Home plate is ‘17 Inches’ and does not changeBy JAMES PHILLIPS,
The following article was authored by someone unknown to me, but I have first hand knowledge of the powerful message in this story. In the early 1990’s, I attended a baseball camp at Louisiana State University where I was treated to this very story told by coach John Scolinos in person. In his 70s at the time, the retired coach was still a moving speaker and his message was clear, and it still holds true to this day.
He came to the stage wearing dark polyester pants, a light blue shirt, and a string around his neck from which a baseball home plate hung — a full-sized, stark-white home plate.
After speaking for 10 minutes, not once mentioning the home plate around his neck, Scolinos appeared to notice the snickering. We wondered where he was going with this, or if he had simply forgotten about home plate.
Then, “You’re probably all wondering why I’m wearing home plate around my neck. No,” he continued, “I may be old, but I’m not crazy. The reason I stand before you today is to share what I’ve learned in my life, what I’ve learned about home plate in my 78 years.”
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, “17 inches,” more of question than answer.
“That’s right,” he said. “Now, how many high school coaches do we have in the room?” 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?”
“And in the Major Leagues, how wide is home plate in the Major Leagues?”
“And what do they do with a big league pitcher who can’t throw the ball over that 17 inch plate?” Pause.
“What they don’t do is this: they don’t say, ‘Ah, that’s okay. You can’t hit a 17-inch target? We’ll make it 18 inches, or 19 inches. We’ll make it 20 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 25 inches.’”
“Coaches …” Pause. ” … what do we do when our best player shows up late to practice? 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?
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 widen the plate!”
Pause. 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!”
“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 and churches and 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. “…dark days ahead.”