LITTLE LEAGUE IS A BIG DEAL

JENNIFER GISH
Section: Sports,  Page: B1

Date: Thursday, April 29, 2010

Correction: State Sen. Neil Breslin was once a member of the National Little League in Albany. A column in Thursday’s sports section listed the wrong name.

Editor's note: Columnist Jennifer Gish talked us into co-sponsoring a Little League baseball team, but we think she has confused sponsorship with ownership. Follow "her" team through the season as she learns her major-league philosophies don't work in Little League.


Coach Jason,


What an opening day!


I knew when I bought a National Little League team, I was getting the kind of baseball tradition fans could get behind. The league, reaching back to 1951, is Albany's oldest. Albany County executive Mike Breslin played there, though I can't speak to his batting average.


And the Opening Day parade may just be a quick walk around the block, but when I saw fans lined up curbside with their lawn chairs and little kids gripping homemade signs, it gave me a jolt of Americana. A case of baseball fever is brewing in the Pine Hills. We'll pack the stands this season.


My ballplayers looked sharp in those brand-new hats, the team name -- Times Union/Cocca's Appliances -- embroidered in white and leaping off the red background. Red -- the color of fire, the color of passion, the color of our blazing-hot senior farm team. They were one sharp-looking crew of 7- to 9-year-olds, and that 5-1 victory over Friedman & Molinsek was just the way a ballclub owner like myself wants to kick-start a season.


But, Coach Jason, as team owner, I already have some concerns. We can't just rest on one season-opening victory. Let's not grow complacent.


I see myself as a young George Steinbrenner, minus the bankroll and collection of championships. As old George once said, "Winning is the most important thing in my life, after breathing. Breathing first, winning next." Write that down. Let it be our motto this season. Maybe we could paint it on our locker room wall. If, of course, we had a locker room.


Anyway, my point is, I didn't spent 225 of my company's hard-earned dollars (the cost of ownership split with my silent partner, Cocca's Appliances), to start strong and then die out mid-season. We're trying to build a franchise here, and I hope I can count on you as team manager to help me do it. Otherwise, we'll have to discuss your contract at the season's end.


First, let's talk about your speech after the first practice. While Coach Jason Avery's rule No. 1 -- "We're going to have a heck of a lot of fun" -- is just the kind of personal-growth philosophy some might see as fundamental to youth sports, the truth is, everyone has more fun when they win.


The Yankees? Pretty much always having fun. The Pirates? They haven't had fun since 1979.


Come on, Coach, you have to admit that postgame hot dog tasted better washed down with a sweet victory.


I suspect there will be more celebrations to come, but in order to get there, we need to sharpen our focus on the field.


No doubt, we're loaded with athletic promise. You saw your son, Ian Avery, snag that pop fly in the bottom of the third, right? The crowd went nuts.


But this game isn't just about skills. Let's not forget what the great Yogi Berra said: "Baseball is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical."


Sure, Ethan Foster and Brenden Harris have already proven themselves bright spots on our pitching staff. They held Friedman & Molinsek to just one run, and though you urged them not to put too much pressure on themselves out there on the mound, they were all business. I appreciated their drive. It was Mariano Rivera-esque.


But we need to keep our heads in the game at all times.


Did you happen to glance over when at least half of our team was kneeling in the dugout examining an earthworm? Or did you see the outfielders literally picking dandelions in the fourth inning?


No one's mom should have to yell "Look alive out there."


And "What inning is this?" is a question that should never be uttered in our dugout.


This is senior farm division.


I won't even get into the player who asked to go potty at the bottom of the first.


We've got a ton of talent to work with. Tommy Peltier wasn't biting on any of Friedman & Molinsek's sinkers. Katherine Drury, the youngest and smallest player on our team, managed two triples. Yes, she didn't listen when you tried to hold her at first base, but the other team was struggling a bit with its fielding, and Katherine -- everyone's calling her K-Rod now -- has killer instincts. She's the sort of rugged player who eats nails for breakfast. Or at least Honey Nut Cheerios.


I get your everyone-do-their-best mantra. And you were spot-on managing our first "personnel issue" of the season -- a player who started sobbing because we got out before she came up in the batting order. It was very Tom Hanks-in-"A League of Their Own" of you when you looked her in the eyes and said "There's no crying."


We don't need any divas out there.


I'm not the bad guy here. I want my players to have fun. Keep going with your teamwork talk, but let's not lose sight of accountability.


After all, there is no "I" in team, but "designated for assignment" has two of them.


We're building a dynasty here.


See you on the field.


Jennifer Gish can be reached at 454-5089 or jgish@timesunion.com. Friend her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/JenniferGishwriter.