It was the championship game and, after a long tournament series, both the fans and players were showing signs of strain.
A batter was at the plate with a runner at third. When the batter hit the ball, the runner —— unaware that the ball had been caught —— darted for home. A female fan jumped out of the stands and began pushing the runner back to third base. The runner got back just before the center fielder’s throw arrived.
“Safe!” shouted the umpire.
“Fans are not allowed on the field!” shouted the opposing team’s manager, running onto the field. “The runner is out!”
“The runner is safe!” shouted the female fan.
A heated discussion ensued. The manager berated the umpire for not knowing the rules. The female fan shouted at the manager and the umpire. The umpire was humiliated in front of several fans.
If you are a die-hard Major League Baseball observer, you’d probably get a laugh out of this. You’d think it was funny that an overzealous fan lost control and jumped onto the field.
But this didn’t happen in the Major League. It happened at a softball tournament for 8-year-old girls.
“It was the most ridiculous thing I ever saw,” said one player’s father. “They’re just little kids for goodness sakes!”
But this fact was overlooked by some parents, who must believe that winning should come at all costs. Later in the same game, the male coach got into another shout-out with the umpire.
Here’s what happened: One girl, who couldn’t hit the side of a barn with a telephone pole, finally got a hit. The ball may have contacted the bat at the edge of her pinky finger. Under Major League rules, if the ball touched her finger, the hit would be a foul.
But if you’re like most decent people, you wouldn’t care whether the ball hit the girl’s pinky or not. You’d be glad that she was able to finally get a hit.
But not in this game.
“Foul!” shouted the male manager, running onto the field again. “The ball is foul!”
When I played Little League many years ago, there were occasional idiot parents and coaches who did such things.
One coach kicked a fence in because the umpire made a bad call. And one kid’s grandparents constantly tormented the umpire from the stands. But, for the most part, most parents were like my own.
My father believed that the purpose of sports —— especially sports for children —— was for kids to have fun and to learn basic lessons about life.
Winning in life is important, he believed. But there are more important things, such as fairness, honesty and integrity.
My father taught me to always try my best, regardless of the outcome. He taught me to have fun, and I had a lot of fun playing baseball.
But, alas, that was more than 30 years ago, when more folks still believed in the virtues —— and believed their kid wasn’t a gift to the world from the heavens.
Today, stop by any Little League competition and you’ll see kid-worshipping parents in the stands, griping about teen umpires who don’t know the rules. You’ll see parents complaining to coaches that their kid should be batting fourth, not eighth. And you’ll fear that the next bad call will cause a brawl to break out.
Because, I suppose, the philosophy has changed since my father coached my Little League team, and it goes something like this: Fairness, honesty and integrity are nice but —— especially where 8-year-old girls are concerned ——winning isn’t everything.
It’s the only thing.
Tom Purcell is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist and is nationally syndicated. Send comments to Tom at Tom@TomPurcell.com.
Views expressed in this column are those of the writer only and do not necessarily represent those of the newspaper.