For this Bethel Park youth baseball coach, there's more to the game than just winning
The Bethel Church League Mets entered their semifinal playoff game with a record of 13-1.
It had been a good season for the team of 7- and 8-year-olds. And in the third inning of Tuesday's semifinal against the Finleyville Storm, the Mets were winning.
But that didn't matter to Bob Kitchen, the Mets' coach. A win, a shot at the finals, a shot a winning it all, wasn't important at all.
So when the Mets' second baseman made an error and chucked the ball back to one of his teammates in frustration, hitting his teammate in the arm and hurting him, Kitchen didn't hesitate.
He pulled the kid from the field and sat him down for the rest of the game. The Mets played with one fewer player on the field, and each time the second baseman was up to bat, the team took an out.
The Mets lost, 14-12. Kitchen said it's tough to know whether his decision to pull the second baseman caused the Mets to lose.
But it didn't matter to Kitchen.
“Sportsmanship and being a good teammate, it trumps winning and losing every single time,” Kitchen said. “Sportsmanship, being a good teammate, having fun and learning the game. We must say that a hundred times a season. Our philosophy is, if you do that, you will have success.”
Kitchen, 41, of Bethel Park is a fourth-grade teacher at Roosevelt Elementary in Carrick and an assistant football coach and South Park High School. He's coached the same group of boys in the Bethel Church League for about four years.
His approach, and that of the coaching staff around him, has been the same. Don't yell at the kids. Get on their eye level when you talk to them. Encourage them, even when they strike out and make errors. And remind them that baseball, especially youth baseball, should be fun.
“If you have those core values, you will compete and you will have success,” Kitchen said. “That's the message I'm trying to send to the little guys.”
Tuesday wasn't the first time one of Kitchen's players lost their cool on the field. Throughout the season, players have thrown their bats or slammed their batting helmets in frustration. The first time a player does it, Kitchen takes the kid aside.
“I get at eye level with them, and I talked to them about why it's not appropriate to throw their bats or helmets. Players strike out. Players make errors. But I tell them that we have confidence in you, but let's not see that again,” Kitchen said. “We just keep reminding them of those four things — sportsmanship, being a good teammate, having fun and learning the game — and they bounce back.”
The next time it happens, Kitchen sits the kid.
When the second baseman threw the ball in hard, hurting his teammate, it wasn't the first time. Kitchen had already talked to the player that season.
“If I put him back out there, what message does that send to the rest of the team?” Kitchen said. “It's just not about the score on the scoreboard at the end of the game.”
No one on his coaching staff questioned the decision. The kids left on the field banded together and did the best they could.
“The effort was tremendous,” Kitchen said. “They just kept going.”
And the parents, they understood too. After the game, Kitchen received several texts and emails from parents. One stuck in Kitchen's mind.
He remembered it reading: “You taught not only that player, but the whole team the most important lesson.”
And that matters to Kitchen.