OpEd Columns

Kids Grow Up Fast When Endorsements Are At Stake (Chicago Sun Times 7/19/03)

I have a serious parental dilemma. I'm at the mall, anxiously pacing inside the Foot Locker store. Do I dress my 18-month-old son Riley in Adidas, Reebok or Nike cleats?
Laugh at me if you want, but who knows when Jerry Maguire will zip his Lexus down our cul-de-sac and see my tiny baseball prodigy crack a hardball across the lawn while wearing a purple swoosh on his size fours?
Where are the sports agents when we forward-thinking parents need them?
Listen up: If the parents of 3-year-old hoops hero Mark Walker can mail a home video to Reebok and get a shoe contract out of it, I certainly can give my toddler the tools to compete with these little hot snots of the world and their highly motivated legal guardians.
I want a guaranteed contract for Riley, so when he rounds the bases at the Little League World Series in 10 years, his college tuition, and my retirement, will be in the bank.
If the father of Cody Webster only had this kind of foresight in 1982, his son would be a millionaire. Webster led his Kirkland, Wash., team to a 6-0 victory over Taiwan to win the Little League World Series.
He pitched a two-hit shutout. He hit the longest homerun in Series history. He also hid under his pillow before the championship game to avoid the media.
C’mon, Dad, you couldn't teach Cody how to conduct a press conference? Think of the product endorsements you missed out on.
Well, Danny Almonte's father actually did have the foresight to get his son featured in Sports Illustrated. He was ahead of his time….so was his son….about two years ahead.
After Almonte pitched a perfect game in the 2001 Series, he was revealed to be fourteen years old, not the 12-year-old his father Felipe had claimed.
A group of grumpy parents, their kids knocked out of the tourney by Almonte, paid a private investigator $10,000 to find just this aberration earlier, but came up empty.
Wow, talk about a successful fund-raiser and a worthy cause. These are Little League parents with focus and purpose. These are Little League parents I need to emulate.
I must watch ESPN's wall-to-wall coverage of the Little League World Series to learn from the most driven parents in the country:
Vein-popping managers who quit their adult jobs in the summer to scout their opponents with radar guns and video cameras.
Sign-toting moms who endure the endless series of double-elimination tournaments that begins in June and ends with the world championship in August.
Two months of "win or go home." That's a lot of baseball. That's a lot of screaming adults. That's a lot for a 12-year-old.
Well, they need to cope with it. It's for their own good.
Being scrutinized on ESPN for a week can teach Adam and Austin, Blake and Billy, Connor and Corey how to deal with a little more pressure than they already get from their focused parents.
Let's face it. You need poise to be the poster boy for Adidas and Apple Jacks…which my Riley will be after he cracks a grand slam to beat Chinese Taipai in 2013.

Ted Mandell teaches in the Department of Film, Television, and Theatre at the University of Notre Dame.
Copyright 2004 Ted Mandell