Letter to the editor: "Baseball and Life"
By Dan Schmitt, Franklin High School JV Baseball Coach
Baseball is a great metaphor for life. The game can be used to teach young players the value of hard work, commitment and working with others towards a common purpose. Perhaps baseball’s greatest piece of wisdom is that, even with those values in place, success is not guaranteed.
As a JV baseball coach, I’ve seen these life lessons played out many times. In a recent high school game, our JV pitchers gave up one hit and walked none. Our defense played well. Yet, we lost the game 3-2! No, success is never guaranteed. Well, almost never. One exception to this life’s lesson is the baseball program. It’s always successful, at least in terms of winning games and finishing at the top of the Delta Valley League.
Why is that? Well, Elk Grove has competent baseball coaches, but so do their closest league rivals, Franklin and . What separates Elk Grove baseball from the other high school programs is that it functions as an “elite baseball academy.” Because of the Elk Grove Unified School District’s open enrollment policy and the fact that Elk Grove High School’s enrollment is below capacity, students living anywhere in the district can go there.
Initially, the purpose of open enrollment was to allow students to participate in academic programs offered at certain district high schools. It was never intended as a means to build a high school baseball powerhouse, but that is the reality. In a recent varsity baseball game won by Elk Grove, six players living in other attendance areas started for the Herd: two from Laguna Creek High School, two from Franklin High School, one from Sheldon High School, and one from McClatchy, a high school not even in the Elk Grove district. At the JV level, twelve of the twenty-five Elk Grove players live outside the school’s attendance area.
I’m stating the obvious when I say this gives the Elk Grove baseball program a huge advantage and puts the other schools at a distinct disadvantage. For example, over the past 3 seasons, Elk Grove has played Laguna Creek nine times, with Elk Grove winning eight of the games. In most of those games, players who should be attending Laguna Creek were instrumental in Elk Grove’s victories. Would the results have been identical if Elk Grove had not had those players? No one can say for sure, but it certainly would have made the games more competitive.
Over the past few years, Laguna Creek baseball has experienced a downturn in its success, but things are looking up. Last year, Josh Lex, a former Laguna Creek player with seven years of professional baseball experience took over the program. In that short time, he has done a tremendous job of building both the varsity and JV teams’ competitiveness. One could rightly assume that his teams would be even more competitive if those Elk Grove players were attending Laguna Creek.
This inequity has been going on for years. The Elk Grove varsity coaches could discourage the yearly influx of quality players into their program, but they don’t. Hey, they’re living the baseball dream! Their insatiable appetite for winning games and league titles trumps any thoughts about the integrity of the game and league competitiveness, even though their success is tainted by the use of outside players.
The players’ parents must recognize the unfairness, but they’re convinced that playing baseball for Elk Grove gives their kids an advantage in realizing future baseball aspirations. This despite evidence to the contrary. Over the past ten years, six Elk Grove players went on to play professional baseball; five Laguna Creek players went on to pro ball. Many other Elk Grove players have gone on to play college ball, but the same can be said for former Laguna Creek players.
And what about the players who live in the Elk Grove High School attendance area but get cut from the team or make the team but get little playing time due to the program’s practice of bringing in outside players? I know there’s no crying in baseball, but maybe it’s time these kids and their parents become more vocal about this unfairness. Call it a “life lesson”!
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What do you think of the open enrollment policy in Elk Grove and elsewhere? Is it fair for student athletes? Tell us in the comments section below.