Reading between the lines with Yoenis Céspedes, kids

Sometimes sports isn’t just about what happens out there in the heat of competition.

Sure, it’s the winning and losing that brings fans to a fever pitch and puts the games on TV and makes the money such an important element to it all. So much of American society is hooked on this screaming, passionate dynamic.

But sometimes all these games are more about character. Building it. Showing it. Living it.

I’m reminded of this as I follow the New York Mets as August turns to September, and this baseball team I’ve cheered for since they were born in 1962 when I was 4 years old pulls out in front of their division by 6 1/2 games over the rival Washington Nationals.

My Mets don’t get to the top much, two World Series championships in all of my years of loyalty, another two defeats in that promised land, a handful of playoff appearances besides that.

That alone builds stern stuff within fans in the many down years.

High fives for the new Met Cespedes.  (Photo from Getty Images)

High fives for the new Met Cespedes. (Photo from Getty Images)

One of the reasons for the resurgence has been the play of outfielder Yoenis Céspedes, attained in a late July trade with the Detroit Tigers. The 29-year-old native of Cuba hits big homers and doubles and roams the field with a big arms. He plays with a magnetism and a flair. His arrival has been widely and wildly applauded. I’ve written here with about my approval, adding that the Mets’ general manager Sandy Alderson should think about signing the free agent to the rich contract that he’ll surely attract at the end of this season.

But.

To me, several actions on the field now made me slightly wary.

When Céspedes strikes out and the catcher drops the ball, he does not run to first base. He simply turns and heads to the dugout. Baseball protocol calls for the batter to run toward first base, forcing the catcher to retrieve the ball and fire it to beat him to the bag. And 99.9 percent of the time, this indeed happens. But once in a while, the ball will bounce far enough away and or a hustling runner will cause a harried catcher to make a bad throw, and the team up will get an extra out that inning.

I don’t like that he doesn’t give my team that bit of a chance.

Then last night, in 10th inning of a tied game, the Boston Red Sox’s batter hit a screaming line drive over the head of Mets’ center fielder Juan Lagares. It hit high on the fence and bounced past Lagares back toward the infield. The catcher sprinted all around the bases for a rare inside-the-park home run. Left field Céspedes did not move an inch from his spot. The cameras caught this, and Mets announcers Gary Cohen and Keith Hernandez pointed this out as a lackluster play on Céspedes’ part.

The Red Sox scored three runs in the inning and the Mets fell 6-4. The cameras also caught that the line drive may have hit over an orange line, missed by the umpires, and should have been called a regular home run. No matter. Céspedes should have sprinted over on contact to back up his teammate. Was he insulted that Lagares was playing center instead of him? This I do not know.

What I do know is that this awesome player’s lack of hustle in these instances goes against the life lessons sports is supposed to instill to kids who love them so. Always go at things hard, every instance, all the time. Try your best.

Today, four teams will play in the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., teams from Japan and Mexico playing for the International title and Pennsylvania and Texas for the U.S. crown. May the 12-year-olds play hard, respect each other, show that sports is a good ladder into life.

Do I still want the Mets to sign Céspedes? Tough question, that. Do I give up a principle I’ve held close to my heart my whole life because this player is so wildly talented otherwise? Is this just a little quirk to be overlooked, or even a cultural difference I’m supposed to understand and forgive? Am I over thinking this whole situation?

Here’s the source for the photo of Céspedes.

Should pro sports players be held as role models for youngsters? Should Little League coaches be character builders or just sports teachers? Should the Mets try to sign Céspedes or use the non-hustle plays to get out of offering him many years for mega money?

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35 thoughts on “Reading between the lines with Yoenis Céspedes, kids

  1. You know I’m with you, Mark. Shaking my head. My answer is, no, I wouldn’t sign Cespedes for the same reason that the Dbacks should never have long-signed Justin Upton. Amazing talent that you can’t count on is untrustworthy. If a player picks and chooses when he’s going to play, turn it on, then no. Give me the guy who plays hard every.single.time. I was just talking to my 16yo son about driving and how I always put my blinker on, always, even at times when it is completely unnecessary. Why? Because of habit and a “not optional” stance on the matter. Many drivers pick and choose when to put on their blinker, like it’s a new decision to be made every time. Why? Back to baseball, I get that some players are in it for their bat and not their defense and I have lackluster memories of “Manny being Manny” Ramirez outfielding moments for example, BUT if you are there for your bat *that includes running to 1st base* every time! No decision, just run! Can you hear my mama coaching coming through? 😀

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  2. That’s an interesting question Mark – whether to sign Cespedes or not. I’ve seen and even worked with people like that before. Typically we choose those with more inherent talent and who have practiced hard to become more proficient at their specialty. Every now and then someone appears who is inherently talented far beyond the normal range – as apparently is the case with Cespedes. Few will ever reach that skill level in a lifetime. The big problem with this is that most of those are not at all motivated to push hard or even try because they have always been the best = they work and live in a different reality than the rest of us. Companies have the same problem as sports teams. My favorite business book was written about exactly this topic and is called “Good to Great” by William Collins ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Good_to_Great ). The author’s wife was a world renowned professional runner and he mentioned her a few times. As a professional she watched everything she ate extremely carefully. Because she needed the nutrition afforded by cottage cheese but did not want the fat that was in the liquid, she used to wash her cottage cheese before eating it. For me that level of attention to detail is what makes a true professional -“washing the cottage cheese” – and that is not something that a player of Cespedes skill level ever has to do because they are inherently better than everyone else and they know it. He should have taken the chance on the fumble – he isn’t washing the cottage cheese.

