Buzby: Bringing back missing player can be tricky situation

jonbuzby@hotmail.comApril 7, 2013 

At every level of sports, the issue of when to re-insert a former starter who is coming back from injury is handled differently by every team.

At the youth level, this also can be an issue. In addition, it's not uncommon for a player to miss practices and/or games due to family vacations, especially over spring break.

I encountered an example of each this spring.

One week into the season, a youth baseball team's starting shortstop from the year before had his cast removed and was cleared to play.

The player had not practiced with the team due to his injury. Does the manager immediately insert him back into "his" shortstop position? Apparently, he is clearly the best player at that position.

My recommendation to him was to gradually re-insert the player back into the position. The manager's philosophy is that each of his players will play at least four innings, regardless of ability, and so I suggested he stick to that plan.

I suggested he not start him in the next game back, but play him the four innings, maybe at a position other than shortstop. After all, it would be fairest to allow the player practicing at shortstop to have a chance to see game action at the position.

After a game or two, re-evaluate. If the shortstop from last season is still clearly the best player at the position, he should start there. And if not, he shouldn't.

I suggested the manager communicate his plan with both sets of parents so everyone is on the same page. Most likely, the parents will agree as long as they know their child is going to have a fair chance to earn the starting position. But if not, it's still the manager's final decision.

The second situation occurred on a varsity baseball team when one of the starting infielders went on a family cruise during spring break. The problem with this was he missed a critical week of practice and the team's first two games.

Apparently, the parents made the cruise reservations because they didn't think he would make the team. Lo and behold he did, and canceling the trip would have cost the family thousands of dollars.

This coach decided not to punish the child because his parents "made" him go on the trip. He was immediately reinserted back into the lineup upon his return.

While I'm sure many varsity-level coaches would not have handled the situation this way -- I know of another case where a player lost his starting position for missing one practice to attend a cousin's wedding -- I give this coach credit. He decided not to punish the player, and ultimately the team since he was clearly the best second baseman, because of missed time that was out of the young man's control.

There were disgruntled parents who probably didn't make vacation plans to stay in town for the team, but my guess is every single one of those parents, if in the same situation, would want their child handled the same way.

In both of these situations, it was nice to see the coaches not punish two players who missed practice and/or game time that was out of their control.

Contact Jon Buzby at JonBuzby@hotmail.com and follow him @JonBuzby on Twitter.

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