Little leaguers growing into big league players
Another season of Little League has come and gone, and if you were to talk to Little League coach and former Wilsonville Little League president John Santiago, it was another year where the Majors All-Stars team showed constant improvement.
In the post season, the Wilsonville Majors All-Stars went 2-2, splitting a pair of games against Murrayhill, dropping a close contest to Raleigh Hills and besting Lake Oswego in a back and forth game July 9. Part of the reason the team was competitive in the post-season was the return of familiar players, and a pushing of intangible lessons that are invaluable in player development.
"From the start, we do a bunch of clinics with (high school) coach (Bryn) Card and his team at the beginning of the season in the January-February timeframe," Santiago said. "Then we have a coaches meeting, and coach Bryn tells us what his philosophy is, and we try to instill those into our program so that when the boys are moving up they get a consistent message from tee ball all the way up through majors so we're teaching what coach Card wants to see when these boys are playing for him at the high school level."
While the Little Leaguers are learning lessons that will eventually pay dividends for the high school program, coach Card and his staff have a hands off approach to the program in terms of the on-field strategy. The 11- and 12-year-olds are instead learning techniques and ethics valued by the program.
"The things we were trying to coach up were the mental aspect of the game," Santiago said. "For instance, knowing where the outfielders are and if the ball is hit in a certain direction, to anticipate if the ball is going to drop or if it's going to get through. Those are the types of things that these boys need to get accustomed to. Reading baseballs and pitches."
For Santiago, one of the rewarding things of working with these particular players is seeing them grow as players and people. Watching bonds grow between his charges on and off the diamond is one of those things that's hard to replicate.
"Seeing the boys develop and grow from when they were eight years old to where they are now, it's been enjoyable," Santiago said. "You see them enjoying the game, but also enjoying being with their buddies. It's not uncommon for these boys to go out and play whiffle ball games. It's not only the baseball fundamentals aspect, but it's the team camaraderie that they've developed. It's just a good group of boys."
And it's not just watching the team grow together, it's knowing that the skills these kids are learning will follow them into every theater of their lives. The field, the boardroom, the household — Santiago believes these players are growing to be better people.
"If you're in a job, you're always part of a team, regardless if it's a work team, an athletic team, a team in school, you've got to know how to work with other people and you've got to know what to do if you're playing for the team," Santiago said.
"Our motto for this whole summer was 'One team.' Whatever you do, it's for the benefit of our team. It's not focused in on individual success. It's, 'What can I do for our team?' It helps us when we play these tournament games because they were doing things; they would sacrifice an out for themselves to move a runner over. Sure enough, the next guy would get a base hit and we would score a run. They really bought into the one team aspect."