Monthly Archives: July 2007
At last weekend’s tournament I observed a scene that to me captures the heart and soul of what makes fastpitch softball such a great sport. It was a typical thing, really. A girl on our team was having a little trouble hitting, and her father was talking to her offering his best advice on how to break out of the slump.
Nothing remarkable there, except for one thing: the dad, who is from India, probably has never played baseball or softball in his life. Yet there he was trying to help his daughter with something that is vitally important to her.
I couldn’t hear what he was telling her so I don’t know whether the advice was good or bad. That’s not the point. The point is that it was a Norman Rockwell moment, only with faces Norman Rockwell never thought to use.
Fastpitch softball is as all-American as it gets. Most sports have certain requirements for body types or athleticism to be successful at all but the most basic levels. In basketball and volleyball it really helps to be tall. Football is best played by those with sturdier builds. Soccer requires a combination of endurance and speed above normal levels. The list goes on.
But in fastpitch softball there’s a place for both the small and speedy and the large and strong. You can overcome your athletic weaknesses by maximing your strengths. If you’re not too strong but you’re fast you can bunt or slap. If you’re small and slow you can work on your hitting technique to punch the ball through the infield to give you more time. If you’re big and really slow, you can shoot for the fences.
Yes, being athletic and in great shape is an asset, especially at the upper levels. But not being the greatest athlete, or a certain height, or a certain body type, is not as much of a limitation as it is in other sports.
Softball also drives a kind of camaraderie between kids and parents. When I asked for volunteers to pitch some batting practice with wiffle balls, the dad I described earlier was one of them. He was only too happy to help the girls prepare for their game, and he’d certainly watched enough games and warm-ups to know what to do despite never having played himself. The parents enjoyed participating, and the girls appreciated the help. We were able to warm up efficiently and come out with the bats roaring.
The girl I described at the beginning of this post was about 10 years old when she first started playing. In fact, we talked about that this weekend. Her mom worked with a guy who was involved in our organization, and she mentioned she was looking for something athletic for her daughter to do. He suggested bringing her to our tryouts and she did. The girl told me she had no idea what a softball was or how the game was played, but once she got started she got hooked. She started out playing a few innings here or there in right field, and gradually got the hang of it.
As she has continued she has worked on her game and is now an excellent first baseman. She is not only sure-handed but also has great awareness of where the runners are on the field. In fact, she has been involved in several double plays for us this season that ended with the last out at home off her throw.
America has always been a country that is more concerned with what you can contribute than where you came from or what natural gifts you have. Fastpitch softball matches up with that ideal very well.
Before I launch into this let me preface it by saying I have nothing but the utmost respect for the men and women in blue. It’s not easy to do the job they do. I know. I’ve done it. Every single pitch requires a decision by the home plate umpire, and often you have to think quickly and make a decision before you really have all the information you need. Add to that six to eight games in a day in the blistering heat and humidity and you have a tough job on your hands.
That being said, this tirade isn’t about making the calls. I may not always agree with the calls they make but I’m sure they’re making the best calls they can.
No, this post is about umpires not knowing the rules. To me there is no excuse for that. I’m just a coach, but every year before the season I read the rulebook cover to cover. I make sure I know what’s changed and what’s new. Apparently not all umpires do the same.
Here’s a case in point. For the second time this season an umpire declared in a pre-game meeting that a catcher’s mitt couldn’t be used certain positions. Which used to be the rule. Of course, this umpire stated that you can’t use a catcher’s mitt in the outfield, which was never the case. The old rule said a mitt could only be used in the catcher and first base positions.
That rule was changed I believe in 2006. Rule 3, Section 4 of the 2007 ASA rule book states “A Glove/Mitt may be worn by any player. The dimensions of any glove/mitt used by any fielder shall not exceed the specifications set forth below (see drawings and specifications.” In other words, as long as the mitt meets the legal dimensions it can be used in any position on the field. If it can be used in the catcher’s position, it can be used anywhere on the field. The rule is perfectly clear. It’s not highlighted as a change so it’s been on the books for at least a year. Why is it that two different umpires at two different tournaments insisted otherwise? Isn’t it their job to know these things? As my friend Rich says they’re the only people being paid to be on the field. It’s their responsibility to know the rulebook backward and forward.
Now, this is not to say that I like or encourage field position players to wear a mitt, especially in the outfield. They’re designed to accept a hard-thrown ball, not to catch a fly ball or a ground ball. But if a player insists on it, the point is it’s legal.
Ok, so maybe it’s tough to know every rule. Again I can understand that. But that doesn’t mean you should declare something that is patently incorrect. If you don’t know, and you are challenged, perhaps you should have a copy of the rulebook handy so you can look it up. I know I always have one.
This year one extraordinary thing did happen. During a game I declared a courtesy runner for my pitcher and the umpire wasn’t sure he should allow it. I quietly told him that the ASA rules state a courtesy runner can be used for the pitcher or catcher at any time, and that it has to be someone not in the game. I told him I had rulebook in the dugout and he could confirm it there if he wanted. To my surprise he said yes, go ahead and find it. I did, he looked at it between innings, and he actually apologized for not knowing the rule. That was pretty cool of him. And pretty rare.
In a perfect world every official would know every rule. That’s not going to happen. I don’t claim to know them all by heart either. But if you don’t know the rule, as an official you shouldn’t be making declarations about it before the game. That’s just wrong.
It had been a rough weekend so far. We were 1-2, but as they say in Bull Durham it’s a miracle we’d won the one. Now it was Sunday morning and we were a 4 seed playing a 1 seed out of a tough pool. Not exactly the formula for a great day.
I’d gone ahead to check if the field was open so we could warm up there. It wasn’t, so I started heading back to where our team was waiting. That’s when I saw her. A young girl, perhaps about 12 or so, shriveled up and being pushed in a wheelchair. It looked like her physical challenges were multiple, and that she may have some mental challenges as well.
As we approached each other I saw it — she had a softball glove in her lap. Then as we got closer she put the glove on, as though she was getting ready to play. She was smiling as I walked past her, and I couldn’t help but smile back.
It was then that the first thought struck me. My players were sitting around getting ready for warm-ups. It was 8:45 AM, and some were probably thinking how they’d rather be back in bed. It was just another day at yet another tournament, and maybe a few were thinking about somewhere else they’d rather be this July day. After all, a season can be wearing after a while.
But I thought about that little girl, and what she wouldn’t give to spend just one day doing what these girls were taking for granted. Just one day to be able to run out onto a freshly dragged and lined field, feel the heat coming up off the infield dirt, and get her uniform dirty diving after a pop fly that’s falling short Just one day to step up to the plate and face a pitcher bringing some serious heat. But I knew it was never to be.
I thought about telling this story to my players but decided against it. It just didn’t seem like the time to tell it. I feared instead of inspiring the girls it might bring them down. You never know how people will react. We went on to lose that Sunday morning game, getting blown out after a good start. We went home early, and I will admit I was rather bummed about our inability to play to the level we can this weekend.
Then in the evening the second thought hit me. What would that little girl have given to be be the coach of a team that got run ruled on that Sunday morning? To be making up lineups, calling defenses, giving signals from the third base coach’s box on a bright and sunny July morning? I realized then that my problems were small, and instead of feeling sorry for myself that I should be thankful for the opportunity to do what I do.
I don’t know who that girl is, or what team she was there to watch. But I feel lucky that I had the chance to see her. She helped me gain a little perspective on an otherwise disappointing weekend. If she can smile and be happy to be a part of this great game, I should remember to do the same.