Rules Are Rules, But …

Imagine if this scenario took place in a major league baseball game:

The Cubs are trailing 8–7 … bottom of the 9th inning … two out, but the tying run is on third base. The opposing team is doing everything it can do to “accidentally” slow the game down. And then the umpire yells “Time” — not for timeout, but because the game clock has run out. And the game ends there.

How bad a taste would that leave in your mouth?

Now, imagine the same scenario — but there was one more pitch in the game. It’s a wild pitch … the ball goes to the backstop … the tying run scampers home. And now the umpire yells “Time” — again, because the game clock has run out. The score is tied 8–8, but the Cubs were trailing 8–7 when the inning started. Because they were trailing entering the inning, the score reverts back. So they lose by a run.

Now, how bad a taste would that leave in your mouth?

Well, I witnessed the first scenario take place on Sunday — and scenario No. 2 was literally one pitch away.

And I don’t get it.

This passage was in the rules for a softball tournament my kids played in this weekend:

Elimination Play — No new inning will start after 1 hour and 10 minutes. Drop dead at 1 hour 20 minutes, if inning is not complete, score reverts to last full inning, if home team is winning, inning doesn’t need to be completed. If the game is still tied after the inning has been completed, International Tie Breaker rules will apply until the outcome of the game is determined.

B) If an umpire determines that a team is intentionally delaying the game or there is an injury, time may be added to the clock. The amount of time added will be up to the discretion of the umpire.

Before I go on, please know that I’m not blaming the tournament my kids played in — as this cut-and-paste is probably used in thousands of tournaments each year. But I do blame the person or persons who initially wrote this rule without thinking of the consequences.

And honestly, I don’t blame the coaching staff from the other team. I can’t tell them they’re wrong when they played by the rules of the tournament.

And I won’t blame the umpire. It’s hard to determine what’s intentional and what’s not. I can think intentional — but I can’t prove it.

I’ll say this, which may come as a shock to many parents of 12-year-old athletes — but you’re 12 year olds are NOT professional athletes. Someday … maybe. But in 2016 — they’re not.

And my kids are 12 years old. They play travel softball and travel soccer and travel basketball — and have for years. We’re not a family of newbies when it comes to travel sports.

But soccer and basketball are timed sports. When you have a lead, part of strategy dictates you do everything you can to keep the clock moving.

Softball (and baseball) are sports where no lead should be considered safe; that’s the essence of what makes them special.

So my question is … Who created a rule that actually encourages coaches to delay a game as an “accident” in order to win? In essence, who created a rule that actually encourages coaches to cheat?

Look, I’m not writing this because my girls’ team lost a game. You learn much more from losing than you ever do from winning. And no, I’m not saying that because of all the time I spent with a certain major league team — so get that thought out of your head.

The softball team had trailed 8–0 — and clawed back to make it a one-run game. The teamwork and resiliency and cheering each other on will pay dividends down the road as they go from tournament to tournament. Losing a tough game creates plenty of teachable moments: We need to work on this … we need to improve on that … we need to tighten up the defense.

So on Elimination Sunday in a tournament, why is a “drop dead” time of game the big determinant? Why are kids taught by their coaches and parents to untie their shoes so they have to go to the plate and call “time” and re-tie them — a great 30–60 second stalling tactic? Why are new catchers brought into a game when the game is “on the clock,” so that you have to wait until they get their equipment on and effectively slowing down the game? Why are coaches holding their players back for an extra 30-second team huddle before sending them out — when they weren’t doing that earlier in the game?

In soccer, I get it. Timed game. One goal lead, kick the ball as far as possible out of bounds and hope a parent from the other team doesn’t run it down. It’s a timed game.

In basketball, I get it. Play “keep away” with the ball and hope the refs don’t call every foul and keep the game moving.

But in softball and baseball tournaments, why change the rules? What does proving you can stall better demonstrate to anyone?

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Chuck Wasserstrom is a freelance writer specializing in human interest storytelling and feature writing. Chuck is a 25-year industry veteran with two decades of marketing and business experience in Chicago. Chuck’s online portfolio can be found at www.chuckwasserstrom.com. His storytelling site is aptly named www.chuckblogerstrom.com — and this article originally ran on that site.

Chuck can be reached at: chuckwasserstrom@chuckwasserstrom.com