You Can’t Get In The Game From The Bleachers

The following is a variation of a piece done previously in this forum, but in the spirit of trying to motivate kids to “get in the game,” I offer the sentiments again this week.

“Don’t fear criticism. The galleries are full of critics. They play no ball, they fight no fights, they make no mistakes, because they attempt nothing. Down in the arena are the doers. They make many mistakes because they attempt many things.” (author unknown)

Life’s opportunities come along often, and taking advantage of them can create great memories, and senses of accomplishment, if one steps forward to accept the challenges and possible (probable?) criticism that may accompany acceptance of some opportunities. My life has been full of doors which have been opened to me, and I chose to walk through a great many of them. I’m very glad I did.

A most recent of these opportunities came in being asked to chair the Robert H. Jackson Center’s Young Reader Series Program. About four years ago, I was asked to take over the chairpersonship of this annual event, and though I knew I’d never fill the shoes of the original chairperson, I accepted the opportunity and I’ve met some wonderful authors of books that I’ve enjoyed reading and sharing with students, and athletes, in roles in other opportunities made available to me in my life. This experience has allowed me to meet and spend time with authors Jane Yolen (The Devil’s Arithmetic), Philip Hoose (Claudette Colvin, Twice Toward Justice), Karen Levine (Hana’s Suitcase), and most recently Sharon Robinson (Jackie’s Nine).

Along with chairing this event these four years, I’ve had the honor of introducing each author, and finding out more about them, but the real pleasure and reward came from just getting to talk, and spend time, with them, finding out all of them were down to earth, genuine people, who had a story to tell and were so gracious to share that story with students, teachers, librarians, and interested community members. I’ve enjoyed being with all of these authors and hearing their words. As a baseball fan, I was extremely in awe of the opportunity to meet and talk with Sharon Robinson, and hear the story of her father’s and Branch Rickey’s tenacity in breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball. I wouldn’t have had this opportunity, if I’d “stayed in the bleachers.”

From the ’70s through last year, I accepted numerous coaching opportunities, and many who’ve coached or seen coaching, know how much coaches are questioned for many things, including choosing the team, playing time, game strategy, practice and team expectations/rules and the enforcement of them. I did this on scholastic levels, youth league levels and took advantage of travel opportunities taking kids to the Cooperstown Dreams Park numerous times, then continued by establishing travel teams and taking weekend trips to communities in New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio so kids could play more baseball than the kids would get just playing in their community leagues. So many rewards from all of these situations, first, being able to meet and work with many great kids, both on teams we had and teams we played against, and later seeing many of the kids we had reach the State Baseball Final Four for their respective high schools, some on more than one occasion. Another reward was being able to coach sports I love (baseball, softball, and football), and teach those sports, then watch the kids go out and try to put those things done in practice to use in games, and when they worked, I got to see big smiles and share high fives of self-satisfaction that they were experiencing after making rehearsal become reality. Again, these opportunities didn’t come without differences of philosophy and opinion, but I’d never have had the pleasure of being with these kids sitting in the bleachers.

I’ve had opportunities to umpire baseball for more than 20 years in Chautauqua County, and a few years in Cattaraugus County simultaneously, on levels ranging from youth league to college. Anyone who’s been to a ballgame (any sport or level) knows that, often times, half the fans will be criticizing the official during most of the contests played. It’s great being on the field officiating though. I, and fellow umpires, have the best seat in the house, we get to watch some pretty good games, some not so good, at times, we get to watch kids play the games we love to be around, and get paid for the gas to get to the games too. Occasionally, we get to watch some excellent athletes not only play these sports, but later may get the chance to see them playing in professional capacities, though maybe not in the sports we saw them play in high school. I’ve had the pleasure of calling balls and strikes behind catcher Shane Conlan of Frewsburg, who we know went on to great careers with PSU and the Buffalo Bills. I got to watch Chuck Crist of Salamanca play high school baseball, then fast-pitch softball, and then go on to his career in professional football with the Giants, Saints, and 49ers. I’d never have had that opportunity to share the field with them and others, by sitting in the bleachers.

I’ve been given the opportunity to write in this publication, which has occasionally struck some people’s nerves, and have been given the encouragement/motivation to be published in books as well, but those opportunities would’ve never become real from the bleachers.

I was given the opportunity, honor and pleasure to have taught for a third of a century. I would’ve never had that opportunity without my pursuit of that career, and without others who taught me, guided me, mentored me, and gave me the room to learn as I went along, develop myself, and given me the space to make mistakes and learn from them, to give my students as good an education in subject matter, and life, as I could. There was questioning, disagreement and criticism involved with this endeavor too, but well worth it to have had the profession I had for those many years. Again, not possible, if I hadn’t gotten out of the bleachers and into the game.

I appreciate all those opportunities and the people who made them possible for me to pursue. I’m slowing down a bit, backing away from and missing some things I’ve done, but still staying involved in some of the activities I’ve done for many years. I’ve done things, not because I want ticker tape parades, or pats on the back, but because I felt I had something to offer, and I enjoyed doing what I did, and because so many gave me chances and opportunities to get off my “good intentions” on those bleachers and get into the game. And no, I never liked the criticism, but accepted it because I loved what I was doing.

Message for today, especially to young people, “Don’t fear criticism. The world is full of critics. They play no ball, they fight no fights, they make no mistakes, because they attempt nothing. Down in the arena are the doers. They make many mistakes because they attempt many things.” Get in the game!