Sunday, July 15, 2012

The LL Chronicles #18: Assaulting Adolescent Umpires, Managerial Meltdowns & Jalen's First Home Run

Son struck out looking w/bases loaded to end today's game. Now, I know 2006 NLCS pain of ‪#Mets‬ fans. How long does it last? Couple of hours? -- From my Twitter feed, April 21

Hard to believe this was one of my most memorable moments of the season. It was nearly 90 degrees at game time and my Little League A's team didn't exactly come prepared to play. The kids were sloppy in the field and uninspired at the plate, but they'd trimmed the deficit to three runs entering the final inning. With the bases loaded and two outs, my son Jalen stepped to the plate. He'd previously relieved our starting pitcher and kept the club in the game, so the conclusion of this climactic sequence seemed preordained. Alas, Jalen went down on three pitches. Each one inside and off the plate. Each one looking. So, what made it memorable? Well, this montage of African-American entertainers who were actually relevant during the 1990s represents the expressions on my son's face when the umpire called strike one, strike two and... strike three.

You'd think I'd be ashamed of getting in face of 13-year-old umpire at Little League game, but you'd be wrong. Just like he was ALL NIGHT. -- From Twitter, April 26

Midway through our game against the Padres -- the best hitting team in the division -- my A's trailed, 6-4. And, with the game half over, the two adolescent umpires working the game decided to switch assignments. In the bottom of the 3rd inning, the home plate umpire began working the bases and the base umpire set up behind home plate. Initially, I hadn't picked up on the chicanery. But, after my first batter struck out looking at a forehead-high fastball, I realized what had happened. My kids spent the previous innings adjusting to one terrible strike zone and now had to recalibrate their bats for an even terrible-er one. It was the most egregious act of incompetent -- possibly corrupt -- sports officiating in at least 25 years.

After the Padres' pitcher struck out the side -- while throwing maybe two legitimate strikes the entire inning -- I (might've) stormed from the home dugout, (possibly) got in his face and (kinda-sorta) unloaded. In the interest of full disclosure, the following diatribe has NOT been corroborated by anyone except my two coaches and the opposing manager, so take it with a grain of salt:

"Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me with this strike zone?! The face is a strike now? Is that new? Because, if the face is a strike, I'll tell my kids to swing. WHERE is your strike zone?!"

I dialed it back a bit when I realized the poor kid appeared to have peed his pants at my "angry n' black" act. After all, the umpires are doing the best they can and -- even at this level -- the game moves a lot faster than you might think. I needed a more mature way to express my displeasure. After we lost, the umpires walked towards me without a word. They're paid $16 apiece per game and the home manager is responsible for handing out league-issued checks. I spent the next 20 minutes taking equipment from the field to my piece at a time. "Coach?", one of the umpires eventually uttered, "My mom's waiting for me. Can I have my check, please?"

"When I'm finished.", I (perhaps) hissed. And, true to my word, I paid them when I finished. See? Mature.

Little League game today vs. undefeated, undisputed best team in division. Rehearsing my "let's just focus on having FUN!" pregame speech. -- From Twitter, April 28

During our first two games against the Rangers, we needed a pair of late-inning rallies -- in garbage time, against their 9th/10th best pitchers -- just to keep from losing by double-digits. On this day, we jumped on the Rangers for five runs in the first inning. Collectively, it was the best game of the season for our offense and by the end of the second inning, everyone was swinging the same bat. Our leadoff hitter borrowed Jalen's 28-inch, 15-ounce aluminum toothpick and after stroking a double, he excitedly christened it "rally bat" while standing on second base. Although, truth be told, it was only the second best "birth of a bat" fable from the past 20 years. We scored 13 runs while wielding "rally bat". The Rangers, however, scored 16 after [ironic pause] rallying for five runs in the top of the final inning. It was still FUN! Mostly.

After our best game of the season last Saturday, my Little League team played their worst game of the season tonight. SO hoarse from booing. -- From Twitter, May 3

A few days after our previous game, I treated the entire team to an hour at the batting cages. This was not an inexpensive excursion, but the kids had fun and it appeared we'd turned a significant corner in creating team camaraderie. Our chemistry experiment promptly exploded in a 17-5 loss to the Braves. After the game, several of the same kids who checked out around the second inning suddenly found their hustle as they raced over for postgame cupcakes. Coach Aaron had seen enough. I took the entire team out to right field... and this happened. Minus the profanity, obviously, but I did repeat several of Jim Leyland's talking points, including: "...if you don't want to be here..."; "...I don't wanna see it no more..." and "...I've had enough of this f****** s***..." Minus the profanity! MINUS!

Attention gamblers! My son's Little League team has lost four in a row & our two best pitchers are ineligible for today's game! -- From Twitter, May 5

And, somehow, we won 17-7. My starting pitcher hadn't pitched all year, but never surrendered the early lead provided by our offense. The kids had regained their immediate cupcake gratification privileges.

My son hit his first Little League home run tonight. In related news: if anyone wants to take an insufferable 8-year-old off my hands...

In other related news: "AIEEEEEE!" -- From Twitter, May 8

As luck would have it, after spending the season either in the dugout or coaching first base, I stationed myself in the third base coaches' box for our game against the Pirates. Jalen came to the plate with two runs in and two runners on in the bottom of the third inning. On the first pitch, he hit a line drive into left-centerfield that skidded across the patchy grass and took a knuckleball bounce away from the two outfielders chasing it. There were a few moments of miscommunication amongst the fielders as the ball rolled parallel to the outfield wall and it still hadn't been picked up as Jalen hit the bag at second and turned towards third. 

By now, the ball had rolled far enough for the rightfielder to make the play as I windmilled my left arm out of its socket and screamed "HOME! HOME! HOME!" As Jalen rounded third base, the look on his face shifted from his usual intense grimace to unbridled elation. He slid into home feet-first kicking up a hazy fog of dirt and chalk. Jalen popped up from the dust, turned back towards third base and asked, "Dad, did you see that?!" He didn't even give me a chance to answer, before he sprinted towards the dugout -- index fingers extended -- and performed an over-the-top monosyllabic celebration that I'm sure I've seen somewhere before.

Yes, Jalen. I saw it.

But, I think you already knew that.  


Smitty said...

The strike zone was fine when your guy was on the hill

Mark Smo said...

At least the kid didn't ask why Jalen isn't wearing #42.

that mexican guy said...

...the following diatribe has NOT been corroborated by anyone except my two coaches and the opposing manager, so take it with a grain of salt

Then I guess I was the fourth witness! I like how you left out the part where you flipped your sunglasses off so the ump could see your wild-eyed intensity a la Randy Savage's pre-Wrestlemania V promos on Hulk Hogan.

Aaron C. said...

@Mex -- HA! I did forget about that. Karma caught up with me, too, since they broke when they hit the ground. I needed some of those ski-shades from Macho's heyday.

@Smo -- The story continues. I joined the Little League board last week and that ump in question? Now, a fellow board member! Ugh.

@Smitty -- Quiet, you.