My Pitch

New season, same issues

Posted

We are finally through the early stages of the spring sports season, and a few items have come to mind in the past couple of weeks that I believe are worth circling back to.

I usually try to avoid rehashing old topics, especially like some of the ones that I will be touching on that seem to be on the forefront of many conversations … however, once in awhile they are worth circling back to considering the impact they make on the community, as well as how regularly we deal with them.

The first item that was recently brought back up is the number of local umpires and officials here in Rhode Island. It’s of course, a problem throughout the entire county, but let’s focus on our own backyard for a minute.

Last week, the Bishop Hendricken and Johnston baseball teams were scheduled to face each other for a Division I battle. Although it was early in the regular season, there was still plenty on the line as these are two clubs that have championship aspirations, and could very likely make deep runs simultaneously in June.

The game was scheduled for Tuesday but was called off … not because of weather though, but because of the lack of umpires.

Now I don’t know the ins and outs of how it all went down. I’m not sure if there was a team of officials slated to call the game but bailed, or if the game was scheduled without a set crew, I’m not sure exactly. Either way though, the fact that there weren’t enough officials to make a baseball game work is unbelievable to me.

This was the first time that I have ever heard of that happening on the high school level. There were times when I was in little league and we needed a parent to step in to help, there were times were the refs would be undermanned but just had to do more work, but I have never seen a high school game be called off because they could not find enough officials.

My first reaction to the news was disgust. How could this happen? Whose fault is this? Is the league really this disorganized?

As I was trying to sort it out in my head, it brought me back to a column I wrote around this time last season regarding this same exact topic, and it made me realize that it is no one’s fault, it’s just the unfortunate way things are nowadays. And now, a year later, it seems like this is going to continue to be an issue that needs to be addressed going forward.

Last year, I referred to the lack of umpires as a “situation,” and as a “problem.” Now, after seeing what happened to these two teams last week, as well as a handful of minor issues over the past few months, I believe the best word used to describe this ordeal is now a crisis. That’s what this has become, a crisis.

Like last year, I believe the root of this problem comes from the interaction between fans, coaches and athletes and the on-field officials. We’re all human, and none of us like criticism, so to take a part-time job that doesn’t pay great, that involves guaranteed criticism, it’s a hard sell for most people.

Unfortunately, humans are not going to change. Umpires will never be open to condemnation, and many fans will never be willing to hide their disapproval. Personally, I think unruly fans should have a short leash and should be removed from events when they take it too far. I even feel the same way about athletes, if an athlete gets in the ref’s face, then it’s time to be removed. Coaches should be the only ones that speak to an official, and it seems like that idea is far from what the reality has become.

Until these rules and limits are enforced more strictly, I don’t see an end to this issue. The only other incentive that I think could draw more officials would be a higher pay, but that is a discussion that never ends well. I said it last year and I’ll say it again … we as fans now need to consider solutions to this problem, because many of us are the cause of it.

The second topic is weather. I know, I know, we hear and talk about weather every day. We can’t control it, it is what it is, but once again, we are facing another spring filled with cancellations and postponements.

Many high school teams have already had their schedules ripped apart, and many local Little Leagues have been forced to scrap their opening day ceremonies altogether. The last time I discussed this topic, the solutions that I offered centered around league websites and media platforms being more up-to-date. Now though, I believe there is only one solution that works for the spring season: start things later.

Rain is rain, and it will always fall. But the rain isn’t the only issue that these schools and fields face. When these leagues begin in the first week of April, there are times when snow is still on the ground. Even without snow, the ground is still recovering from the winter, it’s still soft, muddy, torn apart. Apart from field conditions, it’s also windy, cold, teams sometimes have to battle sundown, the first half of April is always a crapshoot.

In my opinion, this week should be the start of spring sports at both the high school and youth levels. These fields do not get the attention needed to endure an early-April start, and that’s once again no one’s fault … there are countless fields across the country and just too much ground to cover. Therefore, lets’ start a couple weeks later. If we have to cut back on the amount of regular season games, or push the season back an extra week or two in June/July, so be it.

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