On Shady Umpires, Sweat, and Raising Boys.

“If you want to win, you must be good enough to beat the refs”

Jimmy Miller

This past week, I traveled with my family to the state playoffs of 12U baseball to watch my middle kid compete with his friends. Spoiler alert: it was a blast. This group of 12 kids, 3 coaches, and 30-something family members became like a little family over our time there.

The last game we played was against the home team. I’m not typically your “blame the umps” kind of guy, but what we saw on that field was blatant:

  1. The strike zone fluctuated in size dramatically based on the pitcher’s jersey color, to a point that would be funny, if it wasn’t so unfair.
  2. There were several controversial or close calls, and none (not even one!) of them broke our direction.
  3. As the game wore on, it became more and more clear to us that the umps were here for their home team.

The one controversial call that broke our direction was overturned, by an ump 60+ feet further away from the action, and only after the home team coach complained. I’ve never seen a call overturned in such a fashion.

By the time the lopsided affair ended, our parents (myself included) had been whipped into a frenzy. I’m not proud of the things I (and my friends) said while wearing shirts with our county emblazoned front and back.

We were livid. These people were cheating our kids out of a win.

Except, in retrospect, even if they did it still doesn’t justify blaming them for the loss.

Were there bad calls? Yes. Absolutely. Egregiously so, and I legitimately hope that the organization that hired those umps takes a long look at the replays, and ensures those things don’t happen again.

But our team, instead of moving on to the next play, joined in the example set by their parents (again, myself included) in grumbling. The more calls went against us, the louder the parents got, and the tighter their kids played. No middle schooler plays loose when their 40-something-year-old dad is flailing around on the other side of the chainlink yelling about how life isn’t fair.

At the end of the day, our kids didn’t make enough plays to make the umpires irrelevant. The other team bunted their way to victory, banking on the fact that we would not come up with a way to stop the bunt (we didn’t until it was too late), and that we’d play tight when things started to go badly (we’ve never played tighter, or swung the bats worse!).

Before you come for me, here’s my point: we’ve got an opportunity here to plant a flag in the collective memory of all of these boys. This group has a lot more baseball ahead of them (and even more LIFE ahead of that!). We can either be the team/town/community/county comprised of victims or the one that controls their own narrative.

In 20 years, none of these kids is going to show up at work having to master the defense for a bunt-heavy offense (any major league ballplayers excluded, but I don’t need to tell you the odds there). Not a single one of them will get picked for a promotion based on their 12U ball SC state championship ring. But every single one of them will be presented with opportunities (probably weekly for the next 20 years) to find someone else to blame when things go badly.

What a gift to be presented at 12 years old with a real case of “the umps were conspiring against us” so that we can all stand with them and point to the bigger picture. We’re not victims. We’re going to hold our heads up, clap for the other team, and get the next one.

We can’t control the umps. Even when it is true that it was not fair, the best thing we can take away from this situation is agency. We are in control. I’m not letting some dude wearing a chest guard underneath a blue polo shirt determine whether or not I hold my head up.

Life is not fair. People are going to cheat and steal and lie. Sooner or later that’ll catch up with them. As for me and my house, I’m going to control what I can control, and win the next play.

I’m so proud of these boys for getting to this tournament in the first place, and I can’t wait to watch them grow into men who take responsibility, win or lose.