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Why we should NOT widen the plate.

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 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, in particular, kept resurfacing, always with  the same sentiment — “John Scolinos is here?

Oh man, worth every penny of my  airfare. Who the hell 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 in the hell 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. Or  maybe you think I  escaped from Camarillo State Hospital,” he said, his voice  growing irascible. I laughed along with  the others, acknowledging the  possibility. “No,” he continued, “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 question, than  answer.

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

Another long pause.

“Seventeen inches? “came 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. 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 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?

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 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!”

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 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.”

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, and most of all,  keep yourself at seventeen inches.