Tough Day at the Ballpark

About 12 years ago, while coaching my last son’s little league team, the third baseman for the other team made an error - a tough hop.  Having played through high school, college and the minor leagues, I know a tough hop when I see one. His coach let out a pretty scary yell.  For the first time in my life, I said something to an opposing coach on the field. “Hey man, this is a great kid, he just made an error, it happens.”  The next ball was worse. He knocked it down and threw it out of the ball park. You can’t do anything when you are afraid. The coach, who happened to be his father, yanked him out of the game.

Parenting is tough and we have to be the “protectors” of that time where kids need to play, experience many different things, make mistakes and have fun.  

A couple of weeks ago at a youth baseball game in Colorado, a big brawl erupted.  To say the least, it was horrible. The “Sandlot” turned into a battlefield.  

Many people asked me what I thought.  I told them, “it could have happened to any of us.”  We have all experienced a situation where we know this could happen at any minute.  It doesn’t have to be a baseball game – it can be soccer, beauty pageant, football, softball game . . . anytime our kids are involved, emotions are high and trouble erupts.

Years after that sweet boy made an error, I realized I had never umpired for little league. I had played, coached and parented for many years but had never umpired.  So I called the baseball organization where we had played and my application was gladly accepted. I thought, “This will be easy. No problem.” Make a little extra money and have some leisurely nights out on the field with the kids playing the game.

I don’t know when I have ever been more wrong about anything in my life.

At age 53, with 45 years of baseball at all levels in my bank of experience, I had the longest summer of my life umpiring youth baseball.  The “nervousness” never went away. I was with the kids and I loved that for sure. But I soon learned that a beautiful Saturday morning could immediately turn on a dime if I made a controversial call.  It was really scary. When the batter is four feet tall, the strike zone is not very big

Here are my final thoughts on that Colorado brawl: The umpire in question was 13.  The kids were seven.  I cannot imagine how over-matched the umpire was that day and how confused the players must have been.  The whole scene was horrible and again, it could have happened anywhere. The best way to avoid anything like this is just be quiet, cheer for everyone, leave the umpires alone, (they are in an impossible situation when they are young) and take in the time with your kids.

If parents are the problem, then we need to be the solution – it’s our call. We need to settle down, let the kids play and enjoy this time while we can.  Nobody leaves the house with their kids expecting trouble. Time certainly flies and memories need to be great ones. Make them great.

Trust me, after all these years, the final score of those games mean nothing.  What does matter is that you were there for your child and you had a great time win or lose.  Like my son used to say, “man, I love the fries at the concession stand.”