HOME PLATE IS 17 INCHES WIDE

Twenty years ago, in Nashville, Tennessee, during the first week of January, 1996, more than 4,000 baseball coaches descended upon the Opryland Hotel for the 52nd annual ABCA’s convention.

While I waited in line to register with the hotel staff, I heard other more veteran coaches rumbling about the lineup of speakers scheduled to present during the weekend. One name kept resurfacing, always with the same sentiment — “John Scolinos is here? Oh, man, worth every penny of my airfare.”

Who is John Scolinos, I wondered. No matter; I was just happy to be there.

In 1996, Coach Scolinos was 78 years old and five years retired from a college coaching career that began in 1948. He shuffled to the stage to an impressive standing ovation, wearing dark polyester pants, a light blue shirt, and a string around his neck from which home plate hung — a full-sized, stark-white home plate.

Seriously, I wondered, who is this guy?

After speaking for twenty-five minutes, not once mentioning the prop hanging around his neck, Coach Scolinos appeared to notice the snickering among some of the coaches. Even those who knew Coach Scolinos had to wonder exactly where he was going with this, or if he had simply forgotten about home plate since he’d gotten on stage. Then, finally …

“You’re probably all wondering why I’m wearing home plate around my neck,” he said, his voice growing irascible. I laughed along with the others, acknowledging the possibility. “I may be old, but I’m not crazy. The reason I stand before you today is to share with you baseball people what I’ve learned in my life, what I’ve learned about home plate in my 78 years.”
Several hands went up when Scolinos asked how many Little League coaches were in the room. “Do you know how wide home plate is in Little League?”

After a pause, someone offered, “Seventeen inches?”, more of a question than answer.

“That’s right,” he said. “How about in Babe Ruth’s day? Any Babe Ruth coaches in the house?”

Another long pause. “Seventeen inches?” a guess from another reluctant coach.

“That’s right,” said Scolinos. “Now, how many high school coaches do we have in the room?” Hundreds of hands shot up, as the pattern began to appear. “How wide is home plate in high school baseball?”

“Seventeen inches,” they said, sounding more confident.

“You’re right!” Scolinos barked. “And you college coaches, how wide is home plate in college?”
“Seventeen inches!” we said, in unison.

“Any Minor League coaches here? How wide is home plate in pro ball?”…………“Seventeen inches!”
“RIGHT! And in the Major Leagues, how wide home plate is in the Major Leagues?
“Seventeen inches!”

“SEV-EN-TEEN INCHES!” he confirmed, his voice bellowing off the walls. “And what do they do with a Big League pitcher who can’t throw the ball over seventeen inches?” Pause. “They send him to Pocatello !” he hollered, drawing raucous laughter. “What they don’t do is this: they don’t say, ‘Ah, that’s okay, Jimmy. If you can’t hit a seventeen-inch target? We’ll make it eighteen inches or nineteen inches. We’ll make it twenty inches so you have a better chance of hitting it. If you can’t hit that, let us know so we can make it wider still, say twenty-five inches.’”

“Coaches… what do we do when your best player shows up late to practice? or when our team rules forbid facial hair and a guy shows up unshaven? What if he gets caught drinking? Do we hold him accountable? Or do we change the rules to fit him? Do we widen home plate? ”

The chuckles gradually faded as four thousand coaches grew quiet, the fog lifting as the old coach’s message began to unfold. He turned the plate toward himself and, using a Sharpie, began to draw something. When he turned it toward the crowd, point up, a house was revealed, complete with a freshly drawn door and two windows. “This is the problem in our homes today. With our marriages, with the way we parent our kids. With our discipline.

We don’t teach accountability to our kids, and there is no consequence for failing to meet standards. We just widen the plate!”

Then, to the point at the top of the house he added a small American flag. “This is the problem in our schools today. The quality of our education is going downhill fast and teachers have been stripped of the tools they need to be successful, and to educate and discipline our young people. We are allowing others to widen home plate! Where is that getting us?”

Silence. He replaced the flag with a Cross. “And this is the problem in the Church, where powerful people in positions of authority have taken advantage of young children, only to have such an atrocity swept under the rug for years. Our church leaders are widening home plate for themselves! And we allow it.”

“And the same is true with our government. Our so-called representatives make rules for us that don’t apply to themselves. They take bribes from lobbyists and foreign countries. They no longer serve us. And we allow them to widen home plate! We see our country falling into a dark abyss while we just watch.”

I was amazed. At a baseball convention where I expected to learn something about curve balls and bunting and how to run better practices, I had learned something far more valuable.

From an old man with home plate strung around his neck, I had learned something about life, about myself, about my own weaknesses and about my responsibilities as a leader. I had to hold myself and others accountable to that which I knew to be right, lest our families, our faith, and our society continue down an undesirable path.

“If I am lucky,” Coach Scolinos concluded, “you will remember one thing from this old coach today. It is this: “If we fail to hold ourselves to a higher standard, a standard of what we know to be right; if we fail to hold our spouses and our children to the same standards, if we are unwilling or unable to provide a consequence when they do not meet the standard; and if our schools & churches & our government fail to hold themselves accountable to those they serve, there is but one thing to look forward to …”

With that, he held home plate in front of his chest, turned it around, and revealed its dark black backside, “…We have dark days ahead!.”