    You and I see and understand this Mark – and how his lack of initiative affects all the other team members. The owners will see his stats and fan draw and will keep him on. So, to answer your question – I’d fire his ass, but they won’t and as a result team spirit will go down the drain.

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    • I love that tale. Washing the cottage cheese. Now that’s attention to detail, and devotion, all wrapped into one, Paul. Yoenis is not doing that when he stands there refusing to run on these plays. At all. You’re right. His immense talent has taken him far. On all other plays, though, he runs hard and fasts, really “busts his butt,” as the saying goes, all-out. So this befuddles me. I think the Mets’ management may let him go, but to save money, not as a statement about these plays.

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  3. Mark, it’s like you were reading my mind! I was watching the game, but on NESN, and I kept waiting for the Sox announcers to say something about why the LF wasn’t backing up the play. They never did, and it really got to me.

    Glad his lack of movement on the play bothered someone else as well!

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  4. I sure like Cespedes impact on the Mets so far and couldn’t have hoped for more. I’m not sure the Mets can negotiate a practical deal with Cespedes’ agents, yet since he has arrived you can’t deny the team is hitting! And what is exciting is seeing players like Flores, Granderson, Murphy, d’Arnaud, Cuddyer, etc. have all picked it up and Duda hit a few more homers too, as if the pressure was off. Cespedes has been a big influence and it’s a good time to be a Mets fan!

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      • I’m giving Cespedes and Lagares the benefit of the doubt, that they were closest to the wall and saw the ball hit above the line and figured it was a reg home run, which it actually was (it was not an inside the park homer), so they didn’t move fast. They could have hustled after it to give the allusion that it didn’t go above the line, but it really did. Overall, it’s been an amazin’ month for Cespedes (despite the last 2 games with Boston). By the way, I never have considered athletes “role models” … we have so many real heroes, like scientists who do lab work to cure diseases, or medical personnel who volunteer in areas of crises, or artists, authors, and so on. I truly believe smart kids know the difference.

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      • I think athletes are heroes. Maybe smart kids do know the difference between that and role models as you say. As far as knowing it was a homer. Not at the crack of the bat, which is when Cespedes should have started moving toward the ball. And didn’t. Don’t get me wrong. I love all the great things he does, 99 percent of the time. I merely am perplexed that he seems to take a play or two off, willingly and by choice.

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  5. Great post, Mark!
    I think anyone in the public eye (sports, entertainment, etc) ARE role models for kids whether they want to be or not. You can’t make kids STOP looking up to these people. It is a normal thing that we all enjoyed as kids. I was secretly pretending I was Willie McCovey (as an 8 year old girl) when I got my nose broken by a hard fast ball! 😮
    One of my kids was in Little League as a boy and I’m glad his coaches were sports teachers AND character builders! 🙂
    HUGS!!! 🙂

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    • Willie McCovey! So great a player and man that he has a Cove named after his still behind the new park on the Bay, my friend. Yes, you are right, Carolyn. The stars have no choice in the matter. But the rest of us have to keep the pressure on for them to act the right way and for the young folks to judge them with a nuanced eye. Hey, I’m glad your kid had the good kind of coaches.

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  6. There’s a reason Cespedes has changed hands three times in the past year, and it’s not just because he’s a pending free agent. Like his fellow countryman Yasiel Puig, he has incredible raw talent, but a rather smug style of play that doesn’t sit well with most others in the game. When he was pawned off on the Red Sox last year, I had heard one of his drawbacks was he was essentially uncoachable. He didn’t need anyone to tell him how to play the game, even when he was in a slump. I imagine he will continue to be a “take the good with the bad” enigma for the rest of his career…

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  7. Inexcusable. He’s violating time-tested baseball code, and his teammates should get on him to play hard and not just issue fines in kangaroo court. Millionaires, right? A little hustle, please…

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  8. I don’t even watch baseball and this disturbed me MBM. I can compare this to ‘work’ in any field (no pun intended). This kind of thinking/behavior of those who don’t think they need to help or be ‘on’ all the time is detrimental to everyone. And working with kids? If you are in a position to work with kids I think you do have a responsibility to help with character-whether it’s sports or not. Kids are impressionable. Impress upon them the good character traits!!!

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  9. so not a bad trade after all? maybe the tigers knew more? great post and insightful from a sports lover’s perspective. i do expect them to be role models, for the up and coming, just as in any profession, but on top of that, they are looked up to as heroes by many, whether it is warranted or not. i find character to be very important in the scheme of things.

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