It's an urgent message of civility that echoes through the ages, a plea for compassion that comes from an author beyond the grave. And against all odds, it resonates better than ever today.
Joel McKinnon didn't immediately realize what he had stumbled upon when he found on Facebook a picture of a poem called "He Is Just a Little Boy" posted at a Little League field. McKinnon posted it to to his his Facebook page, and suddenly an entire movement blossomed around it.
Now McKinnon and Farmers Insurance -- for which McKinnon serves as an exclusive independent agent -- find themselves printing the inspirational poem onto signs and shipping them to fields around the country. Around 1,500 fields have requested copies of the poem, which urges spectators to take the feelings of players into account.
He's Just a Boy
The text of the poem:
He stands at the plate
with his heart pounding fast.
The bases are loaded,
the die has been cast.
Mom and Dad cannot help him,
he stands all alone.
A hit at this moment
would send his team home.
The ball meets the plate,
he swings and he misses.
There's a groan from the crowd,
with some boos and some hisses.
A thoughtless voice cries,
"Strike out the bum."
Tears fill his eyes,
the game's no longer fun.
So open up your heart
and give him a break,
for it's moments like this,
a man you can make.
Please keep this in mind
when you hear someone forget,
He is just a little boy,
and not a man yet.
"I was doing nothing more than what's already been done: Sharing the message," said McKinnon. "I've always been a fan of positive reinforcement. You don't push people down. You lift them up. You're not always going to win, and when you don't, there's a right way and a wrong way to handle it."
Kids, believe it or not, usually grasp that lesson on their own through experience and through the tutelage of their coaches. Parents sometimes get carried away, though, a phenomenon that's as true today as it was when Chaplain Bob Fox penned his poem sometime before World War II.
McKinnon said he believed the poem had been written sometime in the '20s or 30's, but its anti-heckling refrain bears ample currency today. The poem dramatizes the all-or-nothing stakes of competition and urges fans to watch the game politely lest they ruin the game for the kids.
And after McKinnon posted the simple picture to his Facebook account, he was struck by the amount of people who recognized the impact of the message. The ball started rolling there, enough so that Ryon Harms, head of social media for Farmers Insurance, was keyed into the phenomenon.
"A pat on the back can go a long way," said Harms. "I could see how powerful it was and why it resonated with people, and so we posted it to our company's Facebook page. Joel only has a couple thousand followers, but we have more than 2 million and we could get more visibility. And every time we shared the post, we noticed that people were getting more and more passionate about it."
Parents and kids alike were drawn to the anti-bullying message and the closing kick of the poem's final line: "He is just a little boy and not a man yet." And soon the sentiment was out that every field should have a sign like this, an initiative that Harms gladly took up as his own banner.
Farmers originally planned to print up the sign 500 times and to give them away to any field that wanted it, but Harms quickly saw that the demand outstripped his supply. They quickly tripled the amount of signs in production, and now they're starting to go up at fields around the nation.
McKinnon had the honor of posting one of the first signs at a field in Strasburg, Ohio, and the hope is that the message will some day reach the home of the Little League World Series.
"The power is in the hands of the people who have the signs. The next step is to continue the conversation through Facebook and social media," said Harms. "We hope the movement takes on a life of its own. But what's great about this is how quickly it spread and how many people it can reach."
And that message could also be heeded at big-league parks, where kids take their cues from their parents on what is and is not socially acceptable to yell toward the field. Harms and McKinnon have taken their message to Twitter courtesy of the #EveryField hashtag and hope to take it even further.
Why not? There is a push-pin picture that shows all the fields that have requested the "He Is Just a Little Boy" poem, and they're clustered all over the East and reach as far West as California and Washington state. The movement has already gone viral and who knows where it will go next?"
"I'm really proud of Farmers because they didn't put their name in front of this," said McKinnon. "#EveryField doesn't link to Farmers web site. It just gives people a chance to join collectively. They're not trying to get business out of this. They're just trying to send a message to the community."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.