Sports in the USA: interview with John Green

  1. What does your job involve exactly?

My name is John Green, I am a National Cross Checker for the Los Angeles Dodgers, which is basically a high level amateur scout for the Dodgers, we have local scouts (16) throughout the USA and their job is to report on all draftable players in their territory and recommend them for the MLB draft every June. My job is to travel the country and see the best players, both high school and college –  when our scout in Texas recommends we select a player in the 1st round, I will see that player and compare him to the player that our scout in Florida also suggests we take in the 1st round. I help put them in order, prioritize these players and help my boss, the Scouting Director, make good decisions in each round of the draft. We pick 40 rounds, draft selection happens in reverse order of last years record so that the worst teams get the first selections, this year we pick last, # 30, as we won the most games in the regular season last year.

2. What importance does the school system give to sport? Does the school favour the grading of the students who practise sports?

The school system is very important to the development of youth sports in the USA. Many inner city schools don’t have the money/resources/fields to field competitive sports programs, the vast majority of families with kids look to move to the suburbs outside the cities where sports are encouraged and they have money for all the various sports for both boys and girls. Volleyball, soccer, softball are popular girls sports – the boys are likely to play baseball, football, and soccer. Schools promote sports play and some type of sport/gym class is required in both middle school and high school. Schools do not give any leeway on grades to athletes who play sports, they will make some accomodation to those in sports who are traveling or have heavy schedules before tests, they may extend due dates on homework assignments or makeup quizzes/tests if handled ahead of time. Things are changing now in the USA, schools are very important in the sports development of kids up  through middle school, high school sports are getting very competitive, costly summer travel teams are now taking on the development of kids in sports in HS, we still have very good HS programs in certain sports, in certain areas but the competition for college scholarships is such that parents are paying high fee’s to help their kids play at the highest level possible during the summer, get seen by professional and college scouts, to help with either college costs or go the professional route. My experience is that many parents think their kids are good enough to become professionals but very few kids are both mature/talented enough to play professional sports out of HS, most have to go to college to realize those dreams, the one exception is baseball. We select HS players and expect that the good ones will take 3-5 years in the minor leagues before they are ready to play in the ML’s. If we take them high enough in the draft, they will have money to secure themselves if they do not succeed and we pay for their college education should they not make it. It is still up to the individual to make the best out of there circumstances. The last two Rookies of the Year in MLB were Dodgers that we took out of HS, google them, Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger.

3. Are students, who have a scholarship thanks to their athletic performances, really prepared? Do these students get a job if they don’t become a professional athlete or do they have difficulty?

It is quite dependant upon the individual but most are very prepared because they must have the focus to compete at a high level and do well in the classroom. I think there is a stereotype that dumb jocks get pushed through school because of their ability on the field. While I’m sure this happens on occasion it is the exception not the rule. For example, I attended U of Arizona to play baseball, worked extremely hard to take advantage of my athletic ability to be able to pay for my education and get a Geological Engineering degree. After playing 6 years in the minor leagues with the Cubs and the Yankees I used my degree and worked for an Environmental Engineering company in Tucson. This put me in a good situation two years later when professional baseball came calling and offered me a job, I had the option to continue my work but was ready to get back into professional baseball as a scout. I planned and did not put all my eggs in one basket, so to speak, my life did not depend on me playing in the Major Leagues, it was definitely a dream but always made sure I had a backup. This is the way %70 of the population feels, as always there are some that can’t be convinced.

4. I said that there are local teams in Italy where people can practise sports. Is it the same in the USA or are there only school teams?

All kids start in school sports but by the time they reach high school they start to branch out to the best travel teams in the area that they can 1) afford 2) be good enough to play on, in some cases the high schools are the best option, in others it’s the travel teams, especially in the summer.

5. Can you practise every sport in each school or is every school specialized in a few sports? If a student wants to play baseball, can he decide to attend any universities or don’t some universities practise sports?

Life here in the USA is very mobile with kids and their parents traveling all over the country for work and for sporting events. Twenty years ago, it was common for kids to become 3 sport athletes, boys playing football, basketball and baseball in the HS year. Now it is more common for kids to play just two sports if they are athletic, some just specialize in just one sport and play it all year long. Kids usually attend universities based upon 1) area of study 2) sports teams 3) geographical location

6. Athletes, in Italy, who practise sports such as skiing, archery or fencing are paid by government teams. Each military corps has its own teams. For example, there are: Army teams, the Fiamme Oro Teams, which are police teams, or the Fiamme Gialle teams, which are financial guard teams. Is the system the same in the USA or can athletes support themselves financially?

We have Academies for Army, Navy and Air force and they have sports teams but the vast majority of athletes need to support themselves through help from their families, student loans, scholarships, the government also does low cost loans.

7. Are there minor leagues? Can a team relegate in a lower division or can it get a promotion to a higher division?

In football and basketball the best players go right to the top level of professional play, the NFL and the NBA. In baseball there are minor league teams because it takes so long to acquire the skill to play at the ML level, the other sports are more of a physical/athletic nature where their natural ability makes them great. Pro teams make a lot of money here and it is very competitive, on occasion the owners don’t run the teams well, they play poorly, attendance goes down but in a capitalistic world there are always suitors available to buy these teams to try to make them better, so they can make some money.

8. Can a player be sent on loan to another team?

Yes, but it does not happen often, more likely is a player will get traded to another team so that both get the same benefits. We now have laws here that teams can’t keep a player from playing on one of their competitors teams if that player is not playing, after a certain amount of time that player is free to play with whomever he wants.

 

Tommaso Cagnoni, 2clB

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