Remember the old Nike ad with Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Mark McGwire that put the phrase, “Chicks dig the long ball” into the public lexicon? The ad opens with McGwire crushing batting practice home runs into the stratosphere while a crowd fawns over every swing. Glavine is soft-tossing on the side with Maddux and laments that fans are ignoring the Cy Young winners for the big lug pounding homers. Glavine incredulously turns to Maddux and asks, “How long are they going to worship this guy?!”
Well Tom, in hindsight, we have an exact date: They’ll worship him until right around March 17th, 2005, the day of his infamous, disastrous congressional testimony.
The next shot in the commercial is of a McGwire billboard where he’s flexing a gigantic bicep with the phrase It Really is the Shoes. (Hint: It was a little more than the shoes.)
The rest of the commercial is of Maddux and Glavine working out in the gym and the batting cage so that they can hit home runs because “chicks dig the long ball”.
Why am I bringing this up?
Because I help coach a tee ball team full of 4-year-olds who never, ever hit the long ball. Like, ever. It’s physically impossible, of course. The kids aren’t strong enough and they’re on the field to learn the game and where to run and what to do and the main goal is to have a blast… But truthfully, every game is an ongoing parade of highly-celebrated singles. It’s like we’re churning out an Ichiro factory. Which is fine. Because for kids who are four, hitting a ball past the infield is not an easy thing to do despite the entire game being rigged to their advantage.
I mean, the ball is stationary; it’s at the perfect height; the bat is light; there’s no clock; and there is a batting instructor standing right behind the batter’s box offering guidance and encouragement. And yet… Over half the four-year-olds on the team whack the tee, miss, or hit a dribbler into the grass half of the time on their first swing. Which again, is fine. Any ball hit over about ten feet and the kids run to first base. Or skip. Or shuffle. Or drag the bat all the way down the line like they’re rolling a suitcase through the airport. Whatever.
Each time they get to first they’re greeted with a high-five or a fist bump. It’s cool. They love it.
However, when a kid really connects. I mean REALLY hits it. And he knows it. His run to first and the high five aren’t just obligatory; they’re meaningful and genuine and true. Ten times out of ten when a kid actually ropes one after all the dribblers and dinks, they have an innate sense of, “oh my God that’s what hitting feels like!!!!” And you can see it all over their faces as they run to the bag and pounce on it. To the little guys who won’t experience ripping one over the fence for a few years, these singles are the long ball. It’s the best they can hope for and it’s awesome.
I remember in Ichiro’s prime some players and media members grumbled that Ichiro was talented enough to hit home runs if he wanted to… But that he chose to hit singles. He didn’t care that chicks dug the long ball. Singles were his art and every at bat was a chance for a new masterpiece. That’s where I think we’re at with our four-year-olds.
The other day, my own son, who has struggled to make solid contact all season, finally got ahold of one and hit a laser (at least his version) between shortstop and third base. He dropped the bat perfectly and sprinted to first. For one at-bat at least, it all clicked. When he reached first he jumped as high as he could and landed on the bag. I happened to be coaching first at the time and before he high fived me or even acknowledged me, he bent down to hug first base.
“Great swing, buddy! You hugging the bag?” I asked.
“Yeah! I’m excited!” he shouted. “I whacked it really, really hard and now I’m on first base!”
“Yeah, you did,” I said.
I guess that’s how Ichiro felt.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jon Finkel is the author of “Mean” Joe Greene: Built By Football, Heart Over Height w/ 3x NBA Dunk Champion Nate Robinson, Forces of Character w/ 3x Super Bowl Winner and Fighter Pilot, Chad Hennings, Jocks-in-Chief and the best selling fatherhood fitness book, The Dadvantage.
His new biography on Heisman Trophy Winner and New York Knicks veteran Charlie Ward comes out December 2017.
For more information on Jon, visit www.jonfinkel.com and follow him here: