Monday, May 26, 2014

"Sounder Arms, Saner Childhoods" by Dad

                                                      Can skipping stones mean...
... skipping Tommy John?

     So I’ve been talking and texting about Tommy John surgery with my older son (byline: Bojo) since we posted his recent blog about this procedure’s recent epidemic.
     And I do think he’s on to something in pointing to its possible cause as the year-round, practice-intensive way that our most athletic kids have been playing baseball for the last couple of decades.  That routine is now coming home to roost, as a bunch of our very best 25-year-olds are paying for year-round, repetitive, disciplined throwing since the age, most likely, of 10.
     To read exactly what Bojo wrote, check the blog preceding this one. To read Bojo seconded by Tommy John himself, check out the May 26 issue of Sports Illustrated. To save you the time and money, and to make 2gensportsden even more worth your reading, here’s what TJ himself said in SI about today’s overworked young arms: “High school sports have become year-round, and kids at a young age have to pick one sport… Your kid goes in every Saturday and works on pitching. I tell parents this: If the best pitchers in the world don’t pitch year-round, why should your kid?”
     Tommy John himself on the reason for the rash of his namesake surgery… I think this is a powerful indictment of my generation of parents. Yup, the Boomers. Specifically, the Type A Boomers. I had thought, as we started raising our kids, that we children of the Age of Aquarius would be less competitive and more contemplative, less zoned and more Zen, than our own parents had been.
     Turns out, not so much.
     In fact, not at all.  Our Greatest Generation parents, having emerged from a Depression that ate their childhoods only to go straight into a World War that pretty much finished off that whole ‘be young and have fun’ thing, decided that their young adulthoods would be how they made up for lost time.  And so they left us, their kids, amazingly on our own.
     As they cha-cha’d and cocktailed, we pretty much just played outside. Organized baseball consisted of spring Little League, a game and a practice a week for about eight weeks, with the true point of each game being to end up at Carvel’s.
     And here’s where I want to bring in another expert on the throwing arm, Nolan Ryan. Ryan has maintained for years that so many pitchers are experiencing arm trouble because they don’t throw enough, and that when he was a kid, he threw all the time. This, of course, sounds like the opposite of what Tommy John is saying.
     But, looking back at my own boyhood, here’s how I think their positions converge.
Ryan is a good deal older than I am, and was no doubt a waaaaay more accomplished youth athlete than I ever was. But in some basic ways, I believe his Texas boyhood and my Connecticut one were more alike than not, in that they were not nearly as structured and uber-competitive as childhood today. I also believe him when he says that he threw all the time, because my friends and I did, too. We just didn’t throw a baseball 12 months a year, from a mound, endlessly and repetitively, under the watchful eye of a paid coach. And I’m going to bet that Ryan didn’t either.
     So what did we throw, my friends and I? In the year I turned 10, I threw baseballs, but also:
 • tennis balls and whiffle balls, the true balls of pick up, backyard baseball.
• stones skipped into ponds with that classic side arm motion.
• large rocks hurled as mock hand grenades with a weird straight-elbowed, side arm fling that mimicked the World War Two TV shows then popular.
• rotting crabapples, flung in yet another war game whose point was to leave marking stains on enemy tee shirts, a sort of odd, organic precursor to the paint ball.
• pretty much anything that would fit in our hands.
     We threw everything at different arm angles, no doubt using different sets of muscles, and so likely not overusing any one set. And, in what may be more than a play on words, it could just be that this unstructured play resulted in less structural damage to those young arms of ours.
     So, although it will never happen, my wish would be to scale back sports in a way that dials back time. It could just be a recipe for both sounder arms and saner childhoods.