Allow me to clue you all in on the competitive nature of Texas youth sports. Have you ever seen “Friday Night Lights” or “Varsity Blues”? Those movies aren’t fictionalizations or dramatizations of events, they are carbon-copy facsimiles of how things really do work in Texas athletics. Sure, you expect to find people jockeying for position and wins at the high school and collegiate levels, but what’s truly surprising is how deep it goes. For example, 5YO plays soccer in a league that doesn’t even allow goalie play. Do you realize that even at the 5 year old level, coaches are constantly on the lookout for the best players, and when they find ’em, they horde them like a warlord sitting on a pile of gold and whores. Or golden whores. In fact, there’s something called the Freeze Rule that permits this very thing.

The Freeze Rule basically gives coaches with existing teams the ability to designate certain players as undraftable, meaning that when the player draft occurs, those players are not available for selection by other teams. On the surface, it doesn’t sound horrible…if you’ve worked hard to cultivate talent, and you know the strengths and weaknesses of your players, you’d naturally want to continue their development, particularly if you’ve been winning with them. The problem, though, is that teams were allowed to freeze their entire rosters, effectively eliminating competition for the good players. And if that weren’t bad enough, this season there were more players than available coaches, so the league created two expansion teams to accommodate the overflow (because you know good and damn well that they weren’t about to turn down the $65 per kid just because there weren’t enough coaches). My team was one of the expansion teams. Now, class – does anyone see the problem with (a) the freeze rule being in effect, and (b) my team being a brand-new team? Anyone? Bueller? It means that we had to pick our team entirely from the draft (which is as it should be), but without having skilled and experienced players available to select from. And while our kids are great guys, we’ve come to realize after 4 games that we got the crumbs, not the entrees. The smallest player on any team we’ve seen is only as small as the median player on ours. Some of our kids look like smurfs out there, compared to the giant kids on other squads. And skill-wise? I watched one catcher jump up from a squatting position and fire the ball on a rope to 2nd base. Our catcher? I’m thrilled if the ball makes it to the pitcher in less than 3 bounces. I’m not dogging on him…I’m just pointing out the disparity in player skill that we’re forced to deal with.

Game 4. Coach F (who is now the head coach – long story) was unavailable for this game, so someone had to step up and be the interim head coach. Someone. Hmm…who is the least qualified person to do this monumental task? Why, let’s get Coach Damian to do it! He won’t say no! And he didn’t. I got roped in yet AGAIN, because I’m a sap. The United Negro College Fund ought to just install a permanent remote station at my front door. For some reason, I had the bubbleguts all day. I was nervous…worried about the game, worried that I wouldn’t know how to manage my roster, worried about my level of knowledge about pitching, worried about dealing with the umpires. That last item proved to be the main thing I had to be concerned with, because when I got to the game that night, I discovered two things very quickly:

  1. There was only going to be one umpire for the game, and he was 16 years old
  2. I’ve forgotten more about the rules of baseball than he’s ever learned

He came up to me, voice cracking like that ubiquitous teenager on “The Simpsons”, and said “It’s just gonna be me tonight, coach. We’ll try to work together, ok?” I gave him the fisheye, but shook his hand and figured we’d work together. That plan evaporated almost immediately, when a batter on the other team hit the ball directly to our 2nd baseman, who smartly tagged the runner going from 1st base to 2nd base, then threw the ball to 1st base. Double play! YEAH BABY! But Peach Fuzz Ump, in his infinite wisdom, jumped up and said “SAFE!” on both plays. Prior to this, I thought I’d have a problem going out and defending my kids, mostly because I’m just really laid back by nature. But when this happened, I could feel the black bile of anger replacing the bad case of nerves in my bubbling belly. I yelled “BLUE!” (Apparently, all coaches call all umpires “Blue”. I learned that in Game 3.) “He tagged him clean!” And Baby Blue said no, he missed. Never mind the fact that the baserunner who got tagged actually was physically repositioned by the tag (meaning the 2nd baseman pushed him with his glove, confirming that he made actual contact). This call was followed soon by him calling a ball on a kid who swung on a pitch, albeit 3 seconds after it hit the catcher’s glove. When I nearly popped a blood vessel over that, he called the next pitch a strike…even though the batter did the exact same thing. Inconsistent much? My assistant coaches were damn-near apoplectic (I link because I love) with rage and outrage (but strangely, no inrage or road rage), and I had to calm them down just so we could get through this debacle without a myocardial infarction. Man, I’m lousy with the $5 words today, aren’t I?

In the end, we lost 6-0, and although it wasn’t the ump’s fault entirely, he sure as shit didn’t help matters. In fact, on a couple of calls, the OTHER team’s coaches kinda cocked their heads to the side as if to say “…really? Damn, okay, we’ll take it.” Add that to the fact that instead of two umpires (one behind the plate, one in shallow centerfield), we only had Mr. Similac Breath there to decide important matters like “If the pitch is at or above the player’s forehead, is it a ball or a strike?” The parents for our team got on him so bad that he finally called in reinforcements in the form of…another umpire. Why THIS guy couldn’t’ve been there the whole game, I do not know. What I do know is that once again, we got bent over and dealt with in a way most foul, and with us already being at a disadvantage due to ye olde Freeze Rule. Some of the kids were crying during and after game, partly because of the familiar feeling of losing, and partly because they messed up and they knew it. We’re hoping that we can break through, finally find something for them to latch onto and use for hope. All this losing…it wears on you. I learned why coaches have ulcers and thinning hair; why they only sleep 3-4 hours at night; why they look like Atlas, holding the world on their shoulders. As a coach, you have all the responsibility for the outcome, with none of the ability to actively participate in the game. And things like The Freeze Rule don’t help. We’ll keep finding things to build on, and hopefully the boys can find a way to win. At 0-4, they deserve it.

ELATION EDIT: Okay, I wrote this post after the game on Tuesday. We had another game on Friday. We won!!!

Sorta.

See, the games have either a 4 inning or 1.5 hour limit, whichever comes first. If the game hasn’t concluded before the time limit, the umpire calls the game over, and the score rolls back to the previous inning’s score. We scored the only run in the game, in the 4th inning, and the game was called with only one out recorded in the bottom of the 4th, so they rolled the score back to 0-0. Stupid-ass rule, if you ask me. But the kids don’t know that. All they know is when the game was called, the scoreboard read 1-0 in favor of our team, and they burst into screaming and smiling and pure joy. We weren’t about to take that away from them. As far as they know, we won.

They won.

Peace.

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