'In the beginning, I was just a mom." Speaking is Candace Conradi, Poway resident, former law-firm administrator, wife, mother, and author of Diamond Moms: A Mother's Guide to Raising a Baseball Player.
Conradi is talking about her youngest child, Stephen, who was, from infanthood on, a spectacularly gifted athlete. "I would probably not have him play year-round now," Conradi says. "I would give him time off in the summer, especially when he was a little boy. As they progress into high school, baseball practice during the summer is important in order to get into college. But, when they're younger, they don't need that."
I ask, "What was his baseball routine in high school?"
"The season starts in January; they try out. He would be at school at 7:00 in the morning. He would go to school, go to baseball, get home at 5:30, 6 o'clock at night, do homework, and go to bed. That was his day."
"Fall, winter, and spring?"
"During the fall it wasn't quite as tough, although they do baseball." Silence. "I guess it was year-round. Starts in September. They usually finish baseball in May. In June he'd be on travel teams. They played once a week. It wasn't quite as tough, and we did get him personal trainers."
Sounds tough to me. "When did you realize Stephen had a gift?"
"He could hit a pitched ball when he was two. When he was seven-and-a-half months, I could lay him on his back, drop a fuzzy ball on his chest, and he would bring his hands up and catch it."
I can see it.
Conradi says, "I quit worrying about him falling off fences when he was three because he never fell. He played soccer, baseball, and basketball. When he went into high school, he decided to try football, ended up as the quarterback for two years. But, after being a quarterback and a pitcher, he decided he needed to pick one sport. The football coach at Poway High was beside himself; he wanted him to play so badly. Stephen could throw a football 40, 60 yards. He had an amazing arm."
"When did you decide to take an active hand in this?"
"From the beginning," Conradi says. "I was always the team mom. I started thinking about the book when he was a senior. The book is meant to help parents get their athletic kid into college, because there is no handbook that says, 'This is what you do.' There's nothing out there; there's nothing that tells you, 'You need to go here and do this.'"
That's true. I have seen the roadkill. "What's important for parents to know?"
"Balancing popularity, athletics, and academics. When you have a gifted athlete, you can get caught up in the furor of it; everybody wants him. We had coaches coming to us, that kind of thing. If I had to do it again, I probably would have been a little harder on him."
"How do you mean?"
"Requiring more. I write about that in the book. He put so much time into baseball. My way of balancing was to give him some leisure time. But, he could have worked in the summer. I would have him out in the world a little more, get him real-life experience working for people who demanded even unreasonable things, so he could get a taste of that."
"Did you get involved in the nightmare of selecting the right college, the right coach?"
Conradi says, somewhat mournfully, "Yeah, we did. The University of San Francisco had pretty much picked their team, and this is where my education about recruiting came home. Unless your child is picked up front..."
"He is chattel."
"Stephen committed to USF November of his senior year. No parent has a clue, I had no idea, what is required of kids when they walk into a Division I college program. Division I is a job. It's semi-professional or amateur professional or..."
"And no guaranteed contracts."
"No. He was putting in six hours a day of baseball while trying to be a student at a college where the average entrance GPA is 3.75. I do have to say coach Giarratano was an incredible hard-ass, unbelievably tough on his players. But, Stephen probably learned more about being a man from going through that experience, because coaches don't love your kids the way you love them. They don't give them the breaks. They require them to be present and to work hard and to give everything they've got. That was good for Stephen; it was a passage for him."
I ask, "Was there ever a time, during his last years in high school, when you said to yourself, 'Okay, this is how it works.' Or, were you stumbling all the way through?"
"All the way through. That's why I wrote this book."
Diamond Moms will be published in January. Readers may preorder at www.coacheschoice.com or telephone 888-229-5745.