It pays to know the rulebook
So there we were, at the ASA 14U Northern Nationals, engaged in a very tight game. We were in the top of the sixth with the score tied 1-1 and one out when our opponents managed to get runners on second and third. In such a tight game one run was very meaningful, so we decided to intentionally walk the next hitter (who had driven a ball into the gap her previous at bat) in order to load ’em up and create a force at home instead of a tag play. Pretty much baseball/softball 101.
On the first pitch of the intentional walk, the umpire throws his hands up, calls an illegal pitch and advances the two runners. That, of course, scored one of them, making the score now 2-1. Not exactly what we’d been hoping for in the exchange.
I started to go out to find out what was illegal, but then remembered I was not the head coach. So I went back into the dugout and told the head coach she would need to do it.
She went out, and came back to report the umpire said our catcher did not start in the catcher’s box when the pitch was thrown. I told her I would take it from here and went out to talk to the home plate umpire. It was what I suspected, by the way.
When I went to talk with him he repeated that the catcher did not start inside the catcher’s box. I said yes she did, and explained that the catcher’s box extends from the outside of one batter’s box to the outside of the other. It’s not like baseball, where the catcher must start behind the plate due to the size of the box there. I knew it from the rulebook, and also from one of the NFCA classes I took where they covered this topic and warned that many umpires don’t know this particular rule very well.
After a brief discussion the home plate umpire said, “Let me check with my partner.” He went out to the field ump and they conferred for a few minutes. Then he came back and said the ruling stands — illegal pitch. At that point I said I wanted the umpire in chief brought in. Surprisingly he agreed to it quickly. But instead of the UIC another Blue brought over a rulebook. The three of them looked at it for a few minutes, and then it sort of turned into My Cousin Vinnie. They knew what they had to do, all they had to do was say it out loud. The runners were returned to their previous bases and play resumed.
As I walked back to the dugout our parents cheered. Loudly. When I got back I said to the head coach, “That’s the last call we’ll get today.” We finished the intentional walk with the catcher behind the left-hand batter’s box and it was game on.
I would love to report that the strategy worked and we got out of the inning. But that’s not what happened. The next hitter managed to dink a ball in front of second base, just out of reach of a diving second baseman, and the run scored — legitimately this time. That broke open the game and we went on to lose, knocking us out of the tournament.
Bummer. But at least knowing the rules kept us from losing due to an umpire’s erroneous call. At the beginning of every season I make a point of reading the rulebook cover to cover. It definitely paid off this year.