Don’t Widen the Plate

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As an avid Tennessee Volunteer fan, I reluctantly give my congratulations to the Vanderbilt Commodore baseball team for the College World Series National Championship they won this past season. The ‘Vandy Boys’, as they prefer to be called, are the best in the sport over the last decade. Their coach, Tim Corbin, is considered the best in the business. Commentators and others who follow the game closely suggest that they will continue to dominate the sport for the foreseeable future. 

When asked about how he was able to turn Vanderbilt into a powerhouse program after years when it was a laughingstock, Coach Corbin responded: “What you strive for first is to make people believe.” He then continued to describe how hard-work, accountability, and getting everyone to work together were essential to the overall success the Commodore baseball program has recently enjoyed. It reminded me of another illustration that occurred back in January of 1996 when Coach John Scolinos appeared at the American Baseball Coaches Association meeting at the Opryland Hotel.

Coach Scolinos coached at Pepperdine from 1946-1960 and at Cal Poly Pomona from 1962-1991. He won over a thousand games and three national championships during his coaching career. He was a legend in the sport, and over 4,000 packed the room where he was scheduled to speak.

He sauntered to the podium and began speaking. Some in the audience began to chuckle, and others began to point and talk in hushed tones. The coach had a home plate hanging around his neck like a giant charm. After talking baseball strategy for a few minutes, he acknowledged: “You’re probably all wondering why I’m wearing home plate around my neck. I may be old, but I’m not crazy. I want to share with you baseball-people what I’ve learned in my life, what I’ve learned about home plate in my 78 years.”

He continued and asked if there were any Little League coaches in the audience. A couple of dozen hands went up, and he asked them: “How wide is home plate?” Someone shouted with skepticism: “17 inches?” “That’s right,” Coach affirmed. He next asked in succession if there were any Babe Ruth, High School, or College coaches, and hands went up with each inquiry. This was followed with his interrogating them as to the width of home plate at their level of competition, and again 17 inches was the right answer given each time by the coaches. He closed by asking the Minor and Major League coaches in attendance how wide home plate was in pro ball, and all the coaches in the convention hall exclaimed: “17 inches.”

He next made the powerful application that we do not widen the plate to help a pitcher or hitter if they are struggling.  They are told to practice more, try harder, and work to improve.  He took a sharpie and drew on the white surface of the plate a picture of a home, school, and cross on the plate and noted how in each area society says we need to widen the plate, that is, lower the standard. “If I am lucky,” Coach Scolinos concluded, “you will remember one thing from this old coach today. It is this: if we fail to hold ourselves to a higher standard, a standard of what we know to be right; if we fail to hold our spouses and our children to the same standards; if we are unwilling or unable to provide a consequence when they do not meet the standard; and if our schools and churches and our government fail to hold themselves accountable to those they serve, there is but one thing to look forward to …” With that, he held the home plate in front of his chest, turned it around, and revealed its dark black backside. “… dark days ahead.”

“Coaches, keep your players — no matter how good they are — your own children, and most of all, keep yourself at seventeen inches.”  Good advice for baseball players, great advice for Christians!