Monday, March 09, 2020

A Recount of a Recent Baseball Game

Our third kid, Jerome Jerome the Metronome, is a pitcher for his 12U baseball team. He had pitched an inning in an earlier game, and then he was the starting pitcher in a game last week that went terribly. Here's a summary of what happened, and an assortment of people who could be blamed.

Jerome was the starting pitcher. When he missed, he consistently missed high. In the first inning, he walked two batters, then got a line out to first, and the first baseman doubled off the base-runner. The fourth batter popped up for the third out. Not bad.

Coming back out for the second, he had a 1-0 lead. That's when everything fell apart.

The first batter of the inning pops up. Now, Jerome has taken the pro ballplayer maxim of "the pitcher never fields a pop up" to heart, so he just stands there. The first baseman makes a move towards the play, but decides to stay home and cover the bag. The second baseman charges, but can't get there. The ball lands. Jerome fields it and underhands it to first for the out. The first baseman doesn't catch the ball. The runner goes to second base on the fielding error. Instead of one out, there's now a runner in scoring position.

The second batter of the inning grounds to shortstop. Double-play ball, if the runner were still on first. Instead, the shortstop throws to first, and the first baseman doesn't catch the ball. Instead of two outs with the bases empty, it's two on, no outs.

The third batter hits a double to right field. Might have been just a single if the right fielder had been more responsive, but a good solid hit nonetheless. Instead of a runner at second with two outs, the first two base-runners score. Two runs in, no outs, runner on second.

The fourth batter of the inning strikes out. So the inning should be over. One hit, no walks, no runs, runner stranded on second, Jerome's team still ahead, 1-0. Instead, it's the first out of the inning and Jerome's team is down, 2-1. My understanding of the earned-run rule is that neither run was earned, and that all subsequent runs will be unearned, as well.

Now the umpire starts calling a tighter strike zone. For the first inning-plus, he was giving a high strike, up to the letters (which is the correct strike zone). Now the high strike goes away, and with Jerome pitching high in the zone, he starts walking some batters. So the fifth batter walks, and during his at-bat, the base-runner steals third. Runners at the corners for the sixth batter. She hits a line drive past the first baseman. A more-athletic player maybe gets a glove up and catches it, but maybe not. The runner scores from third, the other runner goes first-to-third, and so it's runners at the corners again. 3-1.

During the seventh batter's at-bat, They send the base-runner from first on a delayed double steal. The catcher tries a trick with the shortstop; instead of throwing to second to get the trailing runner, he throws to the shortstop who will throw it back home to get the lead runner. Great idea, but it only works if the catcher doesn't throw the ball past the shortstop into center field. Which is what happens. 4-1. The catcher is dropping every second pitch, which is okay without base-runners, but now the base-runner steals third and scores on passed balls. 5-1.

Now, in EVERY OTHER GAME WE'VE PLAYED AT OUR PARK, there has been a five-run limit per inning. So this should be the end of the top of the second. But, for some reason, it's not. The seventh batter walks. The eighth batter walks. The ninth batter grounds to third, but the third baseman can't make the play. 6-1. The tenth batter grounds to second, and the first baseman drops the throw. 7-1.

Jerome is a left-handed pitcher, and he has a decent pick-off move. So he throws to first and the runner reacts late. This should be the--what, sixth out of the inning?--but the base-runner breaks for second, and the entire infield takes so long to react that he's safe at second without a throw. The eleventh batter grounds to shortstop (another double-play ball if the base-runner hadn't already advanced), and the first baseman drops the throw (seventh out of the inning). 8-1. The twelfth batter singles. Runners at the corners. Jerome's pick-off move gets another runner leaning the wrong way (ninth out of the inning). The home-plate umpire calls a balk. The infield umpire didn't see it that way. Jerome's coach says, "He's allowed a 45-degree angle." The home-plate umpire says, "He went past 45 degrees." Jerome's coach says, "You don't have the angle to make that call, and she [the infield umpire] didn't call it!" Nevertheless, a run is in on the balk. 9-1.

Another walk, another stolen base, another passed ball lets in another run. 10-1. We are now at DOUBLE the run limit for the inning. Still no indication why the inning hasn't stopped yet, and no sign that it's going to stop anytime soon. The runner on first goes first-to-third on the passed ball. Then, he dances down the line and steals home on a return throw from the catcher. 11-1.

I stand up and yell at the third-base coach (who has been Jerome's coach several times in the past), "Are you kidding me, [Coach]?! It's 10 to one!" Sitting next to me are the parents of the one kid to make an actually-recorded out in the inning, and they have the wife's dad with them. The grandpa says loudly to his daughter, "I heard a major-leaguer say one time that they shouldn't let parents come to their own kid's games. The parents ruin it."

Jerome's coach lifts him. It was like when Homer Simpson says, "This has gone on just long enough!" Eleven runs, NONE earned. During the pitching change, the third-base coach walks over to our seating area and says, "I don't know who yelled, but I did not send [the kid who stole home]." Then he comes to me specifically (because of course he knew who yelled) and says, "[A Random Stranger], I want you to know that I did not send [the kid who stole home]." Yeah, you know what? You didn't STOP him, either. Ten runs in, the kid just went first-to-third on a passed ball, and you didn't bother telling the kid, "Wait to be forced."

When I was a coach, kids who got to the five-run limit were emotional wrecks when the inning ended. Hell, the third-base coach's own kid is highly emotional when he pitches. Because Jerome is more even-keeled, no one is questioning the propriety of his choices. I felt like several adults were beating the crap out of my kid and I couldn't do anything to stop it. Multiple coaches, multiple umpires, and all of them thinking this is the appropriate way to treat a 12-year-old boy in his first pitching start.

Later in the game, the kid who stole home comes up with two runners on. He hits a single to right field. His needlessly-aggressive base-running turns it into a homer. It's 16-1, and they stop the game.

A few days later, and I casually mention to Jerome that none of the 11 runs was earned and, for all I care, the kid who stole home could die in a fire. Jerome said that kid was the other starting pitcher, so he was happy that the other kid gave up an earned run but he hadn't. I might have promised him a family ice-cream party if he hit the kid the next time he pitched against him. I said, "But you can't make it obvious or I'll deny it. Like, don't do it and then look at me and say, 'I did it, Dad!' You have to look sort of sorry."

Since then, Jerome pitched another inning in their next game, getting the side in order, two ground outs and a strike out. His ERA for the season is still zero.

So, who's the jerk here?

  • A. Jerome: that's why we throw strikes.
  • B. 1st Baseman: if you can't catch the ball, you need to play in the outfield until you can.
  • C. Opposing coach: when do you tell your base-runners to wait to be forced?
  • D. Our coach: you don't make a kid get nine outs to get out of an inning, you make the switch before 11 runs score.
  • E. Umpire: as the inning went on, the high strike went away.
  • F: Umpire, pt. 2: a coach told me later there was no max-run rule because the ump said so. That's not his call; at the pregame meeting at home plate, if both coaches agree to a rule change, the umpire enforces that rule. That's why there was a ground-rule triple in the 1903 World Series.
  • G. The kid who scored from first when he was up by ten: Lighten up, Francis.
  • H. Me: jerk sports dad. I'm like the Great Santini: "You get that punk, you put him on the deck. You get him or I'll get you. Get him or you don't come home, all right?!"
  • I: Grandpa: you got something to say, old man?!
  • J. Abner Doubleday: jackass.
  • K. Someone else.

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