Peter Handrinos is a frequent contributor to Scout.com and author of the upcoming ‘The Best New York Sports Arguments: The 100 Most Controversial, Debatable Questions for Die-Hard Fans'.
The child is the father of the fan.
It's no secret. Almost always, baseball's bond is formed well before a kid gets a hold of a driver's license. It's about the fascination of baseball card collections, the fun in ball park visits, the education in Little League games, the connection in schoolyard conversations, the curiosity sparked by favorite books. Right off the bat, a variety of experiences can lead a young person along the road to worthwhile, lifelong obsession.
Most often, youth provides the bookend's for a fan's career - the boys and girls who fall in love with the game eventually grow up to pass that romance along to the next generation, and so on and on. Since, seemingly, forever. Until, hopefully, forever.
John Perri is an example of the
game's youth movement. The 13-year old resident of
Recently, John talked about how he's getting started:
Can you remember all the way back to when you first got interested in baseball?
(chuckles) My uncle plays a lot of softball, in leagues, and he got me interested in it. I started playing t-ball when I was about five, but I didn't learn about how the game works in the Major Leagues and stuff until I was about nine or ten.
Why did you start learning about it?
My neighbor, next door, was the coach for a team I was on, and he gave me a baseball encyclopedia and I thought it was cool. I read it.
Why did you like it?
The stats, stories, records, the players. The Yankees. I liked the pictures. A bunch of things.
Do you like other sports?
I like all kinds of sports. My second favorite is football, and I watch basketball on TV, hockey games sometimes. The Olympics, I guess.
Why do you suppose you like baseball best?
I dunno. You basically just have two kinds of stats, for hitting and pitching. You know where everybody's going to be, in their positions, too . . . I don't know.
Is it your favorite sport to play?
It's a lot more fun to play, definitely, because it doesn't wear you out. That happens in football. I played basketball for a while, but I lost interest.
I'm not the tallest person and I'm not the fastest person . . . I scored zero points the whole year.
I think the two of us may have had identical career stats.
Do you have a favorite baseball player?
Derek Jeter. 'Cool, calm, collected'. He's a great athlete, a great leader.
Can you think of an example of him being a great leader?
Hmm. For example, after he strikes out, he never throws his helmet in the dugout. He has good sportsmanship. He has a good knowledge of the game.
Why is that important?
Because he wins.
Do you think ball players are good people and role models?
I dunno. Maybe. I'll bet they get arrested a lot less than football players and basketball players.
You mentioned the Yankees a second ago. Are they your favorite team?
I was born in 1992 and, I admit it, I started liking them because they're always winning.
Then I started researching, though, and I saw how much history and records they have. They have Babe Ruth's 60 home runs in one season, Lou Gehrig's four home runs in one game, and Joe DiMaggio's 56 game hitting streak, and Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris' home run race. Reggie Jackson - three straight home runs in one World Series game.
You mentioned 'knowledge of the game' a couple of seconds ago, too. What did you mean by that?
You have to know what you're doing and have good baseball sense.
A couple of years ago, my mom got me this computer program. It's called 'Where's the Play?'. It puts you in different positions and gives you the situation and says, 'What do you do?' That was cool, because the coach always said, 'Know where you're going before the play'. You can't ask the coaches when you're on the field.
After [I got the program], though, I got a lot more confident.
Can I test you?
You have to answer quick. Runners at the corners, one out, and you get a grounder to short - what do you do?
[quickly] Quickly look home for the runner at third, but he's probably going to score if he knows what he's doing. You should hustle to cut off the runner at second, but if there's nothing there, first base.
I'm proud - I think I know a lot. Not everything, but a lot. For instance, suppose you have Jeter up with a 3-1 count with Womack on first. Jeter's a good contact hitter - should they hit and run here? Maybe, but it depends on the score and the inning and how things have been going on previous at-bats. And who's in the bullpen and on the bench.
Would you say you're a good player?
Last season, I was in All-Stars. I was always good in the field, but I wasn't really good at hitting. I wasn't the best in the league, but I've gotten a lot, a lot better in the last couple of years.
When you're playing, do you get stressed out by strikeouts and errors?
I used to. I used to get really upset because I wanted to be the best, but at the beginning of last season, though, I made a goal - 'Keep my composure, stay calm, wait for another chance'. When kids strike out or make a bad play, they have to think about another chance. There's always another chance.
It sucks to strike out and let your team down but our coaches say, 'Don't concentrate too much. Just go out there and have fun, no matter the outcome'.
Does that kind of attitude help you in school?
Yeah, you have to stay calm. Say, another kid's making fun of me - 'Stay calm'. If you're nice to other people, most people will be nice to you.
Sounds about right. Do you get along with your teammates?
Yeah, you have to. The shortstop and the second baseman, for example, have to work together. If they don't like each other, they might try to make all the plays by themselves and that doesn't work.
Baseball's a great way to make
friends. Last year, if you told any one [player] on the team to hang out with
some other kid [from the team], they'd have fun. Another thing was, our team got
to play summer tournaments against teams from
What's your favorite part of the game?
