Living with ALS: Coach John Scolinos and the lessons of life learned in baseball
CHARLOTTE, NC: I have always said, and I honestly believe, that no sport prepares you for the cycles of life better than baseball. Full disclosure, I love baseball. Always have, always will and I readily admit to bias. Not that the game is perfect, mind you. It has its flaws and battle scars, but that’s precisely what I mean. The lessons of life are also fraught with ups and downs, highs and lows, daily victories and defeats. Even in the best of circumstances, life and baseball are one gigantic roller coaster ride.
The biggest knock on modern-day baseball is that it’s too slow…that it hasn’t kept pace with our rapidly changing society.
The fact is that baseball has kept up with a changing society.
Baseball has adapted to our 24/7 news cycles and social media and instant replays. Unfortunately, society changed, not baseball. It is the ADD lifestyle we live with the need for instant gratification that slowed baseball’s momentum, not the reverse.
I believe the evolution began in the 1960s with Vietnam.
America was in the midst of turbulent growing pains and, as such, the mood of the nation was slowly becoming increasingly angry and pessimistic. Assassinations, racial tensions, and war were three of the ever-present culprits that bombarded us daily in the news.
We needed a release, and we got it in the controlled violence of football in the NFL, colleges and even the high schools. Football was better suited for rock music and the psychedelic transitions of the times than baseball.
Baseball as a metaphor for the Lessons of Life
So how does baseball survive in our modern world and why do I believe it to be the best metaphor for life?
The answer is simple really. It’s because to succeed in baseball, players fail between 60 and 70% of the time. No other sport, regardless of its speed or idiosyncrasies, reflects life better.
Certainly football and basketball will have their upsets now and then, but, in general, the dominant favored team will win. Picking a winner in baseball is infinitely more difficult than any other sport because there are so many subtleties and variables, just as there are in life.
Coach Scolinos Lessons of Life and home plate
In 1996, John Scolinos was 78 years old and five years retired from a college baseball coaching career that began in 1948.
One evening several years ago, when he was the keynote speaker at a large annual baseball convention, he shuffled to the stage wearing dark polyester pants, a light blue shirt and a string around his neck from which hung a home plate.
That’s correct, a full-sized, stark-white home plate.
During his twenty-five minute talk, the coach never once mentioned the prop around his neck until, at the conclusion of his remarks, he noticed some snickering among a few of the coaches in attendance.
In his closing comments, Coach Scolinos finally supplied the answer:
“You’re probably all wondering why I’m wearing a home plate necklace,” he said.
“I may be old, but I’m not crazy. The reason I stand before you today is to share with you baseball people what I’ve learned in my life, what I’ve learned about home plate in my 78 years.”
The coach stared around the room as if to make eye contact with everyone in attendance. The longer he waited, the more antsy the crowd became.
After what seemed to be an interminable pause, Coach Scolinas asked,
“Do you know how wide home plate is in Little League?”
Another pause, long but not nearly as lengthy as the first as everyone peered around the room to see if someone knew the answer.
“Seventeen inches?”, shouted a reply from somewhere in the middle of the gathering that was more of a question than an answer.
“That’s right,” he said. “How about in Babe Ruth’s day?”
“Seventeen inches?” came a guess from another reluctant coach.
“Correct again,” said Scolinos. “Now, how many high school coaches do we have in the room?”
Hundreds of hands shot up, as the pattern began to appear.
“How wide is home plate in high school baseball?”
“Seventeen inches,” shouted several guests who were now growing more confident.
“You’re right!” Scolinos barked. “And you college coaches, how wide is home plate in college?”
“Seventeen inches!” came the most vocal answer yet in unison.
“Any Minor League coaches here? How wide is home plate in pro ball?”…………“Seventeen inches!”
“RIGHT! And in the Major Leagues, how wide home plate is in the Major Leagues?
Again. “Seventeen inches!”
“SEV-EN-TEEN INCHES!” Coach Scolinos bellowed. “And what do they do with a Big League pitcher who can’t throw the ball over seventeen inches?”
Another pregnant pause. “They send him to Pocatello, right!?” he hollered.
“What they don’t do is this: they don’t say, ‘Ah, that’s okay, Jimmy. If you can’t hit a seventeen-inch target, we’ll make it eighteen inches or nineteen inches. We’ll make it twenty inches so you have a better chance of hitting it. If you can’t hit that, let us know so we can make it wider still. How about, say twenty-five inches?!”
A pause for reflection before Scolinos asked.
“Then coaches, what do you do when your best player shows up late to practice? Or when your team rules forbid facial hair and a guy shows up unshaven? What if he gets caught drinking? Do you hold him accountable? Or do you change the rules to fit him? Do you WIDEN home plate?”
Suddenly the chuckles faded as four thousand coaches fell deadly quiet as the old coach’s message began to sink in.
Home is the goal in baseball and the Lessons of Life
Then Coach Scolinos turned his prop toward himself and, using a Sharpie, began to draw something. When he turned it back toward the crowd, point up, home plate looked like a house, complete with a freshly drawn door and two windows
“This is the problem in our homes today. With our marriages, with the way we parent our kids. With our discipline. We don’t teach accountability to our kids, and there is no consequence for failing to meet standards. We just WIDEN the plate!”
Life lessons. They’re everywhere, be they in ALS or baseball or just the experiences of living.
Savor each moment and hold each of them dear.
A former player coached by John Scolinos explains his philosophy – share this story with anyone who wants life to adapt to their reality.
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award-winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is the founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
Editors Note: Support Bob’s GoFundMe to give him a hand up