Tuesday, July 15, 2008 | The march to Williamsport for the Little League World Series is underway, and that means a Little League season wouldn’t be complete without an incident involving outraged parents overreacting.
Unfortunately, such a chapter has played out in San Diego. It happened last week in Escondido at the District 31 championship game matching all-star teams from Escondido American and Encinitas.
At first glance, it sounds like a cruel twist of fate that possibly could have been overlooked to allow Encinitas to win the District 31 title and advance to the Section 6 Tournament taking place this week at Stonebrooke Fields in Vista.
But that’s at first glance. Veterans of Little League baseball say there is no controversy, even though the scene at Escondido’s Mountain View Park on Thursday night turned ugly. Little League officials at the game reputedly came close to calling the police to control the Encinitas parents.
Briefly, here’s what happened:
Escondido was leading 6-5 in the fifth inning when a player from Encinitas hit a ball over the fence that appeared to be a grand slam home run. Except the Encinitas runner coming home from third base, in his excitement, missed home plate.
Escondido American manager Loretta Barlow said her catcher told her the runner missed the plate, and she appealed to the umpire.
The umpires convened and ruled the runner did indeed miss the plate. The Encinitas runner was ruled out, and since it was the third out of the inning, the other runs didn’t count.
Escondido American’s 6-5 win was preserved, and Barlow’s appeal has made her public enemy No. 1 in Encinitas.
You want evidence? Just read the ugly comments posted on The North County Times website’s story about the game which question her sportsmanship.
My question: How much background do those parents complaining have in Little League baseball? Is it just the time their kid has played?
Maybe there should be a Little League rule no parent can complain until having completing a requisite number of hours working the snack bar.
When I first heard what happened, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. So I asked some veteran Little League officials. They say plays when an excited kid misses a base and is called out on appeal aren’t unusual.
In fact, they added, Little League fans routinely follow the footsteps of their opponents to spot such miscues.
Chris Routz, an Oceanside resident that is the Umpire-in-Chief for District 70 and who is working games in the Section 6 Tournament, has been a Little League umpire for 11 years.
“The situation of a kid missing a base doesn’t present itself that often, but when it does, you can’t blame the manager for the appeal,” Routz said. “The umpire has to call the runner out. At this level, it’s win or lose to have a chance to go to Willamsport.”
That’s the other side of the story. What was Barlow supposed to tell her players? The players know the rule and that an appeal is routine.
“I want to say, as a mother, I feel sad for the (Encinitas) kids,” Barlow said, “but as a manager I had to protect my players.”
Barlow, in her eighth year as a Little League manager, said it was the first time she’s asked for such an appeal.
Ironically, when Escondido American beat University City on Saturday in the Section 6 Tournament, the University City manager appealed that Escondido American’s Alberto Lopez missed third base on his home run trot. But Routz, who was working the game, ruled Lopez did touch the bag.
After Vista National beat Escondido American on Sunday, I asked Vista National manager Chris Houk for his reaction to the Escondido American-Encinitas affair.
“She did the right thing,” Houk said. “We’re in an all-star tournament situation, and the expectations are much higher. I would have done the same thing.”
In fact, Houk says he has a rule his players can’t high-five the first- or third-base coaches on their home run trot. It was implicated last year after a player high-fived the third-base coach, missed third and was called out on appeal.
You see, if this was a recreation game, it could have been overlooked. But if we’re going to allow television networks to make money off the Little League World Series and promote it into something bigger than it is, you can’t ask a manager to step aside and cost her kids that opportunity to keep chasing the Williamsport dream.
After all, San Diego’s North County is an area where it’s realistic for a team to believe it can get to Williamsport.
In 2001, Oceanside American advanced from this same Section 6 Tournament to win the Division 3 Tournament and then the South Region in San Bernardino for a ticket to Williamsport.
In 2005, Rancho Buena Vista matched Oceanside American and went on to place fourth in the World Series.
The other side of this story I find intriguing is Barlow’s presence in the middle of it. This should be considered a victory for Title IX sports. That’s the federal legislation signed in 1972 that mandated schools offer equal sports opportunities for boys and girls.
Barlow played softball and tennis at Orange Glen High School and continued her tennis career at Palomar College and Cal State Bakersfield. She understands sports and competition in a way most women a generation before Title IX didn’t have the opportunity learn.
In fact, kids these days are shocked to learn only 30-odd years ago in America, girls were barred from playing high school and college sports.
Barlow’s players view her as their manager n not as a woman who was supposed to feel sorry for the unfortunate circumstances that befell Encinitas’ kids.
“The only difference between me and the men who are managers is that I put color on my lips,” Barlow said.
I asked Barlow what her players would have said to her if she asked them to sacrifice a chance to advance to Williamsport.
“We’ll never know,” Barlow said, “because I wouldn’t let that happen.”
I say the overlooked part of this story is another victory for Title IX sports.
Tom Shanahan is voiceofsandiego.org‘s sports columnist. He is the media coordinator for the San Diego Hall of Champions and an occasional writer for Chargers.com. You can e-mail him at email@example.com. Or send a letter to the editor.