Well, football is next – finally.
This summer has been my first in-depth coverage of Little League baseball in a number of years. It began with the heart-stopping Sac-Joaquin Section title won by Manteca High – we started Little League coverage shortly thereafter – and ended this week with the Northgate 9/10 Year-Old Little League Section 6 All-Star Tournament in Valley Springs.
First we had the league tournaments – for Northgate and Spreckels Park, at least. Unfortunately, Manteca has its league tournament the final week of our high school calendar, and there are only so many places we can be at one time.
Then came the Tournaments of Champions, followed by the All-Star Tournaments. Spreckels Park had three champions emerge from the District 67 tournaments – majors, juniors and seniors and Northgate advanced in the 9/10 year-old division. The Spreckels Park seniors won the District banner and the juniors the District and Section banners while Northgate took the District flag.
That was a lot of baseball to digest – a lot. And the vast majority of the experiences were pleasant, but when the knuckleheads surfaced, they surfaced in a big way.
The most egregious conduct occurred when Spreckels Park played for the District 67 championship with Tracy National in Tracy. The two teams had already met in the tournament twice, splitting their contests to force a winner-take-all finale.
It was obvious these two teams did not like each other. During the final game, both teams were guilty of what I call procedural bickering where rules are used to further an agenda that should be furthered on the field. Both teams were shot down in their attempts, and that was just fine with me.
When the dust settled, Spreckels Park won. It is customary when a team is eliminated – be it in a consolation contest or the final game of the tournament – that both teams line up and in the consolation game the eliminated team receives pins and after the championship game both teams get pins.
I guess Tracy National did not get the memo.
They refused to take the pins. “Just give us the bag full,” was heard from their dugout. Undaunted, Spreckels Park continued their celebration – and then things got really dicey.
The Spreckels Park parents had set up a limousine to take their kids back to Manteca. Win or lose, it was in celebration of a great season but winning made the ride that much better. Now some would say it was a little over the top – and I reckon I would fall into that category – but in the words of the great Bob Dylan, “The times they are a changin’.
I did not witness what happened next, but multiple parents recounted the incident to me with little variance in the renditions. From what was relayed to me, a car pulled up in front of the Spreckels Park players, the passenger windowed rolled down, the horn honked and the driver – a parent from the other team with her son in the car – gave the Spreckels Park players and parents the universal middle-finger salute.
What an example that woman set for her child.
In the consolation finals for Northgate in its Section tournament, Northgate was leading by 10 runs in the bottom of the fourth inning. If the inning ended with that score, the mercy rule would be invoked and the game would be over.
Linden had one run across, runners on second and third with two out and its cleanup batter coming to the plate. The batter swung at two pitches in the dirt and missed, and his coach – who had no problem dissecting the inadequacies of the other players the whole game – was encouraging the kid to stay aggressive when he should have been told to relax and focus a bit.
In comes another pitch in the dirt that gets away from the catcher. There was a check swing, and the runner galloped home to take the mercy rule off the table. The catcher appealed to first on the check swing, and the first-base ump made the right call – strike three, game over.
The Linden coach was furious. He was griping about the fact that “You can’t end a game like this on a call like that.”
Yes coach, you can. Maybe had you done your job on those first two golf swings, the batter wouldn’t have been so quick with the trigger on that third one.
More on coaching in my next column.
Let me close by saying thanks – thanks to Manteca High baseball for the thrilling ride to close out the school year, thanks to the local Little Leagues for exciting summer journey which sadly ended with losses, because unless you go all the way, your last game will be a loss.
But even though that loss will be tough to swallow for a long time, there are plenty of teams out there that would love to be feeling that pain today and never had a chance to do so.
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