Baseball, Bullies Not a Good Mix

Having spent much of the previous year trying to coach teens in a private baseball program in Alameda, I witnessed some disturbing to downright shocking treatment of children that I’m compelled to share with the community.

Beneath the veneer of college coaching teaching youngsters the skills necessary to play high school baseball with a chance to reach their college potential, is a megalomaniac whose ambition to take over baseball training on the island has corrupted the spirit behind it. Parents are enticed by the apple pie, focusing on the delicious cinnamon topping, but beneath there are sour apples.

There is one coach in the program who played college baseball that I spent one year with as a full-time college coach. The players on the program’s sister college-level team almost never appear at practices, despite local media being duped into thinking otherwise.

The philosophy of the program leaves little time for teaching when the goal is for players to get maximum reps at drills. Drills that may be used by college programs, but many high school and youth coaches use the same ones. When the players don’t perform the drills properly, they are yelled at, spotlighted and belittled for not knowing what to do. Perhaps a popular technique of old-school college coaches, but a good teacher knows when many pupils can’t perform a task properly, the fault lies more in the way it was taught than how it was performed.

A good coach knows younger athletes need to be reminded of steps in a drill and reminded of key techniques. However, I was not only was I told not to waste time demonstrating proper techniques, but on multiple occasions I was told, "don’t waste your time on (multiple kids)," because he was never going to get it or be any good. The parents of these kids are paying for expensive babysitting or are just donors.

What kind of person has a business model that is not designed to beat the competition, but to eliminate them. Eliminate them not through a better product, but through a whisper campaign to parents (badmouthing other programs and eluding that kids won’t play for Alameda High if they don’t stay with this program) and intimidation of young teenagers.

Not only did I hear on multiple occasions from the managing partners: "All we need to do is get rid of … (the person in charge of the local little league or Babe Ruth program). The chief operator told me squarely from the beginning his plan was: "Make it so every kid who wants to play baseball has to go through my program."

Once a kid was in his program the intimidation to stay and only participate in his program remained a priority. One practice, all the kids were gathered for another big speech, this one centered on taking the weekend off, the opposite of the usual insults about none of them being good athletes and none of them working hard enough at practice or on their own. He was very specific, "Do not pick up a ball this entire weekend. Don’t play catch with your dad or take batting practice." They were told the rest would help the team in the stretch drive.

The first practice following the weekend, the team was gathered up for a monologue on loyalty. He started about the mandatory rest, and how some players didn’t follow instructions. He said he was there for the players but he "was disappointed some players weren’t loyal to him. Some of you decided to play this weekend and you guys should be smart enough to know we can check on social media to see you played for other teams." He actually pointed some out by name to ostracize them and intimidate others from future infractions.

I believe loyalty is earned not enforced through Machiavellian manipulation. In my 20 years as a sportswriter, I’ve seen coaches like these come and go. Some cruel treatment is sadly tolerated in the name of winning, but even Bobby Knight wore out his welcome. In my 11 years of coaching, I’ve made my mistakes and lost my cool on several occasions, like all coaches do. Still, a vast majority of my players got better and enjoyed the experience.

If your children play for a local baseball program ask if the incidents and quotes in here are accurate. More importantly, ask how they feel about their coach, if they’re getting the college-level coaching they have been promised. Or just ask the simple questions you do about school like: what did you learn today? And what happened at practice today?

If your coach looks like a bully, and sounds like a bully, then your coach is probably a bully. And what kind of a parent would pay to have their child bullied?

Ryan Metcalf lives in Alameda.