Saturday mornings on the baseball fields behind Scera Park Elementary School in Orem was Xanadu to this 5-year-old.
It’s where my older brother Darin and I suited up in our green Giants uniforms to contend for the Orem City T-ball championship.
We practiced, played hard, kept score and set out to win every game — which is a far cry from today’s T-ball standard that rewards kids for showing up at all.
No matter if we won or lost, the true joy came after the game. That’s when coach Stan Pope gathered us around the back of his truck and presented a cooler full of ice-cold Pop Shoppe soda — grape, orange, cola, black cherry, root beer, you name it, he had it, and we drank it!
I continued the tradition with my son’s T-ball team many years later in Las Vegas. There wasn’t Pop Shoppe available, but we had plenty of cold treats. Our games were celebrations of friendship, teamwork, wins and losses — and treats.
As my son grew older, I noticed a disturbing trend over seven years of countless hours at the ballpark. With each passing season, there was less laughter and more frustration — and fewer treats. It’s when personal performance became preferred, ahead of the team, and it’s when parents transformed into critics instead of supporters.
During the final inning of a game where our team, the Cubs, had the lead, I put a determined 11-year-old pitcher on the mound, and he proceeded to walk the bases loaded.
I called timeout and went out there and saw tears in his eyes. The opposing team and its crowd were bursting with joy. The momentum had shifted and the hot night became even hotter. I determined the moment was a little too big for my guy. So, much to his relief, I changed pitchers.
Moments later, the older and more-experienced boy that I replaced him with, gave up a grand slam and we lost the game by one run to the Cardinals.
The father of the pitcher who had walked the bases loaded greeted me at the dugout demanding, in a loud, booming voice, wanting to know why I pulled his son off the mound and that my decision cost the team a victory and that I didn’t know what I was doing.
I had never seen this man before and it took me a few seconds to realize he was talking about his young boy, who was watching the one-way exchange nearby and was embarrassed by his dad’s behavior.
I was stunned by his berating. Like every other volunteer, I wasn’t getting paid to be the coach and with my morning news anchor schedule, I didn’t even have the time or the energy to do it. But my son was on the team and that’s why I signed up to be the coach.
After the man calmed down, I invited him to come help at practice and I never saw him again.
It seems the older we get, the worse we get when it comes to sports. Social media is loaded with incidents of parents fighting with each other, or with the game officials, or with coaches, or players fighting players. In some cases, the incidents require a police response and lead to lawsuits and jail time.
I cringe when I watch a grown adult verbally trash a 14-year-old umpire making $8 an hour because his or her strike zone is inconsistent. Nor do I understand what makes that same person feel justified for berating a professional athlete, while claiming immunity from all consequences, just because they bought an overpriced ticket on the front row.
There is a significant difference between a crowd making noise to encourage the defense and distract a soccer player’s penalty-kick, compared to when voices in the crowd attack that same kicker about his or her weight, color, family, faith, hairstyle or attitude.
And yet, for many, the notion of it “just being sports” rationalizes away the best of human behavior and replaces it with juvenile junk.
Parents don’t have a free pass to be a bad sport.
Is bullying the opposing pitcher during a baseball game any different than bullying a kid walking alone in a school hallway? We might say “I would never bully a kid,” but we don’t hesitate to shout him or her down in front of their peers in public, just because they are holding a baseball in their hand and playing for the other team.
It’s a chronic problem that shows up around every field of competition, but there is an easy fix.
We can be better. We can resolve to treat people in the way we wish to be treated. I don’t want someone yelling that my niece or nephew is an “easy out” to the entire diamond, so why would I say the same things about yours?
The “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” notion has never grown out of style.
Better behavior in the dugout, or on the sideline, or the bench begins with better behavior in the bleachers, from us parents. We all want our kids to succeed and win, but losing our cool while doing it just isn’t cool. It kills the fun for everyone.
The original Pop Shoppe closed in 1983. Coach Stan Pope passed away and a new elementary school now sits where the Scera Park baseball fields once were. Memories of those golden T-ball years are all that’s left for the green Giants. However, attending sporting events remains a constant as we cheer on our kids, neighbor kids, grandkids and even great-grandkids.
It’s ballpark weather across Utah and despite the rising summer temperatures and crowded parking lots, we can all be better at keeping our cool. The example we set as adults will shape the next generation of spectators.
Freelance writer Robert Brault noted, “Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.”
When it comes to sports and kids, the little things, like teamwork, friendship, wins, losses and good family support become the big things we remember forever — especially when there are cold treats after the game.
Dave McCann is a contributor to the Deseret News and is the studio host for “After Further Review,” co-host for “Countdown to Kickoff” and the “Postgame Show” and play-by-play announcer for BYUtv.
Players cheer from the dugout during a game at the Crown Colony baseball field in Holladay on Tuesday, June 16, 2020.
Steve Griffin, Deseret News