It’s a mad, mad, mad, mad, weekend

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 22, 2005

Here’s the math from last weekend: 9 area teams x 7 different tournaments + 5 different Alabama cities / 22 games = me wishing even harder than usual I had an Assistant Sports Editor. Or some kind of duplicating machine that could send an alternate Jerry to Gadsden while I drove to Alexander City.

But with no fake selves to order around, and not being the sort to mind plenty of time on the road, I undertook a noble quest to visit all five cities and check out as many of our area’s teams as I could. Saw plenty of baseball, plenty of softball, and unfortunately plenty of rain, too. Here’s some of the high- and low-lights of my weekend on the road:

THURSDAY: Tuscaloosa. Visited the campus of Tuscaloosa Academy to watch the team with the longest name in the world, the West Alabama American Legion Post 29 Junior Division baseball team, take on the team from Gordo. West Alabama took a 9-2 decision, thanks in large part to pitcher Randy Martin, who tossed a complete game 3-hitter despite not wearing socks. (Or, at least, not wearing socks high enough for anyone to see.) No word yet on whether his teammates call him “Sockless Joe” Martin or not, though.

FRIDAY: Childersburg. After braving rush hour traffic on Highway 280, the speed traps of Harpersville, a few quick showers, and directions from a gas station attendant with as firm a grasp on English as I have on Hungarian, I arrived at the Childersburg ball park for the West Alabama 14-year-old All-Stars’ game Friday evening several minutes late. Fortunately, they hadn’t started yet…no one was on the fields but the grounds crew, in fact it looked as though Demopolis and their fans aren’t even there yet…uh-oh…

“Sorry,” the lady at the admissions table tells me, “that game’s been postponed ’til tomorrow. We had some rain.”

I had, of course, chosen to come to the Childersburg state tournament rather than either Gadsden (where the 15-year-old All-Stars were not rained out that night) or Montgomery (where two Demopolis softball teams were also not rained out). Charlie Brown’s “AAAUUUGGGH!” kind of starts to describe the frustration of the situation, though I did feel a little better when I heard from coach Allgood the next day that the whole team had driven to Childersburg from their hotel in Birmingham only to be turned away when they reached the field. At least I didn’t have to put on a uniform first.

SATURDAY A.M.: Alexander City. Arrive at the Alexander City SportPlex to watch some of the 13-year-old All-Stars state tourney, first the conclusion of the Central Alabama (of Linden) game and then the West Alabama All-Stars’ match-up with Monroeville. The boys from Demopolis put up a good fight through three innings–some excellent hitting throughout the lineup–but Monroeville pulls away and eliminates West Alabama from the tournament.

The loss is made somewhat more frustrating (for me, anyway) by Alex City’s Grinch of a public address announcer. He evidently can’t be bothered to announce players’ names as they came to the plate, but he has no problem reminding everyone to PLEASE NOT LEAN ON THE NET that serves as a back-stop every time a three-year-old rests their hand on it. Boo.

SATURDAY P.M.: Montgomery. By the time the Alex City game is done there’s no way to get to Gadsden for the 15-year-olds, so it’s off to Montgomery for the state softball tournaments. The Demopolis “Debs” are already eliminated, but the Demopolis 13-15-year-old “Belles” and the Linden 9-and-10-year old “Angels” are still alive and scheduled to play that night.

Too bad the weather has other ideas. Ideas it’s VERY willing to stand behind, judging by the enormous funeral-black cloud that sweeps over the ballpark about an hour before first pitch. I kept expecting one of the giant spaceships from “Independence Day” to pop out of it. Needless to say, both games are rained out and I have nothing to cover for the second time in two nights. I try to remind myself that breaking things–especially my head by, say, bashing it against my dashboard–is bad.

SUNDAY: Montgomery. The 14-and-15-year-olds are eliminated, unfortunately, and with still no softball pictures or stories I come back for a second round Sunday afternoon. The rain is gone, thank goodness, but it has of course been replaced by heat so oppressive it’s a shame I didn’t bring a tray of Toll House cookies to set out.

The Demopolis Belles win decisively, and while the Linden Angels lose to an impressive team from Hueytown, they play well and can at least thank their lucky stars they aren’t coached by the guy behind first base for Hueytown. In the second inning, back-to-back Hueytown base-runners stop at second rather than dashing to third, both getting an angry earful from the coach. “We act like we’ve never run the bases before in our lives!” he spits. I hear you, Coach…they’re just playing like a bunch of 9-and-10-year-old girls out there, huh?

Coach Angry McAnger only tops himself from there, first yelling to one Hueytown batter “Don’t swing at those slow-pitch balls like a fool!”…right after the last batter had struck out on a slow-pitch ball. For his big finale, a Hueytown girl slid back into first after a caught pop fly, injuring her ankle. While she’s on her back, grabbing her ankle and sobbing with pain, the coach tells her to slow down and take deep breaths…and then reminds her, between sobs, that she knows better than to leave first with a ball in the air. Classy.

I’m glad to say that in the dozens of Dixie Youth, Dixie Softball, and Babe Ruth games I’ve been privileged enough to witness over the past two months, I have not seen that level of…let’s be nice…”misguided intensity” in our area’s coaches or parents a single time. It’s why, however frustrating rain and losses and a fanatic might be, what stands out the most after a weekend like this last one is still the players–Linden shortstop Katie Tucker making a perfect throw the first; 13-year-old All-Stars Ja’Quan Pullum and Trey Pickett coming off the bench in the final inning to both reach base; Legion second baseman Cameron Brister leaping what seemed like twice his height to snag a line drive. They’re why it’s always worth the drive.