Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Rec Ball at it's "Best"

This past Saturday Matthew’s Tigers didn’t play their best game, but still barely lost a close 7-5 game. Matthew had another good day at the plate. He was the first Tiger to reach base after Brandt lead off the game with a single, when he reached on the second-baseman’s error.

The Tigers scored three runs in the third inning. Two of the runs were unearned, coming with two out, Grace White came in to relieve the Nats’ tiring starting pitcher, and quickly ended the rally with a strikeout. Grace is the little sister of Will’s longtime teammate John Fulton, and both her parents are from South Carolina. Her dad manages the nearby Chickfila. This summer Grace was featured in an ESPN.com article about her all-girl baseball team, that competed at the Cooperstown Dreams Park. Like Will, Grace had hit a home run in Cooperstown.

Grace stayed on to pitch the fourth. Matthew led off, and walked on a 3-1 pitch. Coaching first, I kept my slow-footed son close to the bag, though the ball got away one time. When Johnny’s popup fell between three fielders into short left-center, Matthew had to hustle to second. With two out Nate singled, and Matthew was able to score all the way from second base.

Down 7-4, the Tigers had one more chance in the top of the fifth. Tanner and Thomas reached base to lead off the inning, then advanced to second and third. Matthew’s groundout knocked Tanner in from third. After Randal was hit by a pitch, big Johnny stepped in to bat, representing the winning run. He took two mighty cuts, then weakly grounded out to end the game.

The Tigers head coach had to miss his second game. Instead of letting one of his assistants coach, he once again let a dad from the stands lead the way. I’m not sure if these dads had been peppering him with phone calls and emails on how to do things, or what. On Opening Day Alex’s dad had gone a great job. He’d been an obvious choice, having coached most of these boys for several years. This time the helm was given to another dad, who had 15 years of umpiring experience. Given my thirty years of working with young people, I knew there’s plenty more to youth baseball than just knowing the rules.

Neither me nor the dad wanted to win just because an older fill-in player (Johnny) carried us. So in the lineup I’d prepared in advance, I had Johnny batting last and playing outfield. The dad went by my lineup, with just one minor change. With these little 12 year-olds barely able to throw strikes while adjusting to the mound being further away, it’s too much to fill their head with more signals for two-seam and four-finger fastballs. Every inning I posted postions and tried to stay out of the way.

The dad wanted to coach first, but when our runner on third failed to score in the first, he changed his mind. My plan had the five strongest players play P, C, 1B, SS, and 3B, then had the three weaker Tigers take turns playing second base...but it wasn't followed the entire game.

But despite our best coaching efforts, the play that decided the game turned out to be a no-win situation. Going to the bottom of the third the Tigers led 3-2. The Nats retook the lead on the first-baseman’s error, then loaded the bases with one out. The next batter hit a short popup on the infield. Though neither three of the Tigers’ best fielders were able to reach the pop to catch it, the umpire signaled for the infield fly rule. As usual, chaos ruled. The runner on first (the coach’s son) scampered to second, where he stood with his teammate (the other coach’s son). With everyone at the park screaming, the ball was thrown home to the catcher, one of the Tigers best players.

The dad hollered for the catcher to throw to the first-baseman, another decent fielder. By rule, doubling the runner off first would end the inning. Plus, you want players to execute, to try to make the play. In youth baseball, sins of commission are better than sins of omission. With this I wholeheartedly agree. But having watched the Tigers all season (as well as another twelve years of Rec Ball), I knew what could happen should the catcher make that throw.

Sure enough, the catcher’s throw sailed over the first-baseman’s head. The runners from second and third took off as soon as the ball left the catcher’s hand, and both scored easily. The next batter struck out on three pitches, ending the inning. This was no surprise. In games against the Tigers so far this fall this batter was 0-6, with five strikeouts. Instead of being leading by one run, the Nats led by three.

The Tigers went on to score two more runs, to the Nats one. The game would’ve been tied going to the bottom of the last inning, with the bottom half of the Nats order due to bat. Against the Tigers’ best pitcher, had my plan been followed.

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