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Plenty to learn from a blowout

June 2, 2008

by Matt Kane

25-0.

That’s what the Delano ball park scoreboard read after 4 1/2 innings of baseball May 23 between the high school teams from Delano and Minneapolis North.

The 25 runs were all in the Delano column. These kinds of one-sided games are often described as laughers, and I’m sure there was some snickering from the Tigers in the dugout and the faithful in the grandstands.

I was guilty of it. I arrived at the stadium during the second inning, and couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I was quietly pleading with the North pitchers to just throw a strike, and for its fielders to just make a routine play.

Watching a few innings, I was convinced there were no routine plays for the Polars, and I couldn’t believe how that could be possible from a varsity team.

And then, after asking permission to stand near the Polars’ dugout to take some photos of the game, I began talking to North coach Charles Simmons.

“It’s their second year of baseball,” he quickly told me. “They are all sophomores.”

Regrettably, I thought to myself, “It looks like it,” and then I realized what Simmons was saying. It truly was those players’ second year of baseball — meaning North did not have a baseball team three seasons ago, and most of those players did not grow up playing ball on nicely-uniformed Little League teams run by city-backed athletic clubs like the players in the Delano dugout.

What to do with the baseball and understanding offensive situations has been drilled into the heads of Delano’s ballplayers since their arms were strong enough to pick up a bat — somewhere around 3 or 4 years old, I’m guessing.

Simmons is teaching these baseball skills to kids 15 and 16 years old.

It was obvious Simmons knew how the game was supposed to be played — he spoke about growing up playing American Legion ball with Jack Morris, Paul Molitor, and Dave Winfield in St. Paul — so watching his players make mistakes on seemingly easy plays must be frustrating. If so, Simmons didn’t let on.

After the Polars returned to the dugout following the bottom half of an inning, Simmons stood over a player who had just made an error and told him what should have been done. The coach was stern in his lesson, but the sign of compassion for his players was evident in the shoulder squeeze he gave the kid before walking away.

And what do you know, later in the game, that same kid fielded a ground ball and stepped on third base for the final out of an inning.

It’s tough to run before taking some baby steps.

Just talking with Simmons for a few minutes readjusted my attitude towards the Polars that day. Instead of being embarrassed by how they played the game of baseball at the varsity level, I was actually proud of those players. I knew nothing about the North players, other than the third baseman’s name was Ray, but it didn’t matter. What mattered was that they showed up and were on the field trying.

It’s obvious by the outcome of the game that Simmons has a lot of work ahead of him if he wants to turn his Polars into a winning team. But that’s what it took for every team to become successful — work.

Instead of starting from the bottom up — like most programs do with T-ball and Little League — Simmons is starting from the top varsity level in hopes that a trickle down affect will develop in North Minneapolis.

The Polars were 1-16 overall and 1-12 in the Minneapolis City League. There is one win there, and, if the Polars keep adding a few more each season, people will notice. And when people notice something, they tend to want to try it. This is the hope of Simmons.

He admitted basketball is still king at North High School, but Simmons would like to see that change.

“I would like to see baseball become bigger than basketball,” he said.

There is no guarantee that will happen, but all that matters is that Simmons and his Polar baseball players just keep trying.