BENZ: Minnesota's hugging-high-school hurler gets unfairly drawn into social-media debate

(Greensburg) Tribune-Review (TNS)
  • A Minnesota pitcher recently hugged a friend after striking him out to end a Minnesota playoff game.
  • Many have gushed about the pitcher's actions as a true example of sportsmanship.
  • The pitcher's actions have also been criticized as an example of taking "competition" out of sports.

By now, you've probably seen the highlight of the Minnesota High School baseball pitcher, Ty Koehn, who ended a playoff game by striking out a good friend of his.


That out gave Koehn's team a sectional championship. Before celebrating with his teammates, he consoled the batter who made the out to end the game.

For 24 hours now, this video has become the latest example of how we can take something innocent and turn it into some sort of vast statement about society.

On sports talk radio and across social media, the clip has either been praised as the pinnacle of sportsmanship, or it has been excoriated as the death of competition in America.

It's neither. It's a personal choice. It was an instinct. A reaction. Nothing more.

I've read the tweets and heard commentary from those who think the pitcher prioritizing consoling the opposing player on the other team is an example of how we are taking "competition" out of competitive sports.

In general, I agree with that complaint.

But that's not what this was.

Taking competition out of sports not a good thing: Whether it's something as large-scale as taking away home plate collisions in MLB or not keeping score in the neighborhood little league, there is a movement towards making sports less competitive. That is an issue. And that's not good.

At its core, sports are supposed to teach you the value of striving to be as good as you can be, the joy of accomplishing goals, the goal of improving when you fall short.

That's not sixth-grade gym teacher speak. That's true.

Yet, in our undying attempt to make sure children never have to deal with an uncomfortable moment in life, we have watered down those values in sports at the scholastic and youth levels. Whether that's making sure every result feels like a tie, or giving away participation trophies, or implementing mercy rules, or however you want gauge it — it's happening.

We have prioritized making sure kids don't feel bad when they lose over encouraging them to win.

This is different: That's not what is embodied in this video, though. This clip is being conflated into that bigger debate. The pitcher's competitive instinct wasn't dulled. He won the game. He chose to react to the game ending in an unorthodox manner. But the competition was over.

Plus, how different is that really from a Golden State Warrior shaking the hands of a Houston Rocket as Steph Curry dribbles out the clock? How different is that from David DeCastro shaking the hand of the opposing defensive lineman as Ben Roethlisberger takes a knee on second down?

Baseball and hockey tend to be different. You celebrate with your pitcher or your goalie before you shake the hand of the vanquished foe. That's the general protocol. This was a departure from the norm. Nothing more.

While all those other issues definitely exist, in my opinion, they aren't crystallized in this video.

Rush to be gushy: However, what is embodied in this video — as it has been presented in the Twittersphere — is the typical rush to be as gushy and flowery and over-the-top in our praise of the moment.

The blowback to this snapshot in time is really more about people saying: "OK, Twitter. Yes, we get it. You 'have all the feels.' Enough."

With many of the retweets and likes, there seems to be an inherent message of: "This is how it should be everywhere."

Eh, no. It doesn't have to be, actually.

Just a kind in a moment: Celebrating with your teammates after a good, clean win is part of the process, too. Valuing team camaraderie is an important component of sports values, as well.

As is way too often the case, something genuine in sports has been co-opted by those who want to push their larger world view. The pitcher can't just be a kid in a moment. He's either a "soft snowflake" or he's a shining example of how things should be and an agent for all of us to feel better about ourselves if we put the video on our Facebook feed.

I.E., what the kid actually did is secondary. Me posting about it on Instagram with enlightened commentary, that's what matters!

I don't know about that batter, but the rest of us should hug it out and move on.