In Nashville, Tennessee, during the first week of January 1996, more than 4,000 baseball coaches came to the Opryland hotel for the 52nd annual ABCA convention.
During one of the more popular sessions, Coach John Scolinos spoke. This man was 78 years old and five years removed from a college coaching career that began in 1948. This man shuffled to the stage to a standing ovation, with a string around his neck that held a full size, stark white home plate.
After speaking for twenty minutes, not once mentioning the prop hanging around his neck, he brought it up.
“You’re probably wondering why I’m wearing home plate around my neck. 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 Scolonos, “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 the plate in high school baseball?” Seventeen inches,” they said, sounding more confident.
You’re right!” “Scolinos barked. And you college coaches, who wide is the home plate in college?” Seventeen inches said the room in unison.
And Minor League coaches and Major Leagues, how wide is the plate? “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 those seventeen inches?” Pause. “He’s not a big league pitcher for very long,” he hollered, drawing huge laughter.
“What they don’t do is this: they don’t say, ‘Ah, that’s okay, Bobby. You can’t hit a seventeen-inch target? We’ll make it eighteen inches or twenty inches. If you can’t hit that, we’ll make it twenty-five inches so it’ll be easy on you.”
“What do we do when our best player shows up late to practice? What do we do if he violates curfew? What if he uses drugs? 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 quite, the fog lifting as the old coach’s message began to unfold.
The he turned the home plate toward himself and, sing s sharpie, began to draw on it. When he turned to the crowd, point up; a house was revealed, complete with a freshly drawn door and two windows. “This is the problem with our homes today. In our marriages, with the way we parent our kids. This is the issue 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!” “On our sports teams, in our churches and in our homes, we refuse to hold to a standard. And when this happens we act shocked when people do not live by our standard.”
And there you have it. In a baseball convention where you’d expect to learn about curve balls and bunts, on that day we received a lesson on why our society is having so many problems. We need to have a standard in our life and hold ourselves accountable.