Thursday, April 26, 2007

Well, it's spring. The tulips are up, the daffodils are up, the crocuses are actually on the way out and the crack of bats has begun to sound.

Well, make that the tink of aluminum bats.

And best of all, the assholus baseballus has emerged from his long winter sojourn.

Sunday we had a makeup baseball game. All went well until the other side realized they were going to lose. A batter hit a ball up the first base line, and a fielder went after it and dropped it. The umpire called it fair and two runners came home, giving the other team the go-ahead run. A coach blew out onto the field and explained to the umpire that the fielder may have been in fair territory, but his glove was across the line, ergo foul ball. The coach was definitely strident, but not over the top. The ump (who was way too young, but we have few umps left because of this sort of bullsh*t) ruminated for a moment, then agreed. At that point the other team's coaches went ballistic. A grandfather, for chrissake; his son and another guy who must be a father---all three proceeded to behave like two-year olds. I went to full boil and shouted one of them down before my wife reigned me in. After that it got so bad that parents were actually shouting at the coaches to sit down and let the kids play.

As it is so often, it wasn't a matter of the umpire making a bad call, it was that the coaches themselves don't know the rules. That's a good rule of thumb, by the way. Most times you hear "bad call", it's the coach who is wrong. But a good coach will blow it off and say to the kids "That's the call, let's make a good play next time". Only a jerk throws an almighty fit in front of his young, impressionable boys.

I've made a few phone calls, and am going to do face-to-face with a few people, but my opinion is that those coaches don't need to be mentoring 14-year old boys. Period.
Yes, I'm going to be the bad guy, but am I worse than those guys who behaved like children in front of children?

Softball goes, well, ok, but bumpy moments there as well. Last night a coach grabbed my ear before the game to tell me the other coach might intentionally walk a batter. First, as an umpire, I'm a bit uneasy about spending a whole lot of "face time" with any coach. I don't care who wins in the leagues above and below my daughter, but I don't want to be perceived as "buddying up" to any coaches. I'm honestly impartial as all getout, but if I spend five minutes chatting with one coach, it could be perceived the wrong way. Oh, and I'm not allowed to call games in my daughter's league, but you know, if I ever did so and threw a game, I'd be cheating my daughter. I could call her games with complete impartiality. In fact, I called a few of my son's games last year when they ran out of umpires. But I digress.

At any rate, I knew the coach had told me about intentional walks, but I thought in a league composed of girls aged 7-9 that was a ridiculous concept. Who the hell would play stupid things like intentional walks on an 8-year old girl? Well, they did. I didn't quite catch it. I was immersed in the game--how many strikes, how many balls, how many outs, which bases are occupied, is there force on any base, is infield fly in effect...So when the pitcher threw four balls with really high arcs I didn't think too much of it. I did warn her twice about her arc, but she was 8-years old and three feet tall. I have to cut her some slack.

Normally, no big deal. In fact, in most softball leagues the pitcher can tell the umpire he/she wants to walk the batter and the batter simply gets the base. Don't even have to throw a pitch. In co-ed softball it's a bit different. If you intentionally walk the guy, the woman following him also gets a base in order to prevent pitchers from walking the men in order to get to the "weaker" women.

So even though her pitches were high (illegal), the end result was the same: the batter took first base.

As it turns out, there is a local rule against intentional walks. I didn't know about it, but bonehead-the-coach certainly knew about it. In fact, the other coach gathered several league officials (I wasn't aware of it) to witness the at-bat that he knew was coming. The batter had hit a triple in an earlier inning and he knew her next at-bat would be an intentional walk.

I hate being a pinhead at girl's softball. Baseball you have to be way over the top assertive, but I didn't think I'd have to be so with little girls. In fact, a couple of weeks ago a coach came up to me and said "I can tell you hate calling them out on strikes", and I do. I want to make a game of it, but I don't want to box them in so tight on balls and strikes that they have to pitch like they're in college.

BUT--I got burned last night. I got the clarification on local rules today. Intentional strikes are not allowed in this league and I can toss the pitcher if I even think she threw balls intentionally. Better yet, I can toss the coach if I hear him tell her to throw intentional balls. By toss I mean you have 30 seconds to be somewhere else. If I can hear or see you after 30 seconds the game is over and your team loses regardless of the score.

Tonight is going to be a whole different ballgame (so to speak). I'm taking a page from my favorite umpire's pre-game speech to coaches: "You get two warnings, and this is your first".

I have two favorite sayings (and I even made them up myself--didn't copy them from Samuel Clemens or Winston Churchill).

The first is this: When you die, your obituary might note that you were active in youth sports, but it's not going to quote your damn win/loss record.

The second: It takes an adult to really f*ck up a children's game.

For Pete's sake, shouldn't we just be glad they're out being active instead of sitting on their fat posteriors eating Twinkies and pretending to play ball on their game things? (for the record, there are no Nintendos, X-boxes, Game Cubes, whatever in this house. Nada. Here, if you want to play a sport, you actually play the sport).

With those thoughts I'll depart to walk to the end of the road to meet the Bear as she gets off of her bus, then get ready to be the voice of sanity as some girls meet to play some ball. I always tell the coaches I'm simply there to make a game of it. I might have to expand a bit on that tonight, though...

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