When I turned the calendar page to July this week, I had mixed emotions.
On one hand, I was shocked at how quickly June had slipped away, without so much as even turning on the sprinkler or reading even one book while sitting in a lawn chair in the driveway because the weather was just perfect.
On the other hand, July means the end of the mad dash that is parenting through the Little League and elementary softball seasons. Playoffs have started for Little League and the softball season is likewise wrapping up. Who'll join me in a whoo-hoo?
Don't get me wrong, I have enjoyed watching my children and their teams play ball. There is really nothing better than sitting in the late afternoon sun, watching an 8-year-old get her first hit in a game that isn't against her aunts, uncles and cousins. And I don't know who was happier when my son helped turn a double play -- him or his parents.
But that's not saying every game has been fun to watch. There have been the nights when we're on the losing end of a 22-3 score, when the wild pitch ended up leaving a bruise, or when the coach never did remember that someone else wanted to pitch. But that is what the game is about, learning to win fairly, lose gracefully, sportsmanship, team spirit and playing by the rules.
Of course, that's where I really struggle -- the rules. I was not an athlete in my younger days. Yes, I was on my high school basketball team, but mostly to provide live entertainment on the team bus. I had neither the natural ability nor the burning desire to be any better than I was.
So, my knowledge of baseball and softball is pretty limited. To borrow a line from the minor league coach in the movie, "Bull Durham," "This is a simple game: You throw the ball, you hit the ball, you catch the ball." That would be the extent of what I know for rules.
Yet it would seem there are a great many spectators who know a great many more rules. And they are willing to share all they know with coaches, umpires, spectators, God and everyone in between. Now, while I don't mind learning something new -- and like I said there's much I don't know -- some folks really seem to have lost their ability to maintain a balance between fun and competition. The very folks who are telling their children to go out and have fun, are yelling at them from the sidelines or arguing with the umpire.
Here's what I think: The umpire's job is to make the call and according to the rules in the handbook, that ruling is final. Final. Anyone who disagrees with the ump's call ought to be willing to take over for them. Give Community Ed a call and sign up to stand behind inexperienced batters and in the line of fire for young pitchers only to have your backside chewed by the spectators.
Let's be real: How many of these kids are really going to be suiting up for the Minnesota Twins when they grow up? So why are we acting like this is the last out of the seventh game in the World Series?
Now, this isn't unique to Little League and elementary softball. Just last week, the Morris Area school board discussed a proposal to penalize student-athletes because of the actions of parents. Wow, that's a sad commentary on us parents, isn't it?
Maybe we need to spend a little more time watching the kids. Even after the most lopsided loss, they recover and move on. Sure, sometimes that does require a treat from Dairy Queen or some kind words from your friends, but the kids don't talk about it anywhere near as long as the adults do.
So, as the playoffs begin, let's try to remember this is baseball and softball, not hardball, and as fans, we just need to lighten up.