My 2016 16u team just played our first fall tourney in Indianapolis and stayed in a hotel, which was a great way for everybody to get to know each other. In Saturday’s games, we went 2-1. Our loss was a tough one that we lost in the last inning.
Throughout the day there seemed to be more close calls going against us than for us, particularly in the game we lost. However, I did not show disrespect or anger towards the umpires. I didn’t even challenge a call, nor request one umpire to ask for help on a call from the other. Instead I shook their hands after the game and thanked them politely.
I explained to the team, “This is just a fall showcase tournament. Since it’s not a qualifier, it makes little sense to confront the umpires or get angry with their calls. I’m showing them respect, so hopefully we’ll have some close calls go our way in future games.” They understood, while watching several of the other team’s coaches go off repeatedly on the umpires.
On bracket day things were no different, but we won our first two games making it to the final four. In our last game it was clear that we were going to have to rise above some highly questionable officiating to win. It began with different strike zones for each team and escalated into numerous bad calls in the field.
Early in the game we were down 4-0 and I sensed my team was growing frustrated with the umpire situation. I decided it was time for their first impassioned coach speech. I challenged them to overcome the apparent biases and horrendous calls from the umpires and to battle until the end.
They did, scoring 3 times to get back in the game down 4-3. However, the next debatable call made it obvious to even the opposing team’s supporters that the game would continue to be called in an inequitable fashion.
With the field umpire standing over top of a play at third base, he called the sliding player out with authority and without hesitation. The third base coach howled at the call and appealed for help from the home plate umpire. The call was overturned, which led to several runs scoring, while seriously dampening my team’s spirit.
For the first time in the tournament I quietly approached the home plate umpire and asked for an explanation. He pointed out that he had a better view of the play as the field umpire came running into our conversation. The field umpire exclaimed, “Coach, I didn’t see the play. So, I asked for help.” I replied, again quietly yet in astonishment, “You called her out immediately with no hesitation at all. How does that happen?”
Keep in mind he was standing within 5’ of the play in fair territory with nothing obstructing his view. Regardless, after questioning the call things got ridiculous with too many similar examples to list. My team’s parents were not happy, chirping away towards the end of the game that we ended up losing 8-3 and my team was upset. After writing for over two years about parental conduct at the games, I honestly couldn't blame them for voicing their displeasure, even though I could not hear them from down the right field line.
The post game-tournament talk with the team began with vehemence, but ended calmly with praise and instruction. I told the players I was proud of them for not showing disrespect or anger towards the umpires, which is a great example of good sportsmanship. I also explained that all beefs with the umpires should be handled by the coaches.
When you’ve watched and coached enough games over the years, you know tommyrot when you see it. As a coach the challenge is how to maintain your composure, manage your team and overcome it. I am grateful I was able to represent my team and club in a dignified manner, while many of my counterparts did not.
You'd like to think that through the course of a game the calls even out. A close call going your way results in your opponent getting the next one. Unfortunately sometimes inexplicably they're pretty lopsided, leaving all to believe that it doesn't pass the smell test.
Oh I vented in the dugout out of earshot of Blue and afterwards in the parking lot and ride home. While writing this I’m over it, but disappointed that I failed to turn things around for my team who gave it their all. That will be my challenge moving forward.