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Playing the softball time game

Let me start out by saying I’ve made it pretty clear in the past that I am NOT a fan of time limits in fastpitch softball. The game was designed to be played across seven innings, no matter how long that takes.

Yogi Berra’s statement “It ain’t over ’til it’s over” doesn’t make as much sense if you’re playing against a clock, because there is a definite point when it’s over. But then again Fastpitch softball shouldn't have a time limit, but when it does don't game the system.Yogi never had to make sense to be quotable.

In any case, whether we like it or not time limits have become the norm at nearly every summer tournament. The desire to get as many teams to play as many games as possible on a finite number of fields drives that. Maybe it’s greed, maybe it’s the “bigger is better” syndrome, but whatever it is as long as that’s the prevailing sentiment among those who are running tournaments you’re going to see time limits.

With that comes a new set of challenges for coaches. For example, if you’re dedicated to all of your players playing at least half the game, that’s fairly easy to accomplish when you know you have seven innings. Not so much when you have 1:15 no new inning with 1:30 drop dead. You have to keep an eye not only on the innings but on the clock, and may have to make substitutions at times you don’t want to.

The drop dead time limit can also change the strategy as far as whether you want to be the home or visiting team. If your team starts off hot at the plate but tends to fade in the field later in the game, you may want to take visitor if given the choice. You get to start out hitting, and if your team is booting the ball around in the bottom of the last inning it may not make a difference. In fact, if you’ve blow a lead you may even want to have them not get outs so the inning isn’t completed and the game defaults back to the previous inning when you were ahead.

And that brings us to today’s sermon topic, which is the games some coaches play when facing a time limit. The above being just one of the more egregious examples.

Some might call it being strategic. Others might call it short-sighted, since it’s kind of legalized cheating – you’re playing within the rules of the game, but not the spirit.

Not that I was always a saint about it, but after experiencing time limits a few times I quickly came to the philosophy that if you’re not good enough to win the game outright, you’re not good enough to win it.

As my buddy and assistant coach Rich Youngman once pointed out to me, what does it tell your team if you have to play these games? That you don’t have confidence in them to be the better team and win it outright, so you’re resorting to tricks?

Here are some examples. Your team is on defense, clinging to a one-run lead. You don’t want to go into a new inning because you know the heart of your opponent’s order is coming up, along with the bottom of yours. So you call a timeout to talk to the pitcher and gather the rest of your team in for your talk, which apparently becomes a manifesto. Tick tick tick.

Or you’re the home team on offense and don’t want a new inning to start. So you tell your team to walk slowly to batter’s box, and be sure to take a few practice swings between each pitch. If time is still moving too slowly you call a batter over for a conference. I even heard an instance of a coach telling a player to tie her shoe when it was already tied.

There are all kinds of ways to run a couple of extra minutes off the clock. Even an argument with an umpire can take up some precious time. A fake injury that doesn’t take too long to deal with can run some time off without stopping the clock too. Fielders taking a little extra time to throw the ball around after a strikeout, and maybe even throw it away on purpose or let a ball go by so they have to chase it down qualify as well.

This is not to say every strategy for killing time is bad. If you want to tell your players to take pitches until they get a strike on them, I’d consider that smart. Maybe you get a walk, but maybe you put your hitter in a hole that speeds up the at bat. That’s legit.

More borderline ethical is telling a hitter to strike out on purpose to kill an inning. I wouldn’t do it, but if it results in an extra inning being played you’re potentially not affecting the outcome of the game as much – both teams still have an equal chance to do something in that inning.

It’s the ones where you’re preventing the game from being played that get to me. If you’re there to play fastpitch softball, then play fastpitch softball. Man up, or woman up, and have confidence that the best team will win. Without the need for gimmicks. The lesson that will teach will mean a whole lot more to your kids than a $10 plastic trophy or medal.

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St. Bonaventure softball player donates bone marrow

This seems to be a week for feelgood stories about fastpitch softball players. Here’s another, passed along to me by my friend (and former player) Hillary Klutts.

Katie Sinclair has been a three-year starter for St. Bonaventure University in New York. She was looking forward to her senior season but then fate intervened. bonnies-sinclair-020616

As a community service project her entire team received a cheek swab and had the results entered into a national database for bone marrow donors. Darned if she didn’t match up with someone badly in need of a donation.

Bone marrow donations are used for patients battling blood cancers. It’s an arduous process with a long recovery time, so she had to make a decision. She could either donate now, help someone she’s never met out, and potentially have a less-than-stellar senior season. Or she could wait until after the season to ensure she was at full strength for the season, but at the same time deny someone who needs it the life-saving bone marrow.

Well, as you might expect by the fact there’s an article about it, Katie went for the donation. Pretty cool when you think about it.

We talk a lot about sports teaching life lessons, such as putting others before yourself. Clearly, Katie Sinclair is a great example of that mindset. While I’m sure there are some out there who can’t believe she’d do that to her team it’s a class act and shows she has her priorities straight. Hopefully the whole St. Bonaventure community is proud of her. Certainly the softball community should be.

Very proud of one of my students

A rare double post from me today, but this is worth calling out. Tonight I had a lesson with one of my hitting students, a high school junior named Emma. We had a great session – she ought to have an amazing season crushing the ball – and after I got home I texted her mom to let her know how well Emma was doing. That’s when I heard a story that trumped softball.

After her lesson, Emma stopped at Starbuck’s before heading home. While she was there an elderly woman pulled in and parked in the middle of the parking lot. She seemed confused, so Emma stopped to talk to her.

Emma quickly recognized the woman was having trouble, and contacted the police to get some help. Turns out the woman suffers from Alzheimer’s and didn’t know where she was – or how to get home. Emma stayed with her until the police came, talking with her and comforting her.

We hear a lot about what’s wrong with the younger generation. We sometimes focus too much on how well a kid can hit or pitch a yellow ball. Tonight shows the world is going to be alright as long as there are people like Emma in the world. She’s a winner no matter what she does on the field this season.

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