First things first. Let me set the stage for this diving catch. This is a picture of Asher "Stones" Lucas. He plays on my nephew's baseball team, the West Raleigh Mudcats. It is a "coach pitch" team comprised of six, seven and eight year olds. Yes, Asher is 7.
This play was actually caught on film by Erin Hautop, one of the team moms (and unofficial team photographer).
Asher made a diving play on a pop foul, complete with a dirt-in-the-mouth face plant. Not only did he make the catch to record the out, but he popped up, ready to make a throw. This was clearly an amazing play for a player of any level.
The West Raleigh Exchange Club sponsors one of the most competitive baseball leagues in the area. Hundreds of kids try out but not everyone makes a team. For those who do, here are some things they are taught (which I witnessed first hand while watching their last game).
1. They hustle. The coach gathers the team in between innings outside the dugout. As the players leave the dugout, they are expected to run to their team huddle. If not, coach makes them go back to the dugout and run back out. They ALWAYS run to their respective positions in the field.
2. They respect ALL players. They cheer on their own team and they cheer on players from opposing teams who make good plays.
3. They learn the fundamentals. I am seriously impressed by their knowledge and comprehension of baseball situations. They back up throws, they field, throw and hit with superb technique.
4. Parents are held accountable too. If a parent is determined to be "unruly" from the stands, their child is asked to leave the game, not the parent. Talk about incentive for setting a good example?!
But one of the coolest things I saw actually happened during an injury. (that sounds bad, hear me out) One of the players on the Mudcats hit a hard line drive that took a bad hop and hit an opposing player in the shoulder. When play stopped, a timeout was called. Every player in the field immediately took a knee. Every player in the dugout came out of the dugout, lined up in a single file line, took a knee, and waited patiently while the coaches attended to the injured player. I got chills. It was one of the most respectful displays of sportsmanship I have ever seen. The injured player got up, dusted himself off, and every player clapped.
Some people have criticized this league for being "too competitive" or "too serious" for boys at such a young age.
What I saw that day was something quite different. These boys are simply being held to a higher standard and they are having a ton of fun doing it! Frankly, if we are still looking for athletes to be role models, these boys have a serious head start.