It's springtime again in Butler, Indiana. On a humid night I can hear the call of the umpire wafting across the railroad tracks as little leaguers stare knock-kneed at their classmates firing baseballs in their general direction.
My son is playing again this year - had a big hit the other night in fact. I am umpiring, too. That seems only fair as many times as I've hollered at the guys in blue over the years. Simply put, we spend a lot of time at Hathaway Park.
Last night I attended my friend Scott's game. He is the coach of the Butler Angels. His son, Tristan, is their shortstop. They were playing a team from another town. I arrived late. The home team was at bat. As I was pedaling my bike toward the diamond, I was surprised at the unusually loud noise coming from the park. The 'hey batta batta" seemed particularly strong.
Parking my bike, I discovered why. The kids in their blue unies out on defense were doing their best impersonation of Ferris Bueler's classic "swing batta." But so were the parents. And the parent's sisters, brothers, cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents. I think I even saw a Schwann's man getting into it.
The Butler parents were disturbed by this. My buddy's wife was about to go off. She told me, "Go say something to them!" Sure, you know me, Mr. Non-confrontational.
I walked over among the hollering hoard and leaned against the backstop. The ring leader looked to be about seventeen. He was doing his best impersonation of an up-and-coming meth dealer - silver chain with a dollar sign medallion, straight-brimmed Yankee hat on cock-eyed, shirt down to his knees. You've probably seen him before hanging out at the corner stop-and-rob looking for chicks with driver's licenses.
I stood taking it all in for several minutes. A mother ambled over my way and leaned into the backstop because, apparently, yelling at someone else's kid from twenty feet away wasn't nearly effective enough. I smiled at her. She smiled back. "I've never seen anything like this," I said. "Really?" she responded. "No, this is a first for me." "You mean this is your first baseball game?" "No, I've been coming to little league games for twenty years." I had her hooked. Now she was interested.
Her brow was knotted in curiosity. "What then?" "Well," I said with a smile, "I've just never been to a baseball game where the fans heckled ten and eleven year-olds. I mean, I've heard adults yell at umpires, and coaches, but I've never actually seen grown people scream at someone else's little boy to strike out." (I was still smiling, by the way.)
"We like to support our kids," she ventured cautiously. "I think that's great, but why does supporting your kid mean tearing down another?" As if in answer to my question she tossed her head back to indicate the howling mob, "But they're all my family."
Okay. . .
"See the little guy out there at second? He's my son and we're all here to support him." I smiled again. "I think that's great. I'm sure he appreciates it."
The inning ended and I jogged to center field to turn the lights on.
Our team came to bat the next inning and put up four runs. The heckling stopped. What common sense and casual cajoling couldn't accomplish the scoreboard finally did.