Note: Coach Scolinos died in 2009 at the age of 91, but not before touching the lives of hundreds of players and coaches, including mine. Meeting him at my first ABCA convention kept me returning year after year, looking for similar wisdom and inspiration from other coaches. He is the best clinic speaker the ABCA has ever known because he was so much more than a baseball coach. His message was clear: “Coaches, keep your players—no matter how good they are—your own children, your churches, your government, and most of all, keep yourself at seventeen inches.”
And this my friends is what our country has become and what is wrong with it today, and now go out there and fix it!

“Don’t widen the plate.”

ROSIE, HER MOM and the COPS

In her junior year, Rosie was falling behind. She needed an elective which meant attending the campus for an additional day, Wednesday. Mom didn’t want to do that. Dad took up the slack. This meant that he drove 100 miles round trip to pick up Rosie from school and take her home. Rosie loved it because it gave her more time with Dad. She visited Dad on the weekends unless Mom came up with an excuse why she couldn’t. All went well until October. The Rule was that Rosie had to be home by 8pm so Mom could go to sleep for work in the morning. On this night, the Daddy/Daughter thing was to find a Halloween Store. Rosie had a specific one in mind and got us lost. Promptly at eight o’clock I got a text from Mom.
‘WHERE ARE YOU???????”

Dad.
“Keep your pants on, we’ll be there in five minutes.”

I dropped Rosie off at 8:10PM. I usually waiting there for a few minutes before heading home, but I was exhausted and had to get home for sleep and work too. So I left.

Life was not good for Rosie in Mom’s house. She had threatened suicide twice. We had set up a rescue plan if she ever felt unsafe to be there. She would call or text me with the word “LONDON” somewhere in the conversation. That was code for “Come and get me”. If I was 50 miles away and had a group of trusted friends that would pick her up and keep her safe until I got there. Many were Rosie didn’t know so if a stranger came to the door and used the word LONDON. She would walk out the door and go with them, no questions asked.

I was almost out of the city when she texted me, “COME BACK”.

I did a Bat Turn on the freeway and headed back. I also dialed 911 and told them there was a domestic dispute at the house. They wanted to know who was involved. I said, “Mother and teenage daughter” and I was going to get Rosie. They told me to stay in my car until the officer arrived. When I pulled up, Mom and Rosie were in the front yard arguing. Mom at the front door and Rosie standing in the yard surrounded by full trash bags. Her stuff.

I dialed 911 again.
“They’re in the front yard now.”
“Are they violent?”
“No just yelling.”
“Is there a weapon present?”
“Mom has a pistol, but she doesn’t have it in her hand.”
“Stay in the car. Officers are responding. I’ll stay on the line. Do not hang up.”
At this point Mom noticed me and came storming over to the passenger side. The window was open.

“I’M SICK OF YOUR SHIT MOTHERFUCKER! I’M CALLING THE COPS AND HAVING YOU ARRESTED.”
I looked at my GPS screen displaying:
EMERGENCY SERVICES
911 OPERATOR
I wondered if Mom could see it. The 911 spoke,
“Officers will be there immediately.”

Mom pissed her pants. I know that because she said she had to change her pants and of course I could see it. She fled into the house. Rosie started to drag her stuff to the car and I told her not yet. The officers had to be there first. Mom came back out in new pants and brought a lawn chair where she sat down. A silent stand off occurred. Mom at the door, Rosie in the yard and me in the car.

The Police arrive.
I stick both my hands out of the car and the officer approaches me.
“Who are you?”
“I’m the Dad”.
“Stay in the car.”
He went up to talk to them and his back up arrived. He got me out of the car and I filled him in with what was going down. I felt that Rosie’s life was in danger. When he walked up, Mom was doing her best “June Cleaver” impersonation.

“What can I do for you, officer?”
“I’m here to arrest somebody”, said the second cop.

Mom pisses her pants for a second time and excuses herself.

Second Cop, “Don’t go anywhere”.

Mom sits back down and her wife brings her a Big Gulp of coffee. One cop takes Mom and one cop takes Rosie and get their sides of the story. I hadn’t felt so helpless since Rosie learned to ride a bike. I couldn’t help her at all and all I could was watch. I heard her side of the story and was proud and shocked. When she got home, Mom erupted. After smacking Rosie around and telling her that she won’t be going to school on Wednesdays anymore, mom and wife settled down to watch tv. Rosie wasn’t allowed in the Livingroom, ever. So Rosie started putting her stuff in trash bags. She had planned this. She knew she would be ignored so she texted me and started putting her stuff in the yard. Mom noticed as Rosie took out the last bag. That’s when I rolled up.

The cops came to me with their decision. This was a civil matter. Rosie would stay at home and I was to go home. I told them that was unacceptable. We would all leave and Rosie would go inside and when you were called back it wouldn’t be a civil matter. It would be criminal, and Rosie would be dead. The cops huddled. First cop tells Rosie to start loading her shit. Second cop informs Mom that he has enough to arrest her or she could let Rosie go with her father.

In her Senior year, Rosie attended Ashley Ridge High School in South Carolina. She said she wanted to go to college in South Carolina and be closer to her older brother and as far away from her mother as possible. We moved to SC to support her decision. She got therapy at Ashley Ridge and thrived. Rosie scored so many scholarships that she  got a Free Ride to College. Her major is Graphic Arts with a minor in Business. She already sells her artwork.

READ MORE ABOUT ROSIE