A man with a message: ‘play ball’
Charlie is the Messenger — and the message is “Play Ball! Have Fun!”
He loves baseball, knows the game, wants to see it played right, enjoys teaching kids the skills required to play the game. He’s effective at explaining the game’s complicated strategy and structure.
Baseball is not an easy game to play. You can’t just throw a ball out on the field and say “go at it.” Hitting a thrown ball, throwing that ball accurately, and catching a batted ball are difficult skills to learn. It can be argued that the game is most fun to play when these basic skills have been mastered to a certain degree, in adolescence.
Yet throwing and catching and hitting are inherent physical activities, fundamental, and a skillful baseball coach can emphasize the “fun” in fundamentals and serve well both children who want to improve in the game and others who are interested primarily in a healthy and enjoyable outdoor activity.
So Charlie Messenger is determined to give kids a strong basis in baseball so that as they grow older, they (1) learn to play the game well, at higher levels, and/or (2) they remain enthusiastic and knowledgeable fans of this great game forever.
Charlie Messenger was not born in Vermont, though he has lived here since 1975. “It was my dad’s dream to own a farm,” he said in explaining his parents’ decision to buy one in Weybridge in 1974. They farmed for twelve years before selling the rights to the Land Trust. Charlie has been employed at the Basin Harbor Club since 1986, the greens superintendent since 1991.
Charlie attended the Gunnery School in Connecticut, playing baseball there. He continued to play (he was a catcher) in adult leagues and at Vermont Technical College in Randolph. He also attended Northeastern University in Boston. “I liked college so well that I went to a bunch of them,” Charlie said.
Charlie’s coaching career has in a sense come full circle.
“I started coaching about twenty years ago — Babe Ruth, JVs, varsity. Then I took a break, and now I’m coaching the kids of the kids I coached before,” he said.
Last spring, Charlie took Weybridge’s 11-year-olds all the way to the state championship game before bowing to St. Johnsbury.
Charlie’s approach is resolutely positive. “I like all sports,” he said, “but I lovebaseball. It’s always been my safe haven. Fun. Everyone always tries to win, win, win. I’ve never stepped on a field and not had fun. I like to translate that to kids.”
Charlie’s goal is to organize youth baseball in Middlebury and immediate environs to rival that of nearby Vergennes or perhaps that of other sports (ice hockey, lacrosse) in the Middlebury area. With that goal in mind, he has taken on a leadership role in organizing MALL, Middlebury Area Little League, and collaborated on a charter and a mission statement.
“I want to update and consolidate, get people involved who truly love the game, bring the baseball people together ‘under one roof.’ We need to lay a good foundation. We’ve got to hook kids in Little League with a good youth program,” he said. “Players will come and go as they grow up, but the foundation remains. My son Patrick, 12, will soon leave Little League, but I’m going to stay involved.”
MALL has a board of directors, under President Keith Grier, and meets regularly to ensure that kids playing baseball are supported by an organization that, according to MALL’s mission statement, “creates the best possible experience for our children.”
Charlie has thought deeply about baseball and the best ways to introduce baseball to kids and maintain their excitement for the game. He has written and distributed his coaching philosophy. His approach is summarized in the acronym “FARE”: F is for Fun and Fundamentals, A for Attitude, R for Respect, and E for Effort.
This philosophy emphasizes values of sportsmanship and respect that transcend winning and losing. “Winners” are those who “are giving 100 percent, improving, and playing the game properly, no matter the score.”
“Respect,” Charlie wrote, “is something you earn by being a good person, not just a good baseball player. Middlebury Area Little League expects our players, fans, parents, volunteers, and officials to respect each other and our opponents and the game of baseball.”
One of the crucial elements in a successful youth sports program is the participation and leadership of capable coaches. To that end, Charlie has made an emphasis this spring of coaching coaches, leading a series of clinics for Little League coaches in the indoor facility, the “bubble,” at Middlebury College. He also set up a clinic for Little League players with Middlebury College baseball coach Bob Smith and his college team members.
One of Charlie’s best friends is Mike Stone, the head coach of baseball at the University of Massachusetts. They met as youthful adversaries in American Legion ball. Charlie often visits Mike’s practices and games and gets ideas that he translates to youth exercises. Baseball practice in the chilly spring air of Vermont can be lively enterprises where kids are active and engaged and baseball skills are taught and refined.
Charlie is the Messenger and kids are the beneficiaries.