Fielding. In hitting, if you do any little thing wrong, it messes up your whole swing. Same with pitching and your motion. In fielding, it isn't easier, exactly, but I try to think too much sometimes, and [fielding is] is so quick that you can't think.
Do you have a favorite position?
I play all over, but I like third base, because you have to do a lot before the play even starts. Like, 'Who's up to bat? Is he a power hitter? Does he bunt? How close to you have to be?' I like [third baseman] David Wright from the Mets, too, but I don't necessarily like how he plays.
Remember the diving bare-handed catch he made last year?
Sure, in the
If you really look at it, he could have made the play with his glove! That's like, some kids, they let the ball roll and then pick it up to try a flashy play, but half the time they don't get the out.
If you look at Derek Jeter and the way he plays, he makes the flashy plays, yeah, but he concentrates on the fundamentals.
Do your parents get involved in Little League?
Yeah. They give me rides, they bought my glove, they pay for hitting classes. Mom and Dad go to a lot of games and it's cool. Dad sometimes plays catch and he talks to me, mostly, about the mental part of the game. He doesn't play.
Do you think the game brings you closer to them?
Me and my uncle and my parents are really close, even without baseball, but I think it brings us closer. I can ask them about the game and they teach me things. We talk about it all the time.
Do some other kids' parents care too much about Little League games?
Sometimes you hear parents yelling from the stands, trying to coach from the stands. If you ask me, that doesn't do any good, because a kid has to be calm and concentrate. If [the parents] know so much, they should coach.
Do you remember when you went out to your first pro ball game?
When I was three or four, somewhere around there, we went to Yankee Stadium. We went with my uncle and sat near the left field foul pole. I don't remember a lot about it, to be honest, but going to the ball park is really cool. I look around and saying, 'There are a lot of people here. What are they all doing here?' I couldn't believe how many people there were.
What do you like about the live game on the field?
It's real. It's not on TV. Everybody's right there, even if you don't get the best seats.
Another thing is - it's incredible how fast [Major Leaguers] throw and how far they hit. Even a routine pop-up! A guy can hit it, like, (gestures) a hundred feet in the air or something and everybody's like, 'No big deal'. In TV, it's not the same.
A lot of people say that fewer kids are interested in baseball today because they'd rather play video games. What do you think?
Some kids like X-Box, but maybe it's because they don't have any kids in the neighborhood or because they don't like to socialize. You can't do that for five hours, but maybe they'll be the next Bill Gates or something. You never know.
To me, I spend most of the day in school. After school, I want to get out and exercise. My friend, Jack, he's here so often that he calls it his second house, and he's so into sports, too, so it's easy to go over to [nearby] Rippowam [Middle School playground] for pickup games.
Do you think baseball's boring compared to football and basketball?
It's what you like. Some kids like race cars, fire engines, all kinds of different things. To me, baseball's never boring. You have jump-and-throw plays from short. You have walk-off home runs. You have doubles. Your pitcher can strike out the side. It's great.
I can see why baseball can be
boring to some people, though. A lot of time, you'll have
Do you get tired of waiting around during the game itself?
Nah. There's tons of stuff happening, even when you're not necessarily scoring. You never know when something's going to happen. Somebody said, 'You can't script baseball'.
Have you heard the news stories about steroids in baseball?
Yeah, it's all over.
Do you think that kids are influenced to try steroids nowadays?
The stories don't influence me. If you want to use steroids, what's the use? You can hit the weight room for an hour. You have to play, anyway. What's the point? If I had to cheat, I wouldn't feel good about myself.
Yeah, but other kids might try them.
If you watch the Little League World Series, in parts of it, they had players talking about not wanting to use steroids. I watched the Little League World Series, and kids make fun of guys like Rafael Palmiero. The kids I know, they think, 'You get this from it, but you lose a lot of other stuff'.
Like injuries, you mean?
Yeah, injuries, getting suspended. People make fun of you. You might get arrested, because it's illegal to use steroids, I think.
The kids I know don't think it's necessary. [Jason] Giambi used steroids - he admitted it - but then stopped using steroids, and that was good because he came back and had a great year. He should have never used them in the first place because he had a tumor, I think, and a bunch of other stuff. The year before, he was a big power hitter and he had I don't know how many home runs, but he ended up getting in trouble.
Do you have the chance to watch prime-time World Series Games?
I have a curfew, sometimes, but I try to get my Mom to let me stay up as late as possible, 'cause World Series Games are different. When I have to go to bed, I wake up and say 'Who won, who won?!' (chuckles) When I can't stay up, though, I watch highlights and read about it on the internet.
Pretty soon, you'll be in high school. Do you think you'll stick with baseball?
I think so. Why not?
Do you dream about making the Majors when you grow up?
Oh, yeah. I keep on thinking of this one scene - it's bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, two outs, we're down by three runs. It's the seventh game of the World Series . . .
(chuckles) Yeah. I'm up against the best pitcher in the league, whoever that happens to be. He gives me a fastball - boom, home run. Ball game.
John, I'd be rooting for you.