Monday, August 24, 2015

"A Young Man's Game" by Dad

     As the older gen in 2gen, I have to say I’ve noticed how really young and really good is the new gen of baseball stars. We are in a golden age of
20-somethings, and most closer to 20 than 30.  A list of stars under 25 would of course start with the astonishing Mike Trout – a once-in-a lucky-generation talent – and the nearly as astonishing Bryce Harper, who but for Trout would have been considered the single standout of his era.
     And they’re not alone. Without even thinking very hard, a fan can come up with the names of every day players who are anything but everyday: Manny Machado, Nolan Arenado, Yasiel Puig, Joc Pederson and Maikel Franco. Plus pitchers Gerrit Cole and the Mets tandem of Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard. Up the age limit to all of 27, and you can include their fellow Mets ace Matt Harvey.
     What accounts for this?
     The first obvious thing that comes to mind is the end of the PED (performance enhancing drugs, for the uninitiated) era. With steroids out of the picture, careers no longer stretch into a player’s late 30s and even early 40s. Players once again begin to age in their early 30s, with the predictable decline in performance and stats. Once again, baseball is “same as it ever was.”
     But all this really does is create more room and opportunity for younger players. It doesn’t assure that so many will be so good so young. For that, I think we have to look to a few other things. Better teaching and coaching in youth baseball is a good place to start, and a good thing for baseball. But there’s another factor, which is not quite so unambiguously good: the rise of year-round commitments to baseball as a young athlete’s single sport, beginning at a very young age.
     Yes, this leads to the development of an astonishing skill set and a baseball precociousness. But it may also be the single most important factor in the rise of young arms needing Tommy John surgery. There’s a consensus emerging among the doctors treating these young arms that their elbows may already be fraying and in danger before they even sign their first contracts. John Smoltz, in his Hall of Fame entrance speech this summer, joined a growing bandwagon in counseling parents and coaches against having their talented young kids throw 12 months a year, as is too often the case today. It’s telling that both deGrom and Harvey have already had Tommy John surgeries.
     So where does one come out on all this? I think there’s a fairly easy answer. I’m as delighted as any fan to watch the amazing athleticism and incredible skills of these young players, and the endless parade of pitchers who can throw 95 miles per hour. But, and this is the dad in me speaking out, I’m not convinced those skills would be much diminished in the long run by giving young kids a few months a year off, the same as professional baseball will do for them if they’re lucky enough to make it that far.