Saturday, May 14, 2011

Modern Day Shaman

Time for a first pitch…

Way back when, before soccer moms and mini vans and the sissification of childhood sports, the first sport we learned was baseball. And we had to learn it. Not just the skill of hitting and pitching and catching, but the strategy of it, the drama of it, right down to the scratching and spitting part of it. We carried photographs of our favorite players on bubble gum stained cardboard. We were taught the skills and expectations by a coach or manager. Even today, professional players will find ways to single out the coaches from their young life. We see it often in the All Star Game Homerun Derby where any number of players has used former coaches to pitch to them as they try to reach for the stars. A tribute to the education process.

In professional baseball, more than the manager, who generally is a push button manipulator of his team, with media savvy and personal motivation expert, the unsung heroes are often the batting and pitching coaches who must attempt to help the players, who absolutely everything about their craft, in getting the most out of their skill sets. Yes, that was sarcastic, as I think most sports players in all different sports are more prima donnas than empty vessels looking to be filled with knowledge, but I digress.

I want to focus on one such coach, Kevin Long of the NY Yankees. After a successful college career, he was a journeyman player for the KC Royals for about 8 years, and whose best major league career facts are that he had a good college and minor league career. However over the last 3 years he has been tutoring and perhaps saving some major league careers in the process. Three current players have shown significant progress in their batting skill as a result of working with him. Curtis Granderson, who has gone from the edges of the scrap heap in Detroit to leading the AL in home runs right now, Nick Swisher , who was a good player but not outstanding, to an all star performer, and Brett Gardner from minor leaguer to batting leadoff in the major leagues. Long also has had a hand in the possible resurgence of Alex Rodriguez’ career after a severe hip injury and the rise of Robby Cano to a certified major league hitter after a spotty minor league career.

I do believe that coaches like Long, are modern day shaman. He seems to have the power of knowledge, even if he could not know it for himself. He is a “healer”, a mediator and guider of souls. He is treated with the reverence and status befitting of an elder. He is a restorer of balance in the baseball world.

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