A league of his own doesn't work for Jericho Scott   

Updated: August 28, 2008, 1:02 AM ET

  • Comment
  • Email
  • Print
  • Share

Let's keep this simple, for two reasons: (1) It's inherently a simple story and (2) they've got lawyers running around New Haven, Conn., filing lawsuits about kids' sports, which can't be good news for us if we dive into the deep end too quickly.

Jericho Scott

AP Photo/Douglas Healey

To the parents of kids new to the game, Jericho Scott's 40 mph fastballs look alarmingly fast.

So cut it to the bare essentials and solve it. Jericho Scott, the boy at the center of this week's baseball storm, is in the wrong league.

It really is that basic. Not as sexy as the hyperventilation that is occurring over the civil rights issues around the story, I know. But just that basic, all the same.

Scott is not Cy Young; he's a kid who throws a good fastball against mediocre competition and struggles against better players. The organizing body that doesn't want him pitching anymore is not the "Satanic Summer League"; it's a group of volunteer parents who clumsily tried to clean up a gaping inequity between Scott -- a midseason import to his team, by the way -- and most of the other kids in what is clearly a developmental, low-wattage, newbie-strewn kid baseball enterprise.

And the national rush to judgment on the relative merits of the "case" is being led by a body of columnists and commentators who don't necessarily set out to come to dunderheaded conclusions, but who (it must be said) likely haven't seen a youth baseball diamond in either years or decades, depending upon whether we're talking about the MSNBC or CNN demographic.

The kid is just in the wrong league. Trust me: It happens all the time.

I've spent the past year researching and writing about kids' sports, along with the standard 10 years of Little League and travel-ball coaching that many dads my age seem to accrue. My youngest son is still 10, as is Scott, who just hit that birthday on Wednesday, and my son has played on (and I have coached with) a national traveling team. I don't know everything about youth baseball, but I've seen plenty.

protest signs

AP Photo/Douglas Healey

Wilfredo Vidro, coach for Jericho's Will Power Fitness team, stands next to protest signs in New Haven, Conn., before the start of a game where the other team did not show up.

And Scott is just a kid who shouldn't be playing in the LJB, the Liga Juvenil de Baseball de New Haven. Forget the legal ramifications for a minute and deal with the player himself. Scott is good enough to pitch in a much better league -- and that league, the Dom Aitro Pony League for all-star teams, is already available to him.

In fact, Scott plays in it when he isn't suiting up for the Will Power Fitness team in the LJB.

But in that other league, Jericho doesn't dominate.

And that, I suspect, is the real genesis of this story.

"We'd just move him up," said one of my colleagues, a man who runs a youth baseball league in California.

That's dead-on accurate. The most common response to a dominant player in kids' sports is to move him or her up to the next level of competition -- an older age group, a higher classification of league, whatever remedy is available.

The reasons are both obvious and multifaceted.

First, age is an almost useless calculator of youth sports talent. The more significant factors, by far, are physical size and coordination, level of interest and overall competitiveness. The behemoths standing alongside the Lilliputians at the Little League World Series were actually on the same team, but some kids grow bigger and faster than others. After that, it's about intensity, know-how and love of the game.

In all the blathering on about deprivation of rights and the de-Americanization of youth sports (and consequent wussifying of the Guitar Hero-addled U.S. child), this basic tenet has escaped the grasp of too many adults who should know better. The most American thing that a youth sports league can do for a talented kid is to get him the absolute best competition available to him, no matter what the "age" bracket says.

Jericho Scott

AP Photo/Douglas Healey

Scott and his mother reportedly haven't been willing to move Jericho up to a more competitive league.

Little League Baseball figured this out years ago, which is why, in its national charter, it allows for its majors division to be filled with players who range in age from barely 9 to nearly 13. That's a huge gap, and it brings with it some natural disparities in terms of pure strength, size and the like. But that latitude allows little league coaches and board members in communities all across the country to annually identify, say, the 10-year-old who has no business being in the minors anymore, and moving him "up" to majors to face the best competition in town.

In the case of Scott, he already has been given that opportunity. As a member of that advanced, Dom Aitro Pony League, Scott is a good player -- but not the best. He is the No. 4 pitcher on his staff, good enough to go against the top players in the area, but not guaranteed of a blowout victory every time he steps on the mound.

So what is this kid doing in the LJB, a league that is made up significantly of kids playing baseball for the first time? Why were he and another Pony League all-star added to the Will Power Fitness team in midseason?

Why, when the LJB organizers realized that Scott, as a pitcher, was a comical mismatch against the competition, were their offers to move him to a higher age group rejected by the boys' parents, who are now suing for relief and emotional distress?

In a news conference on Tuesday, the LJB's position was made clear: It offered to move Jericho Scott up, because he was crushing the competition at his current level.

Jericho's parents declined the offer, according to the league's attorney. Now, tell me again the part about the big bad league that is beating up on the kid who just wants to pitch.

I'm sure he does want to pitch. And he should be able to.

But at the right level.

Mark Kreidler's book "Six Good Innings", about the pressure of upholding a small-town Little League legacy, is in national release. His book "Four Days to Glory" has been optioned for film/TV development by ESPN Original Entertainment. A regular contributor to ESPN.com, Kreidler can be reached at mark@markkreidler.com.


You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?