Coach's philosophy inspires Little Leaguers

Brothers pen baseball poem based on life lessons that ends up in Hall of Fame

Coach's philosophy inspires Little Leaguers

Joe Sorbanelli began coaching Little League seven years ago. He's a fire captain in Englewood, N.J., and he volunteered to coach because his son, Charles, loved baseball.

What has happened since mirrors the game itself. Once the first pitch is thrown, there's no telling what will happen in the innings that follow. There was no way of knowing what a wondrous series of events that simple decision would lead to:

• That Sorbanelli's coaching style would rely less on mechanics and more on the importance of hard work, commitment and perseverance -- attributes he learned in part from his experiences as a 9/11 first responder. That the youngsters would respond so positively to those messages.

• That Sorbanelli's son and a teammate, Myles Campbell, would become such close friends. That Myles would be so impressed by his teachings that he got together with his brothers -- Jack, Sal and Conor -- to write a series of poems based on Conor's Little League District All Star Tournament games this season.

• Or that "Life Rhymes From the Diamond" would be presented to, and accepted by, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown.

In a neat coincidence, Sorbanelli saw the poems for the first time over the weekend, just ahead of Thursday's opening of the Little League World Series.

Sorbanelli's coaching philosophy is simple.

"I have two daughters and one son," he said. "I coach my son in baseball and my daughter in softball. But it's never been about winning or losing, for me. It's about going out there, making friends, doing the best you can, playing the game the right way, showing respect.

"A lot of times you hear from people [at a game], 'It's not fair. The umpire made a bad call.' So it's a good opportunity to teach a life lesson. The umpires are human. They'll make bad calls. It's part of the game. Life's not fair. If somebody tells you life is fair, they lied to you. That's what kind of baseball coach I am."

From "Life Rhymes":

Life has many lessons and not all of them end in smiles
We have to learn them all in order to be prepared for life's trials …

There are six poems in all.

"Myles decided to get his three brothers together, along with a laptop after each of [Conor's] games and analyze them in light of [what] he learned from Coach Sorbanelli," Myles Campbell Sr. said in a e-mail.

"[They] created short poems by identifying the key life lessons and describing what happened during the games to teach those life lessons. They used the laptop to search synonyms and to identify rhyming words that best fit the life lessons learned from each game played."

Topics covered include Resiliency, Teamwork, Disappointment and Humility.

Sorbanelli's approach was informed by what he experienced after the attack on the World Trade Center.

"Experiencing a day like that really helps you see the big picture better," he said. "You realize what's important and what's not."

Sorbanelli is humbled and gratified that others have been touched by his coaching. He also understands that's just a part of what makes baseball great.

When Sorbanelli's son started playing, he wasn't the best player in the league, or even on his own team.

"But he worked hard and earned a starting spot eventually," Sorbanelli said. "And then he became one of the better players on the team, then one of the better kids in the league. It was a really good lesson for him. If you work hard, good things happen."

The experience allowed them to become closer.

"Myself, growing up, I wasn't the biggest baseball fan," Sorbanelli said. "But because of my son's love of baseball, I became a baseball lover. It's brought me and my son closer. I can go watch a game. We can talk about baseball. Past, present, future. We can talk about the players.

"Baseball has been a tool to bring us together."

And it has expanded Sorbanelli's horizons as well.

"We've met a lot of people we wouldn't have met through baseball," he said. "Englewood is a very diverse community, and Charles and myself have a lot of new friends, very good friends, that we would not have had if it wasn't for baseball."

Those friends now include the Campbells.

"It's a really nice family. The parents see the big picture and they're trying to bring their kids up the right way," Sarbonelli said. "Those poems are really nice. They show how much they really love baseball."

Paul Hagen is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.