In April, baseball returns. So do these familiar shouts at the ballpark.
“Aw come on, ump, open your eyes!”
“Really, Blue!? You got to be kidding me.”
Such insults are commonly hurled at Miller Park and other major league fields across the country. Professional umpires know it comes with the job.
On other ball fields, such shouts can trigger tears.
That’s because the umpires are children. At Glendale Little League, “Blue” might be just 11 or 12 years old. And when parents yell at them, it’s upsetting.
So a few years back the league’s board members posted signs on the fields that ask spectators to remember a few things:
1. These are KIDS.
2. This is a GAME.
3. Coaches are VOLUNTEERS.
4. Umpires are HUMAN.
5. Your child is NOT being scouted by the Brewers today.
Inspired by a similar sign in California, the board thought it would be an important reminder at our fields. Each year, there were parents who would lose control during games, yelling at umpires, at coaches, at other parents and even at children playing the game.
The sign was our attempt to tamp down that vocal minority of parents who take the outcome of a youth baseball game too seriously.
The signs proved to be popular.
As president of the league, I po
st a picture of the sign on Facebook and Instagram about this time of year. The response is always strong and positive.
This week our sign's popularity hit new heights. Evan Primakow, a parent in our league, saw it at his son’s practice, snapped a photo and posted it on the popular website, Reddit, where
it has received more than 700 comments and nearly 30,000 reactions.
The parent and I both received inquiries from El Pais, Spain’s largest daily newspaper, which did an article on the sign that noted similar problems with parents acting out at soccer matches in Spain.
I know our league is not alone in having such parents get out of hand. It’s a well-documented problem. And it is not just spectators. I have also seen parents volunteering as coaches lose their cool.
As these ugly scenes play out, the players - the kids - are watching. The result can be players themselves becoming poor sports. But just as ma
ny players turn away from the sport, embarrassed or just burned out by the intensity of their parents.
An outfit called the Positive Coaching Alliance was formed by some well-known former athletes and coaches to address this problem, including Phil Jackson and Steve Young.
A few years ago Mike Matheny, now manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, coached a youth baseball team for a year and addressed this issue to parents in a now famous letter. It begins, "I always said that the only team that I would coach would be a team of orphans, and now here we are. The reason for me saying this is that I have found the biggest problem with youth sports has been the parents."
For most of the Milwaukee area, Little League season opens later this week, a rite of spring and an American tradition, with players and coaches parading around the fields and ceremonial first pitches. There are thousands of Little Leaguers in the Milwaukee area, and more than 2.5 million worldwide.
The sign at our park is a reality check and a reminder that this is a game. We, as parents, get to create an opportunity for children to grow and learn lessons of life through the glorious game of baseball.
John Diedrich, reporter and assistant editor at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, is president of Glendale Little League and has coached in the league for nearly a decade.