seen the impact the letter has on people. And he has seen that there are others, many others, who want youth sports to be about something more than winning and parents who want to live vicariously through their children’s successes.
"You know, 99 percent of the kids playing baseball won’t play high school ball,” Matheny said. “That’s a statistic that’s floating around for anyone to see. Of those kids who do play high school ball, 99 percent won’t play in college. Of those playing in college, more than 99 percent won’t play pro ball. This happens at every level.
“That’s why it can’t be about being in a big-league clubhouse. Baseball should be about what it can teach about discipline and unselfishness and teamwork. I always said that between life and baseball, it’s obvious that life is a lot more important.”
Matheny is making this a cause. He has a website, and there you can see the letter he wrote, and you can read the blog he’s writing. He promised to put some videos on there – he’s got one coming from Jim Leyland and another from Joe Girardi – and he said he intends to keep it going all year.
“I’ll put some baseball in there to keep the young players engaged,” he said. “And I’ll keep talking about ideas to make sports about the kids.”
He stopped and looked at me. “There is story after story of kids just quitting sports because it stopped being fun. I’ll bet you’ve seen some of that.”
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She was not the only one yelling, of course. But she was the loudest. The mother was so clearly doing it out of love … and at the same time, maybe, you could see the girl withering. I don’t know what’s right. Maybe that girl will become tougher because of her mother’s intensity. Maybe she will push herself and become a star basketball player. Then again maybe she will quit the game because it just wasn’t much fun. I don’t claim to know the answer. I only know that after every practice my own daughter – probably like your son or daughter - looks up at me and asks, “How did I do?”
“People want to do what’s best for their kids,” Matheny said. “I know that. Their hearts are in the right place. But I think, without intending to, they add pressure, and they don’t let them just be kids.
“Some people will say I’m crazy. They will say I’m full of it. I know that. I’m not saying my way is the right way for everybody. It’s not. But I am saying that a lot of people see the same things I’m seeing. I’m saying there is another way. There is a way where sports can be used to develop character. There is a way where sports can be joyful for kids. Isn’t that what we all want?”
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