Coach sounds off on OPYB

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Wednesday Journal Sports Editor Brad Spencer conducted an e-mail interview with former Oak Park Youth Baseball coach Rick Marchetti. This is the entire interview, edited for punctuation and spelling only.

WJ: To start with, tell me your background with OPYB. You've been a head coach in the league for 18 years, what division and what's the best success you've had, what year, what team? Etc.  In 18 years of coaching youth baseball, any big names that have come from your teams?

Marchetti: I started coaching in the Mustang Division when I was 16 years old. The team I coached was Piute. After two years I moved up to the Jr. Bronco level where I coached Ojibwa, (back then the teams were all named after Indian tribes) and spent the next six seasons in that league. It was in that division that I received my first chance to coach a 10-year-old tournament team. It was a "B" team that I coached with Tom Brovarney and Lenny Joyce. Two years later, 1995, I was named manager of the 10 year olds "A" team which I coached with Kevin Keleher, Nick Sakkaleris, and Tony Turek. It was a great group of kids and they were a wonderful team. We fell a little short in the Jr. Bronco Zone that year. The following year I was given an opportunity by Bob Becker to assist him with his Bronco team Pinnacle Bank. Bob was a great teacher to not only the kids but to me as well. He taught me a lot about strategy, handling pitchers, showing me what a terrific weapon the bunt is, and pretty much giving me free reign on drafting and coaching third base. After spending two years with Pinnacle there was an opening on the Northside of Bronco, and the league president offered me the team. For the next eight years I was the manager of the Optimist Club. While coaching Optimist our teams were always competitive and prepared. Our greatest successes came in 2002 when our team finished the regular season in last place, only to go on a tear through the post-season and win the village championship. You did a real nice piece on us in the journal. That year, after five years in Bronco, I was given an opportunity to manage the 12 year olds "A" team. That team was not given a lot of respect as far as talent goes by the baseball community of Oak Park as a whole.

All that marvelous bunch of kids did was play the best baseball I ever saw a group of 12 years old boys play over a 4 week period. They capped it off by beating a team from Channohon 4-1 in extra innings in the North Zone championship in Joliet to earn a trip to Monterey, Calif., and a birth in the Bronco World Series. This was the same Channohon team that a year earlier had beat our boys 14-2 in the 11 year olds Zone in Glen Ellyn. That team was most definitely the most rewarding team I have ever been a part of. Those kids were fun, hard workers, and completely bought into the TEAM theory. Every single one of them contributed to our success and they let each other know it on a regular basis.

This last year 2005, was statistically without question the most talented crop of players I have ever been fortunate enough to coach. Optimist stormed to a 9-0 record, finished up 19-2 and won the regular season crown and the village championship.

Once again I was lucky enough to be named manager of the 12 "A" team. This extremely talented team lost in the Zone championship to a monster Joliet team, just missing a chance to go to Monterey.

None of the players I have coached have gone pro, but there are several competing at the college level. Ian Matthews is playing college ball somewhere in Indiana, Patrick Bracco is pitching for Valparaiso, Caleb Fields and Evan Blessoff are both playing at Northwestern. The best player I have ever coached is Jimmy Zangrilli. I always thought he had Pro written all over him. Unfortunately Jimmy was a catcher who late in his High school career suffered dislocations in both his knees and had to have several operations. More importantly than any of their baseball successes though is the fact that all of these kids are good people, hard workers and successful in whatever it is they choose to do.

WJ: What is your everyday job? And how long have you been doing that?

Marchetti: I work as an operations manager for a Car audio, Home theater company. I have been with my current company for five years. Before that I was a warehouse manager for a distribution company. That goes along with my other everyday job as a husband to my wife, and a father to my three daughters!!

WJ: Why did you get involved in coaching 18 years ago? What do you enjoy about it, etc.?

Marchetti: Baseball has always been my biggest passion. I came up through the OPYB system as a kid. When high school came around I just wasn't quite good enough to make the team. I tried out every year and it was the same thing, get cut. After getting cut my junior year I still wanted to be involved in baseball in some way. I grew up on the 1100 block of South Lombard, right down the block from Barrie Park. My friends and I would play pick up games there every single day. My older brother had been coaching for a few years already and mentioned me as a possible coach to John Houren who was then Mustang president. John called me and said "I see you at the park everyday, do you have any interest in coaching?"

I figured if I can't make it as a player, why not help somebody else to. John gave me my first chance, and I'll always be thankful to him for that. By the way Brad, whenever I drive by Barrie park my stomach turns ? they ruined it by only putting one diamond in, but that's another story for another day.

WJ: After 18 years why have you decided not to return next season? Be specific.

Marchetti: Politics. Parental agendas. A board with no spine and no sense of history or loyalty.

Allow me to clarify. Nine-nine percent of the parents I have come in contact with through my years of coaching are just terrific, classy, helpful people. When I first started out all the parents expected was for their kids to be treated fairly, with respect, and taught how to play the game to the best of their abilities. Those are very fair expectations, and it would be inexcusable for a coach not to live up to them. I've always said that the best parent is the one who sits in the stands and cheers for their kid and leaves the coaching while at the park to the coaches.

These days a handful of parents have agendas regarding the desire to coach their kids and make sure that their kids play on the same team with their friends. If they can't be on the same house-league team then maybe they can play on the same travel team. The easiest way for that to happen is to petition the board and pepper them with complaints about the coaching at a certain level. "I saw so and so yelling at his team." "I saw so and so sneaking a cigarette outside of the playing field." "The PONY tournaments are too restricted, we need to play in more tournaments." "We don't play enough games, I want change now or we will form our own travel team."

