Taking One for the Team

It wasn't quite this bad

It wasn’t quite this bad

I’ve been thrown out of ball games exactly four times ever: twice as a player, twice as a coach. I told you about the youth baseball experience in a post dated  6 September 2012 and titled “Be Careful What You Ask For”. My other time as a player occurred while playing for an army team. I’m not particularly proud of either moment, but there is one time as a coach that I was kind of proud of being tossed. (All conversation cleaned up for the family nature of this site and approximated after 25 year’s time.)

I was coaching a little league (not capitalized because I’m using it in the generic sense, not in reference to the organization in Williamsport, PA) a number of years ago. We had a decent team, finished about third or fourth. We were involved in a close game against one of the better teams in the league when there was a bang-bang play at second. The opposing team’s player bolted from first, our catcher threw a great strike to second. Our shortstop slapped down the tag, the guy was out. Except for the small fact that the shortstop dropped the ball. It rolled under the guy and apparently no one but the umpire and I noticed. So the ump, being a man of integrity called the guy “safe.”

My team’s parents erupted. Now we had 12 players and most of them were there that night. That meant that there were roughly 12 sets of parents, grandparents, in-laws, friends, girlfriends, cousins, nephews, nieces, and assorted hangers-on sitting behind our bench and down the third base line (we were on the third base bench). The players were screaming. My assistant coaches were screaming. Everyone of them was absolutely sure that the ump was blind as a lawyer to his client’s guilt and cold as a cop at a traffic stop. You know, just your standard spawn of Satan type. I had three fathers threatening to go out and cut the ump’s throat (or a part of his anatomy somewhat lower). It was obvious that the crowd was going to get out of hand if someone didn’t do something. So being a combat vet (and deathly afraid of little league parents) I decided it had to be me.

I turned to my assistant coach, “Dave, be prepared to take over, I’m going to have to get run.”

“Say what?”

“I’m going to have to go argue with the ump about the call and I’m going to have to argue enough he’s going to run me outta here.”

Dave nodded and I headed over to second. I stopped first to talk with my shortstop. “Did you get him out?”

“Yeah, coach, I got him,” he lied. Now I was in even worse trouble. Terrific. Now I had to back my player who I knew was lying.

So on out to the ump I went. We stepped a few feet away from the players so no one could hear us.

“Don’t start, Coach,” the ump told me. “Your man dropped the ball.”

With my face screwed into the tightest grimace of anger I could manage I replied, “Yeah, I know.”

“Then what the heck are you doing out here?” He looked at me like I was a total idiot.

“You see those parents back there?” I asked through my best scowl.

He looked over my shoulder toward the team parents. Four of them (not all males) were trying to climb the chain link fence to get onto the field. Two of them had those little plastic forks they gave you when you got chili-cheese fries at the concession stand. The ump blanched.

“I gotta keep them calm, so I gotta argue with you. I gotta argue enough that you toss me.”

He thought for a second, then nodded. “OK, but we gotta take a while, don’t we?”

“Yeah, how long you figure?” I asked pointing my finger at him and waving it threateningly.

He took a quick look down at his watch and looked up with his worst grimace of anger, “I guess about a minute.”

“OK.” Now at a total loss as to what to do next, I asked, “So what do we talk about?” I threw up an arm in utter disgust at whatever he said.

“How about the blonde with the big melons?” he suggested while punching his finger into my face about an inch short of my nose.

One of the other team’s mothers was this nice looking blonde with big melons who was seated just in eyesight of both of us. She had on one of those blue summer dresses that have no sleeves, a couple of thin straps and a short, but wide skirt.

“Nice legs too,” I told him with both arms flailing in his direction.

“Yep. You oughta try getting her kid next year,” the ump told me with a jerk of his head and a glare.

I screwed up my face again, threw both arms up and gestured wildly, “I’ll have to find out which one he is.”

“I think it’s the kid they have in center tonight,” he said through clinched teeth.

“You sure?” I responded through equally clinched teeth.

“No, but I’ve seen her yell for him when he’s at bat,” he told me as he glanced at his watch. “The minute’s almost up so toss your cap down and I’ll run you, OK?”

So I threw down my cap. He threw up his arm with thumb extended in the classic “Yer outta here” signal. I grabbed my cap, trudged back to the dugout, winked at Dave and went out through the player’s gate over by third base. My parents were giving me a standing ovation.

Back then when you were tossed out in the local league, you had to leave the ball yard entirely. Of course there was a parking area just to the first base side of the field, so I wandered over there, leaned back on a car, and waited for the game to end. We managed to win the game (and the guy safe at second didn’t score). So I headed back to the field to talk with the team. Half the fathers patted me on the back, the other half shook my hand. One of the mother’s kissed my cheek (It wasn’t the blonde. I have no idea what she did).

So I was a hero, but for every action there is an equal an opposite reaction (thank you, Isaac Newton). The next game I showed up, the same ump showed up, the league president showed up. He motioned for both of us to come over.

“What the hell happened out here Tuesday?”

“It’s OK, Dutch,” the ump told him. “Coach here had to argue with me to keep the fans in line and I had to toss him to make it look good. No harm, Dutch.”

I nodded.

“Damn it, guys, we can’t be doing it that way. League rules say I gotta suspend you for being tossed, Coach.” I could see he was in something of a  dilemma and wasn’t sure how to get out of it. No one seemed angry and someone was supposed to be furious.

“But, Dutch, he didn’t really say anything and I’m not upset,” my new hero told him. “Couldn’t we just forget it?”

“Can’t do it. ” There was a long pause as he searched for a solution to his problem.  He looked over at me, “But tell you what I’ll do.  I’ll  suspend you for one inning of this game and that’ll be it. OK?”

“Deal.”

So I leaned against another car while we scored a run or two. Then in a little league rarity in our town we set the other team down in order. So I was back to coaching, was a hero to my players and parents, made a friend in the ump, and we won the game. Not a bad outcome, right?

Oh, and the blonde? I never did get her kid. Damn.

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7 Responses to “Taking One for the Team”

  1. William Miller Says:

    Great story, man!
    I have to tell you, I hesitate to sign my older son (almost ten) for little league this year because I know the parents are generally nuts, and I don’t think my kid would enjoy that level of ferocious competition. A neighbor told me that she’s seen two fights in the stands at little league games locally, and the families are always screaming and hollering at the players, the umps, etc. If my son dropped a fly ball, and some parent started to yell at him, I’m sure I’d have to slug the SOB, so I’d better not bother.
    The local YMCA has a kids baseball league, and for some reason, people don’t go nearly so crazy at those games. Guess I’ll check it out.
    Nice topic,
    Bill

  2. Sean Breslin Says:

    Nice read. Ejections are one of the funniest things about baseball.

  3. Kevin Graham Says:

    I coached my son in farm league(9-10 yrs old). The parents were brutal. I don’t think 90% of the moms understood what a force play was. If the infield fly rule was called, we were always in for a bucket full of grief. Lots ‘a fun, glad it’s over.

    Kevin

  4. Glen Says:

    Nice, well-written story, V!

    Glen

  5. verdun2 Says:

    Thanks for the comments, guys. I really wish I knew how to handle the “Little League Parent” problem (some coaches are just as bad). I think it’s ultimately terrible for the kids and the sport, but you just can’t ban them from the stands.
    v

  6. W.k. kortas Says:

    Nice piece, V. I used to umpire Babe Ruth league games where one of my buddies was coaching. He used to run out on the field so we could “argue” about where we were going after the game and who was buying the first round.

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