Youth Baseball Safety

baseball bats in a fenceSpring Baseball in Chicago is defined by cold, tough weather but this week’s conditions nearly made for our son’s last ever game in the Schaumburg Athletic Association (SAA). Baseball safety, like safety in any youth sport, can’t be an afterthought. Now I wonder where safety ranks in our league.

For several years, our now eleven year old son has played SAA baseball. He has learned both about teamwork as well as seen personal growth through hard work while he has grown to be a very good player. This week, however, he learned another lesson about the darker side of organized sports. He learned that coaches are often too willing to cross the line between building character and a blatant disregard for safety.

In hind sight, I should have pulled my son out when I saw how the game was progressing. Had I pulled him out, another child wouldn’t have gotten hurt. My son’s teammate was in the on-deck circle when he was hit in the ankle by the baseball bat that flew out of my son’s cold, wet hands. I know it had to hurt terribly and I’m just so grateful it didn’t hit him in the face. In talking to our son, what happened was fairly obvious… both the bat and his hands were wet. Couple that with how blue his cold hands were and he just couldn’t maintain a grip.

Why didn’t I pull him from the game?

I wish I knew. I think I feared others would see me as “that overreactive parent” who faces funny looks from coaches and other parents. But I also worried I was being over-sensitive given last year’s sports-related family tragedy. So, I trusted the coaching staff’s experience.

After the injury, everyone around said things like “don’t worry, it was just an accident.” I, however, see it differently. Yes, I know my son didn’t mean to lose his grip. Yes, I know it was a fluke that it happened to fly to the one person not behind a fence. Yes, I know the exact action was an accident. The situation that caused it, however, was both predictable and avoidable. Therefore, this was hardly an accident.

I am not the only one who could have stopped the game. Had there been lightning, the ump could have called the game. Had it been too dark, the ump could have ended it as well. Both are safety issues to be sure. So, why then couldn’t the ump or either of coaches call off the game when they all saw the same dangers I did? They had to see the rain, wind, and cold made for dangerous conditions. Or did they? Did I just see things differently than they did? Did they assume all the players had waterproof batting gloves? (I’d never even heard of such a thing until someone on twitter mentioned them later in the night) Did they assume all the gear was staying somehow dry in the unsheltered dugout?

What were the signs I saw? I saw kids shielding their faces from the rain which meant they couldn’t see an object coming at them. I saw shivering, blue hands which means, at best, early signs of hypothermia. I saw pitchers on both sides who lost all accuracy leading to so many wild pitches. I heard several assistant coaches and parents saying things like “this is stupid” and “we should just call it.” At the top of the second inning at about 6:30pm,  I listened to the coaches of the 8:00pm game decide conditions warranted canceling their game.

Given all this, why was anyone surprised an hour later when my son lost his grip on the bat? Perhaps nobody was surprised.

The bigger question I have is…why didn’t they end the game when the other player was hurt? It’s one thing for me to see the potential of danger, but it is hard for anyone to ignore an unsafe situation when the proof is a crying child with an ice pack on his leg and parents wondering if they should call an ambulance. Yet, we played another inning in these conditions. Thank God nobody else was hurt.

I’m sorry my son caused another child pain and I blame myself for not pulling him out when I thought I should. That said, I also fault the SAA and their young ump who, despite several parents asking for him to call off the game both before and after the injury, decided to let the coaches make the decisions. But I’m mostly dissapointed with the coaches on both sides who shrugged off the danger and said “well, we have to play.”

Really? We HAVE to play? If we HAVE to play, then we HAVE to think about safety. We HAVE to think like parents.

-Mike

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