Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Smile, You Could Be This Guy

A great article in the New York Times today that every young baseball player and every parent of a talented player should read. It is the story of Steve Butler, a guy who was the top player on a high school team that also featured Alex Rodriguez and Doug Mienkeiwicz. As a Little League pitcher Butler once struck out an entire team, 27 outs in a row all K'd. In another game he threw a no-hitter and hit three home runs.
Butler was Westminster Christian's best player that year. A left-handed pitcher and first baseman, he went 13-0 in 1992, his junior year. He was named the Dade County player of the year, edging Mientkiewicz and easily beating Rodriguez. He was also named an all-American.
Butler's life began unraveling due to what he calls some "mistakes" that were really just a kid being a kid. Like wanting to play basketball but twisting his ankle so badly he had to pitch with an air-brace the next season. Or goofing off and jumping into a canal and cutting his foot on a piece of glass the day before tryouts for the United States junior national team.

But the kicker in this story is Butler's self-deluding father who blames Steve and Alex Rodriguez for his son's failure but not himself.
"I think what happened with Steve, he was too successful," said his father, Al. "I've heard some things Chipper Jones did in his high school career. Steve did those same type of things."
Uh huh. Yes, I see....too successful you say. Hmmm.
"I don't know if anybody could have handled it," Al Butler said. "So many scouts were there, it was like a circus. It was always Alex, Alex, Alex, Alex. Everything Alex."
But Alex wasn't 'too successful' was he? Or maybe he still is. Whatever. Let's cut to the chase Al. The problem is you. Allow me to read between the lines a bit: you were so awed by your son's baseball ability at 17 that you let him do whatever he wanted. You likely feared he would not take care of you in your old age. While this kid was being treated like a god at school you should have been acting like a parent and giving him the guidance, discipline and perspective a 17-year-old usually does not posses. What were Rodriguez & Mientkiewicz's parents doing differently? Maybe helping keep their sons focused on an activity that at the very least would pay for their college degrees and at most lead them to the most lucrative contract in professional sports history. You dropped the ball Al but at least your son got to live like a king (albeit a middle-class one) for a year. I don't normally endorse parents prepping their kids for the big leagues since the odds are so small of making it. But in this case, where your son is one of the top prep players in the country you can go ahead and start protecting him. Now Butler gets to continually answer questions from kids in his youth baseball camp like "did you really play with Alex Rodriguez?" Then there was the nice touch when Dad sent him a copy of "The Rookie" because, dammit, dad's retiring and if you could just get a couple major league years under your belt (which is now apparently bloated and his face 'fleshy' according to the NY Times) maybe I could get a nice villa in Boca.
"I hope it doesn't sound like sour grapes, but it really hurts," Al Butler said. "It hurts. I'm getting ready to retire. It would have been nice to watch him play in the major leagues. He just kind of took the wrong turn somewhere and didn't get back on track."
Nah, not sour grapes but, I don't know, a shot of parental denial perhaps?

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