There was no welcome mat for me when I showed up at Bayside Park in Burlingame on Tuesday.
Parents and coaches apparently knew I was coming after I’d called a Burlingame Youth Baseball Association official earlier in the day, giving him a heads up that I’d be at its evening game between Capitol Electric and Phil’s Snack Shack’s 11- and 12-year-old teams, and it’s a safe bet they knew I wasn’t going to be doing a straight game story.
Last month, the BYBA was the subject of a New York Times article about convicted felon Greg Anderson coaching the Capitol Electric team.
Yes, that Greg Anderson.
As in Barry Bonds’ former trainer and childhood friend. A central figure in the BALCO case that unearthed a steroids scandal that’s overturned both the perceptions and realities of competitive sports at just about every level over the last 15 years.
The Times piece was not especially well received in these parts, where Anderson is generally known as a good father and a respected coach, enjoying a deep reservoir of community support.
This combative columnist was warned to wear a helmet, and the chirping started as soon as I got to the ballpark.
“Don’t you have anything better to write about?” one parent said.
“Nothing to talk about,” said a parent I approached for comment.
“Why can’t you just let the kids be kids?” the parent said, as if I were pulling the 11- and 12-year-olds off the field and forcing them into a life of cubicles and two-hour commutes.
Two parents and an opposing coach were quoted in the Times piece, but on this day there would be no interviews with parents from either team, apparently by now on full lockdown. The merits of a person convicted for his role in a baseball-related scandal coaching their kids was now a topic off limits.
All I got was the cold shoulder as I approached one parent after another, as if I were Bernie Madoff at the last shareholders’ meeting.
In response to an interview request, BYBA President Mike Brunicardi asked that any questions for my column be sent in an email. He answered just one of the four questions the next day.
“I hope your story begins with the great history of the Burlingame Youth Baseball Association,” Brunicardi’s email started out.
Brunicardi said Anderson is no longer listed as an official BYBA coach, noting that he was removed after a parent complained he hadn’t received proper training. He remains involved coaching the Capitol Electric team in an unofficial capacity, said a league official who asked not to be identified. Anderson wasn’t coaching third base on Tuesday, as he was a few weeks ago, according to the Times article. But he appeared to be in an active coaching role, barking instructions and encouraging his players.
That Anderson was at one time this season an official BYBA coach was the result of a procedural snafu that Brunicardi said the league will correct. Brunicardi said Anderson is welcome to apply next year, noting that he’d have to go through the regular vetting process, which includes a background check.
Brunicardi didn’t indicate when Anderson was removed from his official role.
And he left a few questions unanswered.
Were there any concerns about Anderson coaching in the BYBA?
What message does Brunicardi think Anderson coaching 11- and 12-year-olds sends?
Were there public misconceptions about Anderson taking this role?
I thought I could count on an elected public official to take a stand on the Anderson situation, so I called Burlingame Mayor Terry Nagel.
“I really don’t have any opinion on that. It’s out of the purview of the city,” she said.
Fair enough. The BYBA isn’t under her jurisdiction. But the mayor must have an opinion on a human level on the merits of a convicted steroids supplier coaching young athletes in her community.
Anderson served three months in federal prison after pleading guilty in 2005 to conspiracy to distribute steroids and money laundering in the BALCO case. He also served more than a year for refusing to testify about Bonds, who earlier this year was convicted for obstruction of justice relating to his 2003 testimony before a federal grand jury.
“I really don’t know enough about that to comment,” she said. “We’ve got many other issues on the front burner, and I really haven’t paid any attention to that at all.”
Hard to believe the mayor of a sleepy suburb of 28,806 didn’t pay any attention when her city is the subject of an 854-word feature in a national publication.
Was she even aware of the Times piece?
“I saw something, somewhere, and I really, truly, don’t have an opinion,” she said. “Sorry.”
“I was a reporter myself,” she added, which of course has as much to do with the Anderson situation as the fact that I was a hot dog vendor while in high school.
But surely she’s heard some chatter, no?
“I really have to go,” she said.
I had to go to another field Tuesday evening to get quotes from BYBA parents from other teams.
Most were supportive of Anderson, and apparently the orders not to talk to the press hadn’t reached them yet.
“I don’t have a problem with that at all, and if he managed my children I wouldn’t have a problem with it,” said BYBA parent Vince Malta, reflecting the view of several others on an adjacent field where 13- and 14-year-old teams were playing.
“If it was something that dealt with the physical safety of my child, that’s another matter, but I don’t see that.”
To be sure, Anderson’s role coaching the Capitol Electric team poses no safety risk. No reasonable person believes he’s turning his players on to “the cream” and “the clear,” the designer steroids he reportedly provided to a who’s who of sports superstars including Bonds, Gary Sheffield and Jason Giambi.
The symbolism, however, stinks like a sewage plant during a heat wave.
“It doesn’t really send a good message when you’re trying to set a good example” for kids, BYBA parent Denise D’Ambra said.
“Unfortunately, that’s the way it goes. It’s like having a drunk driver coming out of jail and driving kids around. You’ve got to draw the line somewhere.”
A thoughtful discussion would be a nice start.
Perhaps Anderson—who said, “No, thank you,” when asked to comment for this article—does have a place as a youth baseball coach. It could offer the disgraced trainer a measure of redemption. That’s for a community to decide, not a columnist or the New York Times.
There are two competing storylines in Anderson’s coaching youth baseball, with the unseemly message of a convicted steroids dealer sitting alongside a message of possible redemption.
A longtime East Bay Little League coach, who asked not to be identified, summed up the complexity of the Anderson situation.
“He was instrumental in assisting one of the biggest cheaters in the history of the game. Based on that alone, it is appalling to think that he’s in a position to influence young players,” the coach said. “On the other hand, baseball is a game of forgiveness in a sense. It’s the only game in which they actually keep track of your mistakes (errors) on the scoreboard. Yet, as a player you have to persevere because there will always be another ground ball, fly ball or pitch, and you have to be ready to shake off your past mistakes and make the play.
“Anderson made a huge error, and he should be allowed to make up for it. All in all, I don’t think anyone has a right to keep him from coaching.”
Anderson has by all accounts won high marks as a youth coach.
“He’s coaching our kids, not raising our kids, and he’s doing a good job,” said a parent whose kids have played for Anderson in the past.
Jon Hamm, an attorney from El Dorado Hills on business in Burlingame, happened upon Bayside Park, unaware that Anderson was coaching one of the teams. He offered the most salient perspective of the day, noting that redemption will not come from teaching kids to work the count or run out ground balls, alone.
“I think redemption requires some action,” Hamm said. “He needs to speak about what he saw and what he was involved in. If he’s teaching kids not to do what he was involved with, then I would say there’s real redemption there.”
The Anderson situation could be a teachable moment for kids, and for the community. But it won’t be as long as Anderson’s inconvenient steroids ties and felony conviction are swept under the rug by a thin-skinned BYBA community.
The BYBA brass and parents claim they’re trying to protect kids from being drawn into the Anderson controversy, but it sure seems like they’re using the kids as human shields to protect themselves from being held accountable for their own questionable judgment.
Instead of closing ranks, why not use the Anderson situation as a teachable moment. Why not ask tough questions that could be the starting point for a meaningful conversation. What values are the BYBA promoting through Anderson?
Stifling thoughtful discussion won’t make the troublesome aspects of Anderson’s coaching role go away.
But judging by the reaction I got, don’t expect much of any conversation about this anytime soon.
I received an email from a parent blasting my column before I even wrote it. Concerned Parent of Player said my reporting was “not only unprofessional, but truly self-serving."
“You should be ashamed and embarrassed,” it read.