When I was a kid about to enter school for the first time in my life, I had some holes in my game. I spoke with a Spanish accent (and I was the only Hispanic kid in my neighborhood). My fine motor skills hadn't quite developed yet. Cutting shapes out of pieces of paper was like my slider low and away. I just couldn't seem to master it. And forget beginner's art. I fashioned clay sculptures that looked like they were created by someone wearing boxing gloves.
Back in those days they used to track students by their so-called abilities. My friend and I now joke that it was separated into 3 groups: the Gold group, the Silver group, and the Brown group. I was most decidedly placed in the Brown group in kindergarten.
I was a quiet kid back then, some would say shy -- but not really. That wasn't quite the right word. I preferred to observe things and to listen rather than talk, so I didn't say anything. Besides, I didn't know any better. I was 5 years old.
But you see, I wasn't completely without skills. I could already read and write in two languages -- and had been doing so by my 3rd birthday. By the time I entered kindergarten, I could read the Chicago Tribune. And so when I finally got to school and discovered we were going to learn the alphabet, I was as indignant as a 5 year old could get. I told my mom I never wanted to go back there again.
But my mom was patient. She said it was early and perhaps they were getting to the good stuff later, so I reluctantly went back. Soon afterward we had an assignment where we had to write something. Hooray! When I got the paper, my excitement immediately turned to confusion. The words were already written. It was in dotted lines, but the word was clearly there.
It said "wind".
I quickly deduced that the teacher had made a mistake. Surely she didn't want us to re-write words that were already there. So I didn't follow the instructions. I didn't trace the word.
I drew it.
That is to say, I drew the wind. And in case you are wondering what it looks like, it looks like a mix of straight and squiggly lines with leaves floating randomly in between them. The paper had all kinds of similar words in dotted lines -- and I drew all of them.
My kindergarten teacher, bless her heart, was pretty clever. She gave my paper a star. And then she asked me to read and write all kinds of random words, which I gleefully did. In the next few days I would get pulled out of class where I would sit at a desk and take odd tests. And then one day, the tests stopped. My teacher, Ms. Foster, pinned a note to my shirt and said that I was to leave it there until I got home. You see, back then we pretty much walked ourselves to school and I lived just a block away from mine. Of course, this note could only mean one thing, I was in huge trouble. I had only seen the bad kids get notes pinned on them. So I cried all the way home.
When my mom opened the note, I braced myself for the worst -- but she didn't get angry. Instead, he smiled and gave me a hug The note said I was going to go to the 2nd grade. I was getting promoted!
I began to love school (ok, that's not true, I just tolerated it better), my "shyness" disappeared and I made all kinds of friends in the 2nd grade.
But here is the thing: I still can't cut shapes well from a piece of paper. I have to ask my wife to do it if it comes up. I cannot wrap gifts well. They look like they were done by someone wearing mittens (I have improved from boxing gloves, but not by much). My penmanship is horrific. Thank goodness for the advent of computers. I still like to draw and have learned to be pretty good at it, but I cannot sculpt or fashion things well with my hands -- unusual because my dad was a carpenter as a young man and still creates things with his hands, something that makes me quite envious to this day. I am not what you would call handy around the house, but I have improved enough over the years where I can do these things if needed. It may not be pretty, but it'll work.
These were things I never quite learned to do well -- and probably never will. Yet they were deemed so necessary at the time I entered school. It was a cookie cutter formula that determined what kind of student you were and whether you were Gold, Silver, or Brown. But the truth is that it is all nonsense. We learn to adapt and do well with what we have.
So why am I telling this story?
Well, I actually thought about it yesterday as I still get emails/tweets from fans frustrated that Starlin Castro doesn't walk or that Javier Baez still swings from his heels.
Well, what about the things they can do? What about their strengths? This is exactly what Theo Epstein seemed to say yesterday on the Score when talking about Castro, (the quote is taken from Brett's paraphrasing of his interview on BN),
Hitters have to be themselves; you can’t make them into automatons. If a hitter doesn't feel natural, he can’t hit well. I think there’s a misperception about what we were trying to do with Starlin Castro last year. First, do no harm. But, over time, if you focus on some simple concepts, you can improve a player in the long run. You don’t want to take away Castro’s incredible hand-eye ability, but you can help him in the long by helping him focus on how good he is when he gets a pitch he can drive. I think you’re seeing a lot of progress from Castro this year.
And what Castro is is one heck of an offensive SS. Some of you may remember that one scout told me he saw Hanley Ramirez in him before the season -- if only he could get his head on straight. Well, lo and behold, Castro's head is on straight and is now tied for 2nd among all shortstops in wOBA -- which is my favorite all-encompassing offensive statistic. And who is he tied with? Why Hanley Ramirez, of course.
So what if he doesn't walk? He is among the top offensive shortstops in the game! Why are we sill worried about walks? Castro has started the process of swinging at better pitches, maybe that will translate to walks one day, maybe it won't -- but either way it has helped him become a serious offensive threat while playing average defense at a premium position.
Similarly, who cares if Javier Baez may never hit .300? Who cares if he is going to strikeout and be made to look bad at the plate from time to time? If he can hit 30+ bombs with good defense from the 2B position, he will be an asset to the team, even if it isn't in the same way that we like our hitters to be. Not everyone is going to be Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, or Kyle Schwarber when it comes to discipline and a mature overall approach.
I think Baez is having his 2013 Starlin Castro year. He's struggling with a few new concepts he will probably never be great at, but that doesn't mean he can't be a productive ballplayer or that he can't gradually improve them to the point where it can have a subtle, positive affect on his overall game, as it has with Castro.
Not everyone traces the word "wind", some of us prefer draw it.
And who is to say that isn't worth a star?
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