The Oak Park board of directors has acquiesced on all of these points. Now the smoking, Okay, I get it. That represents a small minority of coaches (myself included) but no one ever smokes on the field. It is away from the kids. Ten years ago it wouldn't have mattered at all, but political correctness calls for it. God forbid the parents tell their kids that smoking is bad for you.

About four years ago the board truly showed how fearful they were of a few small minded parents when they forced the then Bronco president to come up with a schedule of scrimmage games for the travel team to play during the season against surrounding towns or they would allow the incoming group of 11 year olds to form their own travel team as well as play in house-league. They give this president two days to come up with this. Mind you this happened in November of that year, kind of a hard time to find games for the upcoming season. To his credit he was successful, and that was the birth of our relationship with The Northern Illinois Metro League. This Metro league is now the main reason for burnt out kids, burnt out parents, burnt out coaches, and most importantly injured arms for pitchers.

This past two years has seen the onset of the Travel team committee (TTC). This idea was born of a few parental complaints concerning not finding out early enough that games were canceled due to rain, the assumption that not all the kids were getting a fair chance to be on a travel team, and that there was a lack of organization among the Bronco coaches. And the Board's unwillingness to sponsor any travel team funding except for a small stipend. The kids who want to play travel ball now must pay $375. This used to be free. Where their used to be a total of five travel teams there is now nine.

Travel teams are supposed to be the best of the best. Kids get cut, it's a part of life I know well. Now pretty much anyone who wants to play gets to play travel ball. Never mind that you send a "C" team out there and they get beat every game by 10 runs. I'm sure it's good for their confidence, and I'm sure they are having fun. I was a member of the TTC, and I know the people on this committee have good intentions. But what is it that's said about good intentions? I'm sure that a kid who struggles with long division probably won't be chosen as a member of the calculus team. So why is baseball different?

The final straw for me personally was the naming of Bronco president this year. Our president had stepped down, and we needed a new one. I offered up myself, and named a few other people who would be good choices. The board had told me on numerous occasions in the past that it was their desire to keep the bronco league free of parental coaching and management. What does the board do? They choose a parent of a current player. I know this man, and I respect him and I harbor no ill will towards him. I actually believe him to be a very good choice. However this man did not pursue the position, he was even hesitant to accept it.

The president of OPYB is a man who got involved in OPYB as my assistant coach when I coached his son back in the early 90s. The VP of the board is a man whose son was one of the best players I have ever coached. I felt that they could have at least talked to me, and told me why their decision was what it was, and how much, if any consideration I was given. I have since found out through the grapevine that there was none.

I felt I deserved better than that after 18 years and a hell of a lot of personal sacrifices. There has been a subtle push to rid the Bronco league of its longtime coaches, and this is just a travesty. Eventually OPYB will get what they wish for, and the loss will be the kids' loss. Mark my words, someday soon, travel teams will come raiding Oak Park, and they will get the kids they want because quality coaching will be gone.

WJ: What are some of the changes you feel the OPYB needs to make?

Marchetti: I feel they need to appreciate the time and effort that their longtime coaches have put in. I feel they need to abolish the TTC and begin once again supporting their post season teams. I also think that they need to allow more people access to opportunities to be involved with the board. A three sentence blurb buried in the back of the Wednesday Journal and Oak Leaves back page doesn't cut it. There needs to be less parents and more outside parties on the board.

WJ:  Do you feel the OPYB board puts too much emphasis on traveling teams, or is it an even balance with the house teams?

Marchetti: One of the reasons the TTC was brought about was to keep travel teams out. A noble idea. However, as a former TTC member I think the kids are playing way too many games. The difference between us and say a team from Georgia is that while that team from Georgia may play 75-100 games they are doing it over 12 months. We are jamming in 40-50 games, not counting fall ball, into a four month period. Kids are sometimes playing three games a day. While we monitor the kids pitching in house-league, the NIML has no pitching rules, so you see coaches pitching a kid four innings in a game when he already threw three in house-league earlier that day.

Junior Bronco for two years now, has stopped their house-league season in mid-June so a handful of kids can go play for a week in Cooperstown. That is the ultimate compromising of the house-league. Unless it can be done in the post season Cooperstown should be abolished. I'm sure the 12 kids that went had a great time, but what about the other 60 kids that didn't go, or what about the younger siblings who had to go too and missed out on time with their t-ball teams? Balancing act? I think not.

WJ: Will the experience you've recently had with OPYB prevent you from ever coaching youth baseball again?

Marchetti: My experience with OPYB has soured my feelings towards all that are involved with the exception of the kids and the game itself. I plan on coaching my daughters as long as they will have me. However if they make it to a competitive level, I will stay out of the way and truly enjoy the games from the stands.

WJ: Any additional information would be much appreciated.  

Marchetti: My wife's name is Leslie, my daughters names are Kate, 9, Emma, 8, and Ava, 3. They have all sacrificed a lot for me to coach OPYB as well.

I must state to you Brad how important this program was to me. I am only 34 years old. Combine my coaching and playing within the program and it has been a part of my life for over 25 years. This baseball program has been one of the best feeder programs into one of the best high school programs in the nation. This whole ordeal has deeply saddened me. I am not naive enough to think that it will end because I'm gone, and I truly hope that it survives and thrives. I just hope that the board realizes what a treasure trove of knowledge it has in its coaches at the Bronco level and doesn't pull anymore stupid moves to appease the parents and push these men away.

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