K eep your eye on the ball. It's the oldest and best bit of baseball advice.
Adam Schiffer is a 10-year-old in the San Juan Capistrano Little League. He's a good young catcher who came close to making the "majors" when players were assigned before the current season. Instead, he was assigned to the Triple A team, the Padres.
As his team went to 8-0, Adam was one of the better players. According to his mother, Roberta Schiffer, Adam exulted in his success and close relationship with his coach. That success, she said, offset other less happy events in the family's personal life, where his parents are divorced and his father is about to remarry.
A few weeks ago, Roberta Schiffer heard that one of the "major league" teams was interested in Adam. League rules permit the majors to draft a minor leaguer to fill vacancies. After conferring with Adam, Schiffer thought he would be happier staying with the Padres. Sort of a "thanks but no thanks" to the promotion.
She assumed that was the end of it, until a league administrator told her a couple Friday nights ago that Adam had to accept the promotion. Either that or he had to move to another Triple A team or drop out of the program, he told Schiffer.
Schiffer, who has three sons, was livid, wondering why Adam had to be "promoted" against his wishes. She relented, however, after officials said the Padres faced disqualification if he continued playing with them. The next morning, a Saturday, Adam reported to the major league team, the Cubs.
League officials cited their authority under the national Little League charter. "I told them they were missing the point, that this had nothing to do with baseball," Schiffer said. "We're talking about this child's emotional well-being. I don't care if we're talking about minors, majors or T-ball. He was happy where he was at, and he wants to stay where he's at."
League President Larry Bingham said Adam was the best minor-league catcher available and that when a major-league manager tapped him, he was obliged to move up. "At the minors level, the whole purpose is as a training program," Bingham said. "The minors were never intended to be a competitive program. The goal of the minors is to train and prepare each player for selection and placement on a major league team." In that larger context, Bingham said, all minor league placements are temporary and subject to being switched around.
Even if a kid doesn't want to go? "I don't think Adam's not happy," Bingham said. "I talked to him yesterday, and he said things were great. I think the problem here is he's gotten some negative feedback."
If that's true, I asked Bingham, and if Adam really wanted to move up to the majors, why would his mother want to block that? "I can't answer that question," Bingham said.
The league must retain player-assignment power, Bingham said. "Could you imagine the problems we would have if all of a sudden parents said, 'My son is not going'? Could you imagine what kind of chaos we would have? We have to have rules that maintain order in the league. Basically, it's all for the kids."
Who benefits, I asked Bingham, from switching a kid playing full time with a team he likes to part time with a team he's less interested in? "I think it benefits Adam Schiffer. The kid is a major-league ballplayer. He's an exceptional ballplayer. He might sit on the pine for a couple innings while the starting catcher who's been there all year plays, then the coach moves him in."
Roberta Schiffer remains mystified, if not incensed.
"We're dealing with boys 12 and under. It's still a game and they (the league officials) forget that. . . . It's almost like it's unfortunate they have to use real kids to play this game, because then they have to deal with real human beings."
As for Adam, she said, "they took something from him, and he knows it. They took some magic, they took what makes him want to be part of a team. What they're telling him is you do your best, try hard, get in a winning position, make friends, acclimate yourself, be loyal and be part of the team, and whenever somebody wants, they can just yank you out. And it's not right at this age."
There's one more voice to hear from.
"I was really sad when I had to leave my team," Adam told me late last week. "When I got up to the majors, they were being nice to me, but after a while they didn't care or anything like that. I'm not thrilled I'm with the Cubs, but it's kinda fun, but I miss my old team. On the Cubs, it's OK, but I probably would be happier on my other team."
Did the call-up bother you? "If they were going to take me, they should have taken me at the start of the year. The team I was on, I played the full game and we were in first place and I had a lot of good friends on it. The team I'm going to is second-to-last place and I don't have that many friends on it. I don't care if we win or lose, normally. I just want to play and have fun."