Saturday was the season ending tournament for my youngest boy’s Babe Ruth team. They had a pretty decent year and while not winning the competition, the kids all improved greatly over the year and had a lot of fun. Unfortunately, their final game was marred by the home plate umpire who apparently had not been informed that the boys were playing the game of baseball. His strike zone meandered from inning to inning, ankle to mid-shin for a while, and then without warning he would call a strike or two at eye level that had the parents and coaches of both teams howling in protest. He did not believe in the existence of a curve ball as he stubbornly refused to call even the most perfectly placed a strike. He walked a couple of batters on three balls and struck out my boy in the second inning on two pitches, a foul and a clean miss. Working the corners was to be a futile endeavor for the pitchers on this day as the umps strike zone covered the outside third of the plate and extended about a foot past the outside corner. Unless he suddenly switched this zone to the inside corner, which he did on a number of occasions. This resulted in a number of thrown bats from boys reaching for outside pitches, and in players being hit with pitches as they crowded the plate in adjusting to the umps unique and unpredictable three-foot wide strike zone. By the fourth inning the parents frustration had given way to hilarity at the umpires incompetence and each call was now met with derisive laughter and none too subtle comments from the peanut gallery regarding his eyesight and lack of knowledge in the most basic rules of the game. I expected him at some point to either throw us all out of the park or to at least flee the field in shame, but to his credit he did neither and simply “called ’em as he saw ’em” until the final out was recorded on a botched infield fly rule call on a ball hit well into the outfield.
During the course of this season and in seasons past, both coaches and parents had lectured the boys on the inappropriateness of questioning the umpires calls and in simply sucking it up and playing through. As we all gathered after the game and bitched and moaned a bit regarding the call of the game, I couldn’t help but notice that the boys from both teams hadn’t said a word about the umpire and were smiling and shaking hands with each other. “Nice game. “Great catch.” “Can’t wait ’till next year.”
While we parents don’t always match our actions to our rhetoric, not always practicing what we preach, our boys are learning important lessons none the less. Maybe there’s hope for the next generation after all.