Politically Correct Baseball Takes a Walk
Years ago when my kids were preteen, I liked to promote activities to get them active and involved. Boy scouts, girl guides and baseball were safe bets with low injury and good exposure. I liked to get involved with my kids and it’s not difficult; there’s always room for parent volunteers. What I really enjoyed was the baseball. It’s an opportunity for kids to get involved and participate on a level that is higher than just showing up.
It may be my personal opinion but it seems that kids are over managed; too often in environments that direct their every move. I’m of the opinion that for kids to learn they need times where they can get beyond the constant direction and apply what they know. That’s where talent hides in kids, when they can direct themselves. Sports is an opportunity for that, it allows kids to think on their feet, make quick decisions while in motion and get immediate feedback for their efforts.
I’ve seen some talented kids and I’m left with the impression that their talent comes from not over thinking the directions they’re given. It’s like a natural flow that comes from confidence and effort. I came to believe that real talent is encouraged not managed it’s more intuitive.
I umpired a game for kids in the 10-12 year age group. The young lad on the mound was throwing a pretty good game and after 4 innings the coach pulled him for a rest. His replacement seemed a bit edgy, so I gave him a couple of extra pitches to warm up and called for the batter. This particular game I didn’t bother to bring my shin guards, I figured a 12 year old can’t have much heat throwing.
I nested in behind the catcher and called play ball. The pitcher sent his first pitch down the pipe and I couldn’t believe what I saw. For anyone who doesn’t think that sports can be as beautiful as art, you’re dead wrong. This kid delivered a perfect screwball. I’m talking perfection and I’m talking art. I’m talking seeing the impossible happen before your eyes; perfect clean physics. This was a beautifully executed pitch that dropped in the box and broke to the outside. There’s only two places in the universe you can see that perfection with your own eyes and I was standing in one of them.
Thank god the batter swung, I was to dumbstruck to sort it out in my head and I called a strike. I immediately called time and took a casual walk out to the mound. There was dead silence on the field and I lifted my head to look the pitcher in the eye.
“Nice pitch son. How did you do that?”
“Do what, sir?”
“Son, do you think you could throw the same pitch again? Exactly the same, please.”
I walked back, took my position and called play ball. Sure enough same thing again, except the surprise was missing, I was expecting it and I was watching the whole process.
I called time and strolled out to the mound again, this time I called in the coach for a chat.
“Your boy here is an incredible pitcher, a real natural. Did you teach him that pitch?” I asked.
“No sir,” said the coach.
“So you know what I’m talking about, right?”
“Yes sir,” said the coach.
“Do you also know that in this league that pitch is banned?”
“No sir, I didn’t know that!”
“Well let me tell you why. It puts tremendous stress on the shoulder elbow and wrist. For a young boy it can cause his arm to mal-form in the joints and cause lifelong pain.”
“Son, if I see that pitch again you’re out of the game. Son, I have to report you to the league of umpires so they know to watch for you.”
“I want you to know something son. That pitch is worth a million dollars and if I let you use it you will never get paid for it cause it’ll ruin your arm. Wait till your 20 or so and use it then. It’ll probably make you famous.”
I put my hand out to shake with the young lad, and I thanked him for showing me something I thought was impossible.
“It’s been an honor, son.”
I was asked by a couple of parents if I would be willing to umpire a game the following week in a younger league of 8-10 year olds. I didn’t see the point. They were too young to know the rules, but apparently they wanted me there to curb the behavior of the parents. So I agreed. I know all too well how quickly a parent can ruin a game.
When I showed up I noticed the kids were a little sedate. It struck me odd that there was so little enthusiasm. At the home plate conference the coaches told me the game would only go 4 innings so the kids wouldn’t be out late.
“Fair enough,” I said, “Let’s get to it, we’re wasting their time.”
I called the first batter and looked over to the coach, he stopped his player and said, “Don’t swing. Take the walk.” I quickly realized that there wasn’t a kid on the field that could put the ball in the strike zone. The coaches and parents had predetermined who would win the game at the coin toss. No fucking way was I gonna let this happen.
I called time and brought the coaches back into home plate.
“OK guys, this is the deal, I’m expanding the strike zone. If the batter can reach the ball without moving their feet it’s a strike. If it’s on the ground and they can reach it without moving their feet, it’s a strike. So go back and tell your players they better start swinging or I’ll call them out. If you don’t like it say the word and I’m outta here. Either these kids play ball or I’m gone.”
They knew I meant business when the first batter went down with 3 strikes and no balls. Of course the kid took a fit he had never been called out before. Hey, welcome to childhood. Doing nothing can be frustrating. The second batter got the message and managed to catch a piece of the ball, it dropped straight down and edged forward a couple of inches, he didn’t know what to do. In fact nobody knew what to do and the players froze. Eventually the shouting from the coach directed the batter to run for first.
That’s the magic for kids in sports. First you try and eventually succeed, but once you succeed you’re immediately confronted with what comes next. For those who don’t recognize the process it’s called life. Long before ever mentioning the politics of a team effort, at some point kids need to learn to make an effort and why. It’s the reward of being challenged and challenging yourself till you do succeed.
This was by far the best game I had ever umpired and better than a born again Christian revival. These kids were working it, they let loose and tried. Sure lots of them went down on strikes and we played six innings instead of four. But what I heard coming from the bench was worth every minute.
“Hey Johnny did you see me hit that one?”
“Just swing Johnny. Pretty soon you’re gonna hit it”.
Of course the coaches and parents were now telling the players how to play and what to do next and the kids were listening. They wanted to know. I didn’t see any kids sitting down on the infield or the outfield, this was a game and they were in it and it was theirs. The enthusiasm washed over the kids and splashed on the adults and I loved every minute of it.
What they had been doing is letting the batters take a walk every time. They had been telling the kids not to swing. They knew the kids couldn’t pitch to the strike zone and had opted for a walking game. They could even calculate the final score when the game started.
It was pathetic.
The kids were bored and uninterested. These fucking adults had destroyed the game and the learning experience, but not today. At the end of the game, the coaches let me know that they wouldn’t be having me back. A couple of the young lads came up and asked if they could play in my games.
Sorry guys it doesn’t work that way, but now you know….if you try you got a game.