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Time limit useful in Monday night pinch

Sports Commentary By Jerry Hinnen / Sports Editor

All the arguments against time limits in youth baseball sound so nice, don’t they?

Games should all contain the same number of outs. Umpires shouldn’t have to worry about what their watch says when they’re already worrying about balls, strikes, outs in an inning, the score, and whether the concession stand still has any cheeseburgers left. Coaches shouldn’t have to grit their teeth if they’re behind and an opposing batter just wants to make extra-double-super sure that his batting gloves are on right before stepping to the plate.

The best argument against time limits is simple: the players don’t like them. (I’m sure there are players out there somewhere who do, yes, but I’m sure there’s still endangered Alabama beach mouses roaming around Baldwin County, too. Point is, I don’t expect to see either anytime soon.)

Who can blame them? Would you like feeling like the game wasn’t won or lost by who played better, but by the fact that the opposing pitcher threw to first so often you’d have thought Rickey Henderson was over there taking a lead? Would you like falling behind and standing in the on-deck circle thinking not about what the pitcher was throwing or tweaking your stance, but about getting into the batter’s box so fast you looked like a home video on fast forward?

Of course not. The bottom line is that time limits introduce an element into the game that has nothing to do with the sport of baseball and everything to do with, well, not playing anymore baseball today.

But there’s always something waiting underneath even a “bottom” line, and in this case what’s waiting is last Monday night’s Babe Ruth League twin bill between Greene County Steam Plant and New Era Cap Company, the teams with the two longest names in the league. After covering their match-up Monday and coming home to the sounds of birds chirping*, I don’t think it’s coincidence.

I’m not suggesting it’s anyone’s fault, least of all the players, who are just going out and playing the game and don’t deserve to have to worry about things like 6 a.m. wake-up calls when it’s the middle of June. (Or, of course, what smart-aleck sports editors are going to think.)

But nonetheless, here’s a little running timeline (some times approximate) of Monday night:

6:02-First pitch of the first game, which picks up in the top of the fourth inning after play was suspended by rain June 2. In retrospect, maybe they should have just played through. Swimming from base to base would have been fun, right?

6:40-New Era comes to the plate in the bottom of the sixth up 7-6.

7:25-New Era heads to the top of the seventh up 15-6.

Yep, eight very long runs. But not, naturally, the 16th run that would have activated the mercy rule. The Greene County pitchers struggled with their control this inning, but they weren’t helped by a strike zone that seemed a tad on the small side. I’m all for Rules-very useful, as a rule–but ya know, when a team’s down seven with one at-bat left, I think the Earth’ll keep spinning if you start calling the inside corner.

7:39-Game over. Teams take a break while I head back to the office to finish something up before deadline.

8:45-I come back. New Era’s up 4-0…

9:07–…they’re up 6-0…

9:31–…they’re up 6-4…

9:42–…they’re up 7-4…

9:52–…they’re up 7-5 after a Greene County run. Hmm…I guess I might miss the start of SportsCenter, but surely they’re in the fifth or sixth by now, so if a good closer comes in…

“Hey, what inning is this?” I ask the guy keeping the book.

“Bottom of the third,” he says. Oh.

Well, then. Better get a Slush Puppie while the concession’s open…I think I’ll need the sugar.

10:01-The biggest problem is that the field is still wetter than a Slip N’ Slide with an extra hose attached. Every ball that touches the grass has to be swapped out. Every time a bat’s tossed down, the next batter has to wipe enough dirt on the grip that I’m sure ants could start living there.

10:06-Bottom of the fourth. Batter steps out of the box.

10:08-New batter steps out. Funny, I don’t remember that ever making me want to set my hair on fire before.

10:14-Greene County closes the gap to 8-6. A veteran Dixie Youth official I spoke to earlier says he once came home from an evening shift just in time to get a call that a Dixie Youth game had gone into the twentieth inning and was still going. I’m desperately trying to shake the feeling this was some kind of dark prophecy.

10:33-Both halves of the fifth are three up, three down! I know I’ve seen more compelling evidence that God exists, but I’m having a hard time recalling what it is just at the moment.

10:36-Pitcher steps off the rubber. Quick pang of sympathy for the parents who have been here since 5:30 or so, even if their camping chairs look about one hundred times more comfortable than my bleachers. I’m wondering how many “I Survived Greene County Vs. New Era” t-shirts I could sell.

10:43-Bottom of the sixth. “Balls in,” says the ump. The two most beautiful words in the entire English language, I swear.

10:48-New Era brings in a new pitcher with runner on. I guess he doesn’t really throw 347 warm-up pitches before the game starts again. But it’s hard to tell.

11:05-Greene County has taken an 11-8 lead into the top of the seventh. It’s now past the witching hour in the Eastern time zone, so maybe it’s appropriate that the New Era bench starts in with the most bizarrely wonderful baseball chatter I can remember: a chorus of ghostlike “Wooooo…Wooooooo!”‘s that make it sound like they’re wearing bedsheets and walking around with bags of candy. In my head, I’m calling it the Haunted Dugout. God bless ’em.

11:11-High pop-up to left bloops in for a single before an intentional walk loads the bases. It suddenly occurs to me that with all of the checking of my watch and the gnashing of teeth, I’m missing what’s become a very, very good game of baseball.

11:15-New Era’s bench chatter has switched from the Haunted Dugout to the Chop. Oh well.

11:18-Strike two…

11:19-Strike three! It’s over! I try to restrain myself from doing a jig on the way to my car.

So, yeah, 11:19 on a Monday night. Time limit? Not if there was one game starting at 6. Not anytime, in theory. But sometimes, there’s a reason theories don’t work in practice.

*Admittedly, the birds outside my apartment aren’t all that smart.