West Side Story Meets 11-Year-Old Baseball

March 25th, 2013

Anyone spending an afternoon at a youth sporting event immediately understands how some American kids grow up to be obnoxious American adults.

If I catalogued all the outrageous behavior I’ve seen at my children’s sporting events over the years, I could write a book rivaling War and Peace in length.  This past weekend, I witnessed something that is the perfect example of what is wrong with youth sports.

My 11-year-old son plays select baseball.  It’s too bad we didn’t have a film crew at our game yesterday afternoon because if we did, the footage could be used in a training video on sportsmanship called Don’t Let this Happen to You.

Here’s the situation.  Our team was losing 9-0 with very little time left in the game.  Although we’d won an earlier game in convincing fashion, we just couldn’t get our act together for the second game.  The fact that we’d all been up since 4 o’clock in the morning and the weather was horrendous probably had a little something to do with it.

The team beating us hailed from a baseball academy in West Texas.  If you want to pay money to teach your son how to play dirty baseball, I highly recommend this “school.”

Their team, (for purposes of this post I’ll just call them the Thugs), were leading with runners at 2nd and 3rd base.  According to the rules, they only needed to score one more run to end the game.

As the batter came up to bat, I heard a coach yell to the batter, “Finish them off.”

Throughout the game, they’d stolen home with a batter up to bat.  For those who aren’t familiar with the game, this play is what is referred to as “Busch League.”  You never see it at any legitimate level of play and is regarded as amateur hour in baseball. Also, over the years, this sort of act by one team historically resulted in the following batter getting intentionally hit by the next pitch which tended to discourage anyone from trying this play if they wanted to keep members of their own team out of the ER.

At an eleven-year-old level, it’s also potentially very dangerous since it’s very possible that the base runner could get hit by a pitch or the batter’s bat.

In our situation, the Thugs once again attempted to steal home.  This time, our pitcher was ready.  He saw what was happening and stepped off the mound firing the ball to our catcher to try to get the runner out.

According to the pitcher, as the ball came into the glove of the catcher, the batter took his bat and came down on the arms of the catcher with it to try to dislodge the ball.  While this move is probably fine in lacrosse, most baseball academies don’t teach it.

I personally didn’t see the batter hit the catcher, but I did see the catcher hit the ground well after you would expect any kid to be legitimately “batting” and our parents were shouting that our catcher was down because he’d been hit by the bat.  He remained on the ground for quite some time.  I honestly thought the poor kid was seriously injured.  In the meantime, I saw the Thugs’ coach pat the runner on the back and the kids and parents on the other side laugh and cheer.  I’d never seen anything like it.

After some conversation, the umpire elected to call the runner out and the game continued.

Fortunately, the catcher was well enough to get up in the next inning and attempt to bat.  When he stepped to the plate, several of the Thugs fans shouted “Easy out!”  They’d been doing this the entire game as well, but I figured they’d have the decency to refrain for the kid they nearly sent to the hospital.  Instead, I guess they were just pointing out that since he’d been recently assaulted, he’d probably be easy to strike out.

Before he came up to bat, the catcher’s father went over to the Thugs dugout.  He asked someone to identify the head coach.  After he was identified and the catcher’s father got his attention, the father hollered to him, “That play was unnecessary.  You were winning 9-0.  I’m the father of the boy injured on that play, and I just want you to know, I don’t appreciate what just happened.”  He then walked away.

You would think this was the end of it.

Sadly, it wasn’t.

After the game, the catchers’ parents stood with our assistant coach who advised them not to say anything further about the incident, and that was their intent.

Instead, they looked up to see the Thugs’ head coach approaching them followed by a group of parents and players.  As one of our parents commented later, it looked just like a scene from West Side Story.  Clearly, these folks were ready to rumble.

The head coach approached the catcher’s parents and said, “You got something to say to me, you say it to me now.”

The catcher’s mother spoke up and told him exactly what her husband said earlier.  In midsentence, the coach cut her off by sticking his hand in her face and saying, “Whoa!  That’s just baseball.  That’s baseball.”

Later, the Thugs’ gang walked through our team post meeting. From what they were saying and how they were acting, they were looking for a fight.  Fortunately, our team parents are mostly school teachers, engineers, and business people.  We might send a strongly worded email, but we’re not really looking to get our clothes dirty.

This entire experience reminded me once again what’s wrong with sports today.  While I believe there are many good things kids can learn playing sports, there are also sadly many bad things.

When I was a child playing various sports, an emphasis was placed on something called “sportsmanship.”  Now it just seems like a quaint old-fashioned word.

That’s too bad . . . that’s really too bad.