The tournament started today. There are two divisions, each with four teams. For the tournament, the lowest seed on each division is paired with the highest seed of the other division. Having lost all three games to this point, our 0-3 team had to play the other division's 2-0-1 team. Other than deciding who plays against whom, the previous games don't mean anything. From here on out, this is a standard single-elimination tournament.
Some of you may know that I've been a pretty active umpire for a while. I don't know how many games I've done in my career, but it might be over 200. As I mentioned last year, you would think I could refrain from giving the umpire dirty looks on called strikes, but I can't help myself.
Some of my umpire instincts come in handy, but some make me look silly. Like when I'm in the field at second base and our pitcher hits a batter, I can't stop myself from throwing my hands in the air to call time. Luckily, I haven't actually yelled "Time" across the field. Maybe people think I'm just a little strange and then forget about it. I hope so.
The other problem is that I always (and I do mean always) know where the ball is. I watch it like a hawk regardless of the game situation. When umpires lose the ball, all breaks loose on the diamond. Have you ever seen a play at second called by the home plate umpire because the field umpire was watching for a play at third? It happens.
Most of the time, watching the ball with laser-like intensity is a good thing as a player. But not when you are on base and you should be looking for the steal sign from your third base coach. It's a hard habit to break. I'm working on it but I missed two steal signs today.
On the positive side, I am always aware of the count and the game situation. Just like a player, an umpire always has to run scenarios through his head before each pitch. Thinking about forces, double-plays, and even infield-fly situations just comes naturally. I don't camp out at second base watching an outfield run after the ball because I don't want to obstruct the runner coming from first. (It also drives me crazy when someone calls this "interference". It is "obstruction" when a fielder not in the act of fielding impedes the progress of a runner. Thanks to Dave Miller, I know the rules better than most campers.)
Today, our team came alive! We didn't just win the game, we hit well and there were no errors. The final score against the previously undefeated team: 9-4. Our starting pitcher, Tommy Gerber, pitched the entire game and the opposing players never could figure out how to hit his pitches. Just like in Little League, this game is about throwing strikes and he did that in spades.
The other team's pitcher also pitched a complete game. His pitches were faster and a bit more predictable so we just got hit after hit. Depending on how they score it, I maybe went 2-3. One of those hits was my first quality line drive into left/center field. I still have my legs and speed which is either a tribute to Pilates or losing 25 pounds from last year, but I'll attribute it to both. One of the problems of always hitting the ball on the ground to third is that I have to sprint to first every at-bat. It was nice to have a relatively sedate run to first on my hit. Despite all the running, my legs feel good. I'm a little sore, but not the debilitating, can't walk type of sore.
We have a strong, young player, Aaron Finigan, who has had some monster hits in previous games. He is also a strong outfielder with a huge range that is sorely needed. We have an amazing shortstop, Steve Uesugi, who seems to handle everything that gets close to him. He and Aaron are probably the strongest bats on the team.
After my error in right field yesterday, I was looking to redeem myself. I had a great day at second, handling every grounder and popup that came my way. The bottom of the final inning we were trying to protect our lead and the home team had their top-of-the-lineup players coming to the plate. The first batter hit a hard grounder between me and first. It was a stretch, but I managed to reach it, fielded it cleanly and made a nice (and short) throw to first for the out.
I know that we are only adults pretending to play baseball, but during the games, it feels like more than that. As adults, it's really easy to forget that feeling of exhilaration that sports can bring. When was the last time you threw your hands into the air and yelled? It's pretty hard to do that in the office. The camaraderie that has developed between 14 strangers in just a few days is also a treat. We support each other. Nobody is mean. When one of our players is too sore to run, someone runs for him. One of our players can't play defense at all anymore, and he has taken up a much needed role as our first base coach. He is great at it and without him, we would be something less. Win or lose, we are all having fun.
I think that this feeling of exhilaration and camaraderie is one of the side benefits of coaching our kids' teams in the various sports. I'm not saying that we should relive our youth through our kids. I'm just suggesting that we treat their successes and challenges in sports as a gift. Our kids allow us to be part of their lives when we coach. Hopefully, we can all be good role models and make sure that sports is a positive force in their lives. This doesn't mean you have to win. Sometimes it is just celebrating the small successes. There are times when a good play to a 10 year old is way more important that the outcome of the game. One may become a lifetime memory and the other is often forgotten.
When we came off the field after a 3 up, 3 down bottom of the 7th inning (that's all we play) there were smiles, fist bumps and kudos flying everywhere. We went from 0-3 in the leadup to the tournament to 1-0 and in the Winner's Bracket.
And it felt great.