These Little League Coaches Says Back To The Basics

Billy Peterson has been coaching baseball for over 50 years. He says players aren't focused on the fundamentals anymore, which is why he's trying to train the next generation of big league players.

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In Saint Paul, Minnesota, winter weather can be lethal and summer can be serious business and so is baseball. The Twins just hosted the All-Star game. Saint Paul is building a $63 million stadium for its independent pro league. Then there's a place called Midway Baseball, a complex of 10 fields, some with stadium seating, concession stands, lights and electronic scoreboards, and it's all for kids. Sarah LaMantia reports.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: All right, be ready, Sam. Be ready. Come on - get it. Get it. Get it. Get it. Get it. Get it. Get it.

SARAH LAMANTIA, BYLINE: On any given Tuesday, this place is a baseball machine - more than 400 kids participating in four early games, four late games and full batting cages. Funded in part through Major League Baseball's RBI initiative, the goal is to get and keep inner-city kids playing baseball. There's lots of talk about teamwork and exercise. And then there's this guy - 73-year-old Billy Peterson - faded Marine tattoos, hearing aid, wrap-around sunglasses.

BILLY PETERSON: I'm a butt kicker. I'm old school. I yell meathead, knucklehead, bonehead, brainless. And I say those, and some parents don't understand it, but it's just kind of, hey, you can do better.

LAMANTIA: Technically, Peterson's retired. But he's on the fields every day, drilling, coaching and yes, frightening parents. Around here, his gruff manner is coaching legend. Current Twins first baseman, Joe Mauer, spent a year playing on the field behind us. Two of the umps from this past All-Star game suffered under his tutelage. And then, there are the local boys turned Hall of Famers, Dave Winfield and Paul Moliter.

PETERSON: I was out in my driveway washing my car, and the announcer said there's Paul Moliter's thousandth hit. It's in the gap. It's a double in the gap. Oh, no, he kept going. And what happened was he head-first slid into third base. I think I got a little piece of that action because I helped him learn the headfirst slide - something that happened on the little field down at Oxford playground that came from me.

LAMANTIA: In Saint Paul, that's how you get your name on a quarter of a million dollar youth stadium like Billy Peterson Field, even though the coaches on it today take a different approach, like 9 and under coach Mark Goggin.

MARK GOGGIN: I think we all did a terrific job. It doesn't matter what the final score is. You guys played great. You worked your tails off. You tried your hardest.

LAMANTIA: Then there's the Peterson approach.

PETERSON: Nowadays, everybody has to be politically correct. You have to do the Oreo cookie where you praise, then you do a little constructive criticism, then you praise again instead of really being honest with somebody and saying, hey, that's a mistake. It's not acceptable.

LAMANTIA: And the other side of that praise cookie - jumping jacks. Again, Goggin

GOGGIN: All right, we're going to do ten jumping jacks, and then we're going to talk about how we're going to behave today. Ready - everyone on their feet. Ready - 10 jumping jacks. Ready - go.

LAMANTIA: But it's hard to get more old-school, more fundamental than jumping jacks in summer and baseball.

GOGGIN: Get it in. Get it in. Outfield, you got to get it in quicker.

LAMANTIA: Oh, full disclosure here - that was my son who missed the grounder to second. For NPR News, I'm Sarah LaMantia in Saint Paul.

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