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For the Love of the Game

In 1999, Kevin Costner starred in a movie called For Love of the Game. At the time, the movie was generically specific for boys in baseball. If Little League International was to redo this film today, it would have a far reaching audience that includes all the female athletes that now participate in Little League’s programs.

In 1974, Little League Baseball expanded it’s horizons to include Softball. Since then, the program has grown from Little League and Senior League levels, to include Junior and Big League divisions. Under the leadership of Sara Thompson, who joined the organization in 2008 to spearhead the program, Softball is looking forward to a bright future in the Little League family.

It only stands to reason, that if we are recruiting young women to play and lead the program, and serve as coaches, teachers, auxiliary, and backers, we should also delve into our wealth of umpires to officiate in the softball program. But, there seems to be some misconceptions and misgivings by those that umpire baseball and are reluctant to offer their time and expertise to softball.

There are three main areas that seem to be the culprit to umpires. The first is the reluctance to learn the pitching rule and administer it. We must understand that mastering the pitching rule needs no more time than what we now spend in the rulebook. However, visualization could be an enormous help in gaining the confidence to want to umpire Softball. In fact, there is a good possibility that this year’s Little League Congress will include a mini-clinic on just softball pitching, the proper motion and the illegal motion and pitches. This may be invaluable if it can be taped and distributed to the regions for their future clinics and schools. Word on this will be forthcoming.

THE BASERUNNING RULE: For some reason, there is the thought that the base running rule in softball is complicated and too harsh. The rule is actually quite easy to enforce and less harsh than some of the situations encountered in Little League baseball.

The rule states that runners on base may not leave their bases until the ball reaches the batter (Little League Softball), or until the pitcher releases the ball (Junior, Senior and Big League Softball). If the runner does leave early, the ball is dead, the runner is out and all other runners return to their original bases.

Compare this rule with the next three Little League Baseball situations. In all instances, one or more runners will leave base early.

  1. The bases are loaded with one out. The batter hits a clean triple. Remember, the value of the hit is made by the umpire. In trying to stretch the hit into an “inside the park homerun,” the batter is put out at the plate. By rule, all bases are available, thus all runners must return to their original bases. NOT HARSH.
  2. Bases loaded, two outs. Batter hits another clean triple as determined by the umpire. Again, trying to stretch the hit into a home run, the batter is put out at the plate. By rule, that would be three outs, but since the bases are empty, even though the inning is over, runners are put back and no runs score.

In each case, the umpire is required to judge the value of the hit. This scorekeeping duty, in addition to balls and strikes, safes and outs, really puts additional pressure on the umpire.

  1. Bases loaded, no outs, batter shoots a base hit to right field. The right fielder misplays the ball and it goes between his legs. After retrieving the ball, the fielder overthrows the cutoff man, who picks up the ball and overthrows the catcher, everyone scores. Now, the umpire must come out, state that the hit was only a single and was followed by three errors, thus the batter gets first base only, all other runners advance only one base, and only one run scores. GOOD LUCK. I personally would rather have to say, you left early, the ball is dead, and you are out.

This brings us the third reason umpires shy away from Softball.

There is a mistaken notion that once you choose to umpire softball, you are relegated to only softball, and cannot advance in the baseball program. Nothing is farther from the truth. You only have to look back at those umpires who merited a Softball World Series, and followed it up a few years later with an appointment to a Little League baseball World Series. But, in the eyes of Little League International, all its World Series programs are of equal importance, and an appointment to any World Series is a major achievement.

If you limit yourself to just baseball, you are limiting your opportunity to be selected to just four World Series, or four Regional assignments. Including softball in your portfolio, adds four more World Series and regional opportunities.

Remember, Little League can only thank you for your dedication to the program by offering assignments to its Regional and World Series Tournaments. If you choose to limit yourself, the funnel is not wide at the top and very narrow at the bottom. Add Softball, and the funnel becomes wider to start and has a larger opening at the bottom.

I would like to leave you with this thought …

The only difference between the Little Leaguer, the Junior, Senior, and Big Leaguer, the Challenger player, the boys, and most emphatically the girls, is the size and style of their uniforms, NOT THE HEART THAT BEATS AND STRIVES INSIDE IT.

Mike 'Doc' Lantiere
East Region Assistant UIC