August 21, 2006


What would you do?

The Yankees-Red Sox rivalry was taken to new heights earlier this summer. And this incident had nothing to do with pro baseball. Instead, this was a ten-year-old PONY baseball league in Utah, and the two teams in the championship game were named the Yankees and the Red Sox. It was the bottom of the sixth (last) inning, and there was a runner on third and two outs. The Sox's best hitter is up, a slugger who has already hit a triple and a homer in the game. So the Yankees intentionally walk him to pitch to a kid named Romney, the worst hitter on the Red Sox team. Romney strikes out on three pitches, and the Yankees are the league champions.

How does this story warrent national attention? Romney was diagnosed with cancer at age 4, and despite surviving he still has to wear a helmet while playing the outfield because any injury could be life-threatening. After this unfortunate end to the game, the coaching staffs almost came to blows, they were so angry. The small town of Bountiful became deeply divided, and it became enough of a national story that Rick Reilly wrote about it in the August 14th issue of Sports Illustrated. Here's another online article about the story, and you can also see what America thinks on the topic.

So, was this a disgraceful symbol of the win-at-all-costs mentality that defines our nation? Or was this simply a manager trying to act in the best interest of his kids, with the result blown out of proportion by our politically correct media?

I'm going to take the less popular side on this debate and lean towards the latter option. Now, I'm only 15 years old, and I obviously have no children of my own. And I have never known anyone who has gone through cancer treatment, and I hopefully never will. But most of the adults I've talked to agree with me, so I don't think I'm completely out of line here.

If you say that they should have pitched to the slugger and avoided pitching to Rodney, where do you draw the line? If you're at bat and you hit the ball to him, do you refuse to take the extra base? What happens if you pitch to the slugger, but walk him anyways? What then?

It seems to me, for someone like Rodney who has already been through so much, that he would spend a lot of his life trying to be treated like a normal kid. What would they have done if Rodney hadn't gone through cancer? They would have walked the slugger. So I don't think he should be treated specially in this case, because he will already be trying to become like everybody else.

For his part, Reilly took the other side in his column, saying that this was a disgraceful move by the Yankees coach. In one specifically pointed paragraph, he says, "What the Yankees' coaches did was make it about them, not the kids. It became their medal to pin on their pecs and show off at their barbecues. And if a fragile kid got stomped on the way, well, that's baseball. We see it all over the country - the overcaffeinated coach who watches too much SportsCenter and needs to win far more than the kids..."

But there is where I think Reilly is most wrong. What Reilly doesn't realize is that, in 99% of the leagues around the country, it's the kids who want to win more than anybody else. Sure, we hear about the exceptions all the time - the coaches who get thrown out of a Little League game for arguing a call, the parents who come to blows in the stands over something happening on the field. But those are exceptions, and those are very rare. In our 6-year-old coach-pitch league, there was no scorebook, because it was just supposed to be for fun. So what did we do? We kept score by ourselves. (We won all but one game, at least by our count.) If you had asked the kids what they wanted to do, they probably would have wanted to do whatever they could to win the game.

The other point that people will bring up is that it's just a "fun" (a.k.a. noncompetitive) league - there's a four-run limit per inning, and everybody in the lineup hits. But, if there's a championship game, doesn't that mean by definition that there's at least some sort of competition? It's obviously sad for Romney that he was the one to end the game. But let's not send flaming hate mail to the Yankees coach. (Unless you're talking about Joe Torre. That might be okay.)

What was Romney's reaction? He was understandably upset that day - he apparently cried himself to sleep. But he woke up the next morning with one goal in mind: He was going to get better, so that next year they would be walking him.

(The other thing I'm kind of wondering about is why Romney was hitting right after the team's best hitter. It doesn't matter at all to the story, but I thought it was kind of weird.)

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