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SUNDAY SCENE / BILL PLASCHKE

He's Taking a Swing at Ending Embarrassment

May 25, 1997|BILL PLASCHKE

Attention, Little League parents.

Has your 10-year-old been struggling lately? Booting grounders? Throwing wildly?

Is your son so scared while batting that he backs away from every pitch, strikes out every third pitch, cries like a baby while walking back to the bench, humiliates you in front of your friends?

Worry not. Help is on the way, in the form of a 47-year-old former model and actor named Patrick Andersen.

He has never played professional baseball but has plenty of experience with people like you.

"Pitching by Patrick."

That's what it says on his card.

Teaching fastballs to 8-year-olds. Working on batting stances with 10-year-olds. Playing catch with kids who need to be better at playing catch.

That's what he does.

For an unspecified sum, Patrick Andersen will give your child a private baseball lesson.

Give him a month, and he'll make you proud to come back to the playground.

Give him a summer, and he'll turn your little boy into a Little Leaguer.

If you call now, maybe he can squeeze you in next summer.

Andersen is as popular among Pacific Palisades baseball parents as ranch-flavored sunflower seeds.

He has a full schedule of 50 to 60 students, at one-half hour per lesson.

He has 15 on a waiting list.

Some parents could buy their kid a pair of sneakers for what they are willing to pay him for those 30 minutes.

"I can't take any more clients," he said. "Already, I'm calling parents and telling them I'm not going to have room for their child this season."

Those parents are not thrilled.

One Palisades mom was recently overheard remarking to a dad, "The other kids on his team have Patrick, why doesn't our child?"

Another parent described one Palisades Little League attitude as this:

Either you have Patrick, or you don't.

"At first I felt guilty," said Andersen, in his seventh year. "It was like, I don't want to be paid to help your son. But then, you know. . . ."

Is America great, or what?

*

This is not an indictment of the Pacific Palisades Baseball Assn., renowned for its safety measures and the absence of ugly scenes in the stands.

This is not an indictment of Andersen, a former college pitcher whose tutoring career started when he helped a business partner's son learn to throw.

This is about a question confronted by every household with a son or daughter involved in that potential bad memory of youth baseball.

When is enough enough?

When does loud encouragement become public scolding? When does a parent's dream becomes a child's dread? And how exactly does a backyard game of catch become 30 minutes with Patrick Andersen?

"Parents here who do not have the knowledge to teach their kids the right way, they want them to learn, they go to Patrick," said Jim Harth, former Palisades youth coach who sent his son to Andersen. "It's all for the kid's well being."

That makes it sound no different from piano lessons or an art class, and perhaps it is not.

But there is a nagging feeling that this is sometimes not about enriching lives, but avoiding embarrassment.

The child doesn't want to be embarrassed by being the worst one on the team. The parent doesn't want to be embarrassed by watching it.

Andersen has actually heard this word used before. "I remember a parent once yelling, 'Adam, you're embarrassing me!' " Andersen said. "I see some totally neurotic and crazy stuff."

So he asks the parent to leave, and spends 30 minutes trying to help their child have fun again.

"I am the neutralizer," he said.

For an activity desperately in need of neutralization.

In youth baseball, children are trying to do things--like hit a pitched ball with a bat and run safely to first base--that even the most accomplished adults in the world can only do 30% of the time.

Yet they are forced to do it front of friends and family, in what is essentially slow motion, with every swing and throw scrutinized.

"I'm amazed that anybody at that young age ever hits a ball," Andersen said. "And to be able to move your body around at that age to successfully pitch a ball? That is unbelievable."

This is a problem with countless solutions and no answers.

To pull your struggling kid from a youth league would be to deny him a chance to learn important team interaction skills that cannot be found in, say, karate.

But to leave your struggling child on the end of a youth league bench would be to subject him to potential feelings of rejection from a coach and abuse from other parents.

You could always try soccer.

Or, call Patrick.

One father recently illustrated just how important that call could be.

"Listen to Patrick!" he shouted to his son during the lesson. "Listen to Patrick!"

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