Once there was this boy who loved nothing more than he loved baseball. He was a round little guy, always smiling, as he'd pick up a bat or chug out to take his position in the field. Dan was about as wide around as he was tall. That meant if he didn't hit the ball really far, he'd be out long before he approached first base.
He lived in a small town where the baseball pecking order was bestowed at birth on the children of former athletes. He wasn't a native, so he didn't get noticed. But he kept loving baseball. No one practiced harder than he did. No one cheered louder for his teammates -- the stars and the not-so-starry.
He learned, by hook or by crook, to get on base. He learned to field a screaming line drive. He volunteered to catch because the coach needed catchers. And, by volunteering to catch, he also got to pitch. He got better every season. Eventually, his persistence and dedication combined with his infinite cheerfulness earned him a spot on an all star team.
Then, middle school ended and high school began. And guess what? Dan grew. He shed his baby fat but never lost his joyful, little boy grin. He moved to another place where no one knew him or judged him by who he was in Little League. While a handful of his former teammates signed to play with a community college, Dan received a full ride at a four-year college. This spring, at the close of his junior year, he was drafted by an MLB team and he's spending the summer moving another step closer to the big dance. How's he doing? He's doing great at learning yet another system from yet another coach, moving a step closer to the dream he's held close for a decade. His former home is a distant memory.
Now, the same people who objected when his coach nominated him to the all star team travel to watch Dan take the mound and reminisce about him as if they recognized his potential all along.
The legend of Daniel should be a lesson to every person who agrees to coach a youth sports team. Fight to avoid stereotypes and listen to the kids. Let them tell you what's important to them. Some are there because they're supposed to be. Some want to play because their friends do. Some love the game. And, every once in a while, one of those kids who loves the game will take to heart the "practice, practice, practice" mantra, sleep with his glove and never stop working to extend the game of baseball into adulthood.
That kid could be rolly-polly, string-bean skinny, nearsighted, farsighted, or on the clumsy side. It could be the kid who has to go to the bathroom every time he gets on base. It could be the one who cried in T-ball because he didn't want to run to first base without his mom. It could be the one who, when he gets his first hit, runs in slow motion toward first base because that's how he saw it on TV. They are, after all, kids. And their love (or hatred) of baseball is a direct result of how their childhood coaches treat them.