One fun part of the Washington Nationals' season has been watching Livan Hernandez hit. I like watching the Nats' ace fool opposing batters with his baffling assortment of pitches, but I also love to watch him swing the bat.
The big guy can really hit. Hernandez has a .250 batting average. That's better than full-time Nationals hitters Christian Guzman (.204), Gary Bennett (.222) and Jamey Carroll (.247).
A pitcher who hits well, such as Hernandez or the Florida Marlins' Dontrelle Willis (.259), can help his team in a lot of ways. Not only can he "strike a blow in his own cause," as the fans say, but he can stay in the game and pitch more innings. That's because the manager does not have to pinch-hit for him every time the team has a chance to score.
A pitcher such as Hernandez also reminds kids (and their coaches) that players should learn all parts of a game.
I go to too many kids' basketball games where coaches instruct some players not to dribble up the court. They tell them to give up the ball to the team's point guard. In baseball, some kids are stuck out in the outfield and never get the chance to play second base. Some kids play defense or goalie all the time on soccer teams; they never play forward, where you have a better chance to score.
Now, I am not saying that a coach should let any kid play any position she wants to, even if the kid does not practice or does not have the skills for the position. It is awfully hard to play shortstop if you can't throw the ball to first base. And it is tough to play point guard if you dribble the ball off your feet all the time.
But 8, 10 or 12 years old is way too young for a kid to get labeled as a right fielder, or a defender or a goalie. You never know how things may turn out later. Sometimes the tallest kid in fourth grade turns out to be average height in high school. It might help if that kid knew how to play a position other than center. Kids should practice different positions and coaches should let them play those positions in real games.
Think of Livan Hernandez. He's getting all the fun of playing baseball because he is playing all parts of the game. He has pitched more than 200 innings for the Nationals. But he also has hit two home runs and knocked in seven runs. What could be more fun than trotting around the bases after hitting a home run?
You see, Livan is not just a pitcher. He's an all-around ballplayer.
Fred Bowen writes KidsPost's Friday sports opinion column and is the author of sports novels for kids.