Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Baseball Is A Simple Game

Youth baseball is now in full swing (pun intended), and after an extended period of irritatingly cold weather, we've had a stretch of heat that's fired up some thunderstorms that have cancelled some games recently, as sure a sign of summer as anything. 

Here's my problem with baseball: the adults who run kids' leagues.  No, let me try that again.  Here's my problem with baseball: because the action takes place in manic bursts of energy that die away almost as soon as they get started, people watching the games have too much time to think about, pick apart, examine, and analyze the game's minutiae.  And there's a hell of a lot of minutiae--it's the only youth sport that I've coached where it's not just advisable to carry a rulebook in the equipment bag, but where the chances are pretty good that on any particular play, you might have to consult the rule book to get clarification on something. 

Ive always hated when people use knowledge as a weapon to humiliate or intimidate other people, and unfortunately I see that type of behavior on the baseball diamond, particularly with obnoxious coaches and rookie umpires. 

But I'm getting away from what I really wanted to write about, which is the story out of Westfield, MA, about the 12-year-old Little League player who's been told by the league that he can't pitch, because he has too strong of an arm. He's pitching in Westfield Little Leagues "minor" league division, where most of the players are 9- and 10-years old. So the kid may have a good arm, or it may be that he's just got an advantage because he's a couple of years older than most of the other kids he's playing against. The story explains that some parents of opposing players actually heckled this kid while he was pitching. The move has upset the player and his family. The story also states that it's too late in the year for the kid to be moved up to the "majors" division.  It seems that the National Little League policy is to prohibit 12-year-olds from pitching in the minors, but Westfield's local rules permit it. 

That must mean that Westfield coaches have to carry TWO rulebooks in their equipment bags.

Now, I'm sure there are details that Ron Chmelis left out of his story for one reason or another, and that I don't know the full story.  But what I do know is that youth sports is supposed to be about developing in the participants the skills they need to enjoy playing that particular sport. While I'm sure the 12-year-old enjoys pitching against younger kids, I'm not sure that he's going to get much better at baseball playing against lesser competition.  And I'm not sure that the kids who have to bat against him will see much improvement, either.  Seems pretty cut and dry:  let the kids play against kids his own age.  I'm sure if left on their own, the kids would have figured this out themselves weeks ago. 

Stupid adults.

Monday, May 13, 2013

(Don't) Kill the Ump!

This hasn’t been a good run for Major League Baseball umpires. In one game, they mistakenly declared a home run to NOT be a home run, even with the help of instant replay.  In another game, they allowed a pitcher to warm up and then be removed from a game, which is illegal.  The umpires involved in these decisions have been suspended and some have even been fined. 

Nobody likes the ump; that’s one thing that even Yankee and Red Sox fans can agree on.  Umpires don’t have an easy job, to be sure, but what bothers me about Major League umpires is the general disdain they show for everyone in baseball who isn’t an umpire, players, coaches, and fans alike.  The next time you’re at a Major League game focus your attention for a moment on the first base umpire and watch how long it takes him to confirm a call.  If he’s a typical umpire, there will be a second or two between the ball and base runner getting to first and the official call. 

It’s not like he’s got anything better to do.  I mean, it’s only HIS JOB to make these calls.

And don’t get me started on the strike zone.  Not only is every umpired allowed to interpret the rules to mean he can make the strike zone be anything he wants it to be, but anyone who questions it is subject to immediate.    

So, much of the criticism the umpires are facing right now is justified and self-inflicted.  For people who work in a profession that will be replaced by robots or lasers hopefully any day now, I would think that they’d be nicer.  Instead, they act as if people pay to see them do their job and reject any notion that they can ever be wrong.  That’s all okay, though.  They’re professionals making big bucks.  What I can’t live with, though, is how their boorish behavior is spreading to college, high school, and youth baseball umpires.  This behavior may be a reaction to the other side of this ugly coin, the increasingly coarse behavior of parents and other fans, but no matter the cause, it turns what should be a celebration of baseball skill and passion into an adversarial exercise when it doesn’t need to be. 

I’ve disagreed—even sometimes, but rarely, vocally—with umpires many times over the years.  Like any father, fan, and coach, I can exchange bad umpiring stories with the best of them.  But I’m not going to do that as much anymore.  Why?  My 13-year-old son just began umping games.

Talk about a shift in perspective.

He decided to become an umpire not because of a power trip, but because he loves baseball and this gives him another way to be involved with the game. Prior to his first stint behind the plate this past weekend, he was so nervous that his whole body was shaking—he wanted very badly to do well.  The lesson to be learned here is that even if an umpire makes a call that goes against your team, it can still be a good all. 

I’ll try to ease up a bit on the umpires this year.  I won’t let the questionable calls get to me, and I’ll smile and shake hands afterwards with sincerity.  After all, as I’ve come to realize, even umpires have families who love them