Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Mike and Dante

Last year's Little League World Series featured two coaches who had long and productive careers in the major leagues. Dante Bichette was a home run machine for the Colorado Rockies and three other teams, while Mike Stanley was one olf the best defensive catchers for the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, and three other teams.

Last year they were just a couple of dads helping out the all stars from Maitland, Florida. Bichette's son Dante Junior was the team's big bopper, providing power pitching and hitting. Stanley's son Tanner was the team's sure-handed first baseman, providing the on-field leadershgip that kept the team focused and loose.

Looking over my notes from 2005, I found this rundown of my conversation with the two former big leaguers. Some excerpts:

Bichette on teaching kids: The learning curve is just unbelievable. A lot of kids think they can’t hit a 70- or 72-mile-an-hour fastball. So you go to a pitching machine and put in balls at 70 miles an hour and at first they’re five feet behind, so they adjust, and they’re three feet behind and the adjust and eventually they get around on it. They can get an image in their mind about when to swing.

Stanley on the success of his son: People ask me all the time how this compares with other achievements in my career and I tell them this isn’t my career. I’m a dad and I’m trying to coach my son and spend time with him and experience what being a dad is.

Bichette on the experience of the Little League World Series: This is much more exciting than anything in my major league career because of single-elimination. You have to win game after game and anything can happen and make you win or lose. ... In the major leagues, the World Series winner only has to beat 29 other teams. It’s the most exciting thing to happen in my life except the birth of my son.

Bichette on the importance of size: Over the years, it’s said that the winner has to have a manchild on the team. But we don’t have that manchild. We just have a bunch of kids who play hard and learn as they go. Still, if you have a physically dominant pitcher, that’s what to look for.

Stanley on teaching kids: The best time to teach is in the [scrimmage] when you can stop the game and say, "OK, what went wrong here?" Lids usually know how to break it down, figure it out. Everyone can get together and look at the play and learn from it and maybe you won’t do it again. We told them at the beginning that we had some really good players but we had to get a lot better to do well.

Bichette on the little things that win games: It’s often going to be a mistake that loses a game. [In] the Virginia game in the Southeast [regional tournament], there were three throws to the plate that were late and off-line. We try to prepare the kids for everything and teach that that we all make mistakes.

Stanley on pointing out mistakes to kids: Some of the experts say that parents shouldn’t tell kids what they did wrong right after the game. But you have to teach kinds when it’s fresh in their mind. Kids need to remember everything that was going on when the mistake happened—a bad throw, missed tag, bad baserunning, whatever.

Bichette on hios career in baseball: I just had a hard time getting baseball out of my system. I retired five years ago to spend more time with my family and then came back for 45 games and last year played for an independent league team and this year I was going to play in the independent league again but this thing kept going.

And going and going. Maitland won two of three games in pool play and then lost to California in the first game of single-elimination play.

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