Yes, I was 1,000 miles away from the Maine American Legion baseball championship round Wednesday at Husson University.
Maybe it was a slow sports day in Central Kentucky (summer baseball is basically over, with “fall” sports well underway ahead of school opening later this week), but the Twitter blow-up about the pitch count brouhaha involving Oxford Hills icon Slicer and University of Maine-bound pitching ace Colton Carson was splendidly compelling.
In case you missed it, there was a discrepancy regarding the number of pitches Carson dealt during a complete-game win earlier in the week, piggybacked by some clear irregularities in the speed and manner with which Slicer was informed of the official total.
City hall always wins such battles, of course. So when Slicer made good on his promised plans to give Carson the ball in a one-and-done semifinal contest, both were ejected.
Rather than take the walk of shame and track the game on his smartphone from the concourse, Slicer snagged a sweet sight line from a conspicuous distance behind the foul pole. It was there he raised both arms heavenward in triumph after Bessey bagged an emotionally charged, 1-0 victory over a team representing Maine’s baseball Goliath, Bangor.
Naturally, not choosing to grab a seat in the grandstands led some to accuse Slicer of, you guessed it, grandstanding. Having known the recently inducted state hall of famer since his playing days, I can assure you the manager’s actions were scarcely about himself. He was sticking up for his player.
As a parent, Wednesday’s chain of events reinforced my conviction that if I had any more kids in high school and lived in that RSU, I’d be honored to have them suit up for Shane Slicer. He proved himself once again a champion and advocate for the young men in his charge.
Slicer was in the right here. And no matter whose pitch count was correct, Maine Legion baseball – an organization that’s about to go the way of the T-Rex, Circuit City and plastic straws – was in the wrong. The failure to adequately communicate a magic number with so much riding upon it is what caused this foolishness.
See, anybody who actually attends more than a half-dozen youth baseball games per year and understands the pace of play knew this would happen eventually. We weren’t sure when, but any time you establish dracionian rules and enforce them by the honor system until the playoffs, this is the inevitable conclusion.
Restricting the number of innings a kid can throw each week and/or requiring a set number of rest days between stints were adequate limits, even in this skittish, Teflon-bubble era of child rearing. But no. At some point a committee representing the baseball gods got together and decided that pitch counts were a more exact barometer to protect children from the adults.
‘Tis all well and good, until people actually have to track that number. More important than keeping the tally is keeping the benches apprised of the count in a way that doesn’t compromise the integrity of the game.
An official “clock,” such as the one that’s plain to see on the scoreboard at Bangor’s nearby Mansfield Complex, should be a requirement.
If your venue lacks this, it’s reasonable to have a volunteer with a two-way radio sitting next to each dugout. He or she would update the coach on the total between innings, and even between at-bats as each pitcher gets closer to the threshold. Announcements over a fickle sound system, with speakers typically pointed away from the field, are insufficient.
Surely you see the problem here. We’ve created extra, officious, unnecessary must-haves in an era when participation is down and good help is hard to find. And we’ve done it “for the kids,” only to see the enforcement royally screw over said kids.
We should digest this situation as an object lesson in being careful for what we wish. My native state has long been obsessed with erring on the side of caution and asking to have its lives more closely regulated in myriad areas. You probably noticed it in your tax bill, because real life is a zero-sum game.
This attitude is reflected year-round in sports, where any given day you can scroll a discussion board dedicated to Maine high school athletics and find people clamoring for a shot clock in basketball and instant replay in football, even though neither is normative nationwide.
It’s too much. These things cost time, and usually money. High school sports already lack sufficient qualified help, as evidenced by the alarming lack of varsity-ready officials in Maine. Booster budgets already are stretched to the gills. Asking for more people and gadgets under the illusion of improving the product is just asking for trouble, while also grossly misunderstanding the reason we play these games in the first place.
The adults failed Colton Carson and his teammates royally. Shane Slicer was willing to make a public spectacle of himself to deliver a crucial point and to stand up for what was right.
Far from being way out in left field, he’s clearly the hero in this unfortunate case.
* Kalle Oakes spent 27 years in the Sun-Journal sports department. He has been sports editor of the Georgetown (Kentucky) News-Graphic since July 2016. Stay in touch with him by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @oaksie72.