It was right after the Telstar softball team had lost a close regular season game at Georges Valley a few seasons ago.
The Buccaneer’s top hitter had come through with a clutch hit that helped beat the Rebels. During the postgame interview, I asked Jim Lunney if he had thought about walking that hitter? After all, there were two outs, and the Rebels chances of escaping the inning would have likely improved had the bat been taken out of that hitter’s hands.
The Telstar coach calmly deflected that strategy, saying “We don’t do that” or something to that effect.
Lunney was basically saying that he doesn’t coach like that. He wanted his pitcher to pitch. He wanted the hitter to hit. There was no taking the easy way out. He wanted to let the kids play and let them decide the outcome. It backfired, but I couldn’t help but admire his principles.
I thought of that again this week. I covered a tight Oak Hill softball game against Gardiner. With the score tied and the game on the line, Lauren Hall, the Raider’s top hitter, was walked intentionally. Rather than let her hit with runners on base, they took the bat out of her hands and put her on. It was the second time I’ve seen that happen to Hall, and I hated it both times.
Now don’t get me wrong. If I were the opposing coach in that situation, I would have intentionally walked her too. I’d put on any hitter of that caliber when they could easily produce a hit that could win the game. I’d feel cowardly doing it, but with the rules as they are and the option there, I’d feel like I had no choice.
But there is a choice. It was the one that Lunney had chosen. He didn’t have his pitcher throw fastballs right down the middle and challenge the Georges Valley hitter. His intent was to pitch around her and give her nothing to hit. He pretty much intended to walk her but made the kids have to execute it. His pitcher left one out over the plate, and the hitter took advantage. The kids played the game and determined the outcome. There was no relying on an easy out that took that option away.
I don’t expect the intentional walk to be taken out of the game. And as long as it is there, I really can’t blame coaches for utilizing it. It’s smart coaching. In this day and age, most coaches would be vilified if they chose not to intentionally walk a hitter and watched that choice backfire. I totally understand that the intentional walk isn’t going anywhere. I totally understand why it is utilized. But I still don’t have to like.