Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Fair or Foul?

Little League parents signed a pledge at the beginning of the season that we would behave in the stands during games and at practices.

I should’ve known better.

Years ago, friends of mine in Connecticut, Ed and Denise Sanady, told me Little League horror stories: parents red-shirting their 10-year-olds so they’d be drafted by better teams and dubious scouting. I was astounded. How could adults poison what is essentially a kids game? Their stories left an impression on me, but apparently not enough.

Now that I am an adult with a son on a Little League majors’ team (the Yankees), the road to hell, er, Nirvana is paved with…

Last night, we played the A’s, a team we’d nipped a few weeks back when their centerfielder’s throw sailed past the catcher and threw the backstop with the bases loaded. The A’s were ahead, 3-2, in the bottom of the 4th when they erupted for seven runs. At one point, there were either two men on or the bases were loaded. The A’s batter ripped a hard shot just past the kid on 3rd. He had to quickly scoot out of the way to avoid getting pummeled in the stomach. The ball skidded foul into left field.

Amazingly, the umpire, who is just a teenager, ruled the ball fair, which emptied the bases. Yankee parents roared foul loudly and incredulously as one, two, three A’s runners circled the bases.

The Yankees head coach, Ron, calmly walked out to the umpire, who called in his associate, another teen, from the field. They explained that the ball had hit the 3rd base bag, so it was therefore fair.

The umpire was wrong, as all the parents so clearly and plainly saw. But that is not the point.

Verna and I teach Miguel that 1). You let the umpires rulings stand and you don’t argue and 2). You move on quickly and quietly.

We did neither. I did yell, “It was foul.” Once. Then I shut up. But the collective chorus was not silent for a few minutes. Another parent shouted. One grandfather said he was going to write to the League president. He said it to us in the stands, so it was possible the young umpire behind the plate did not hear him. But still…

An inning of two later, Miguel came up to bat for his second time. He sliced a ball hard and foul down the leftfield line. I chimed in, “Was that fair?” just before one of Miguel’s teammates from the dugout yelled, “Was that fair?”

Uh-oh. We weren’t modeling for our kids. We’d violated several rules—challenging anything from the stands—and ignored the oath we’d signed in January.

But it was hard. Not only were the Yankees getting beaten, but there were two or three blatantly wrong calls against us. Losing isn’t as bad as feeling cheated. Woe is us.

As the parents were fuming and the steam was rising out of our ears and foreheads, I knew we were wrong. The dictum has to be that the umpire is always right, especially when he is a kid not much older than the players. Sports and other competitive contests are imperfect dramas, but we still must respect their essential core. It’s just a game.

Well, for some at least. There is another team, the Blue Jays, which won 20 of its 21 games last year. Their only loss came to us, 2-1, on a daring bunt by Miguel. The Blue Jays are undefeated this year, and have beaten us twice already. They are good. But they are bullies.

One of their players tried to entice one of our runners, Connor, off second base after he’d doubled by politely asking him to step off the bag so he could straighten it. If Connor had moved, he would’ve been out. Only the umpire can call time.

The Blue Jays, who drafted last this year by virtue of winning the league championship last year, engineered the first pick in the draft (in the eighth position) because they recruited his father to be one of their assistants.

See, league rules state that a player must be drafted by the team for which their parent coaches. So the Blue Jays quietly brought in another helper in order to land the top prospect even though they chose him last in the first round.

I sometimes wonder how much better youth baseball would be without adult intervention. A few weeks ago, after one of the Yankees’ practices, the parents organized a virtually impromptu barbecue. As the parents munched and chatted, the kids played various baseball-type games on the grass beyond the centerfield fence. They played pickle and a few other games, laughing and joshing with each other, with tackling thrown in for good measure. Silliness reigned and they didn’t come up for air until we called them over for dessert.

Youth baseball without parents would be great, certainly for the kids. No adult intervention would mean less stress and more fun, I am convinced. I’m going to lobby the board shortly.

Yeah, right.

1 comment:

  1. I played all my life pick up Games. I coached 1 year organized ball and vowed never to do it again. I could not deal with the parents, Grandparents uncles and aunts.