Where I’m from, baseball never ends. It’s more of a lifestyle than a sport. The kids I coach, along with their families, make a huge commitment to be a part of our program. I did it as a player years ago and now have the chance to lead other young men to do the same. As I look in their faces each day during school or workouts, I’m reminded that not all of them will play as much as they or their parents want them to. I’m reminded that we probably won’t win as many games as I want us to. I’m reminded that baseball has incredible power, to grow and encourage or to tear down and humiliate.

Until the tragic death of Kobe Bryant, I had never heard of John Altobelli. He died along with his wife and daughter in the crash that took the life of the one everyone has heard of. John was a baseball coach, a great one from all accounts. His teams won and won a lot. Coach Altobelli spend over two decades coaching junior college baseball, which is perhaps the most challenging level of baseball there is. At a JUCO, coaches have constant turnover in players, as they only get them for two years of their career.

Two years to get them ready for the next level.

Two years to grow them up.

Two years to give them all you have.

Two years to ask them to buy into what you’re offering them.

Two years to make a difference.

Along the way, Altobelli coached in the Cape Cod league, a prestigious college summer league for high level players. He created a fun and encouraging environment there, articulated best by current Major Leaguer Jeff McNeil: “He made me want to keep playing baseball.”

Of all the things that can be said of us as coaches, let it be that. Sure, go out and try to win those games. I’ll do that in this, my first season. Go push those players to become better on the field. Go get them to the next level collectively and individually.

While you do it, be the reason they want to show up every day. Be the reason they get better grades. Be the reason they become better men. Be the reason they respect their parents. Be the reason they choose to encourage, rather than belittle, a teammate.

Be the reason they keep playing baseball, even if they never play.

Thanks, Coach Altobelli.