by Chris Dixon
Twelve year-old Jordan Hidelberg seemed pretty proud of himself between games during a doubleheader at Christian Park this weekend.
The leadoff hitter for the 12U Indianapolis Pirates had every reason to gloat and brag about his Saturday morning game on the diamond after three hits, two innings pitched, and multiple catches in the outfield.
“I wish they would have caught some of my outfielding on tape,” he joked.
But the one thing Hidelberg should be most proud of is not the line drive he drove into right field which landed him a leadoff triple, or the base-clearing double in his second at-bat. It’s not the outfield play that had him smiling and laughing after the game.
It’s what he did following his third hit – a ground ball that never left the infield – which he should be most proud of.
The ball was hit directly up the middle – perhaps his hardest hit of the day – fast enough that there was no time to react for the pitcher. It ricocheted off the pitcher’s leg into the grass of the infield, and the opposing pitcher crumpled to the ground in pain.
Hidelberg was a homerun short of the cycle. Despite this, he was one of the first players to the mound to check if the pitcher – his opponent, his rival, his enemy – was okay.
This kind of sportsmanship is becoming more and more uncommon in an era of machismo and egocentric professional sports icons – icons that kids like Hidelberg look up to and emulate. Even at the little league level, sportsmanship and gamesmanship are taking a back seat to winning at all costs.
Consider for a moment, that at the same park that very morning, one could witness coaches and parents heckling opposing players and umpires, players talking back and smirking at umpires for close calls, and a number of other actions unspeakable for even a Packers-Bears football game, let alone a little league diamond – actions that many of these kids have seen on television from their role models.
And remember, Hidelberg is twelve years-old.
Two innings prior, Pirates’ shortstop Justyn Snow sauntered over to the opposing dugout to check on a runner that he had flattened on a tag between third and home. Never mind that the same runner had heckled him during a strikeout earlier in the game.
Both Hidelberg and Snow took it upon themselves to do the right thing.
“It’s amazing,” said Pirates Head Coach Bob Haney. “Nobody told them to do that. The kids went out and did that all on their own.”
When was the last time a strong safety rushed to the side of a wide receiver he just decleated? When was the last time a power forward apologized during the game for inadvertently hitting a defender with an elbow? When was the last time a pitcher apologized to a hitter after accidentally plunking him?
There’s something to be said for even the smallest acts of sportsmanship, especially in baseball. For example, when Florida Marlins outfielder Scott Cousins collided with San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey at the plate for the game winning run in a game last week, he did not jump up and celebrate his team’s victory. Instead, Cousins immediately went to Posey’s side until the Giants training staff arrived.
Moments like Cousins, Hidelberg, and Snow – snapshots of sportsmanship – often times go unnoticed during the course of a game, but can be representative of the character that a player takes with them on and off the field. In an era of sack dances and bat flips, players have many opportunities throughout the course of a game to represent their character.
Small acts like these are taken for granted and rarely seen, but they are the building blocks of character that lead to stories like a high school team missing technical free throws on purpose because an opposing player was added to the roster late after his mother had passed earlier that morning, or two players on the opposing team carrying a girl around the bases because she had injured herself rounding first base on a homerun.
It not only shows respect for the game – whatever the sport – but respect for others.
“It goes along perfectly with everything we’re trying to do this summer with these kids,” said Haney. “You can’t make great athletes out of baseball players, but you can make great baseball players out of athletes.”