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Coral Gables A's Stories: Rules are Rules, Sometimes

Those who umpire Coral Gables A's games do their best to make them interesting.

Those who umpire Coral Gables A's games do their best to make them interesting.

The Coral Gables A’s, America’s funniest men’s league baseball team, took on the Texas Rangers of our league a few Sundays ago. The game was as calm and organized as a tank full of horny piranhas.


Not in a Holy Place


I have a younger cousin named Lucas, who goes by LJ. LJ had his First Communion the day before the game at a church attached to the elementary school he attends. After the mass, I met his dad, my uncle, outside the church. He addressed me as La Flama Blanca.


I was honored, but deflected the title. “Please, not near a place of worship,” I said. La Flama Blanca only comes out in men’s league games. He is an unholy presence on the mound, who would surely be shunned in this hallowed place. Sheehan will do, for today.


My uncle is named Daniel, but often goes by Monte, a shortening of his last name. He loves my weekly A’s articles and has said repeatedly that he wants to make it out to one of the games. He reiterated that when we spoke. I cordially invited him to my game the following day, as well as LJ, who could serve as our batboy.


I’m not sure if this was the best or the worst game for them to attend, but it was nothing if not memorable.


A Good Start…Finally


The A’s have been plagued by horseshit 1st and 2nd innings in recent weeks, putting ourselves in big holes we have to claw out of. This game was a different story. Their starting pitcher, a lefty who threw lollipops, managed to threw a scoreless top of the 1st. Willy, a righty sidearmer, started the game for us and worked a 1-2-3 bottom of the 1st. Their lefty was never going to last against us throwing those paper airplanes. We put up two in the top on the 2nd after a pair of bases loaded walks by Dee and Jorge, the latter of whom is Alex’s brother, our starting catcher. He came down to play with us for the day. Much more on him later.


Willy again went 1-2-3 in the bottom of the 2nd. He worked around an error in the field and struck out two in the 3rd, after we went silent in the top half. Alex brought in two runs with a bases-loaded single in the top of the 4th, while a third run came in on a throwing error on the play. Jorge, his brother, brought in another run with groundout, making it 6-0.


What appeared like a nice, easy game would soon become anything but. This was about to become a horror show.


Rules are Rules…or are they?


The Rangers started to see Willy a little better their second time through the order. Pitching with a six-run cushion, Willy hit a batter, threw a wild pitch, gave up two singles, and dealt with an error in the field. There was one out, one run had already come across, and the bases were loaded.


The next batter gets to two strikes, then hits a groundball between third and short for a single. As soon as he swung, the home plate umpire called an illegal swing. Because of how much Willy’s pitches sink, a lot of hitters will stand at the very front of the box to try to take away some of his movement. Hit it out in front when it’s straighter. This guy was a little overzealous with this tactic, apparently, so his front foot must have been out of the box.


I hear the umpire make this call and lazily field the ball in left field. The runner on second had no business scoring on this base hit, but since I knew the swing didn’t count in the first place, I just lobbed it back into the infield. Two runs scored on the play, then the home plate umpire notifies everyone what his call was. It’s an “illegal action.” The batter did not keep both feet in the batter’s box when he hit the ball. That means it’s an automatic out and a dead ball.


Now, what he should have also done is send the runners back where they came from. There should be two outs, bases loaded, and the score still 6-1. What he ended up doing, however, was counting the runs.


I wish we had known it was make-up-dumbass-baseball-rules-o’clock!


As per the rules of baseball: “If a batter hits a pitched ball with any part of his foot or knee outside of the batter’s box, including home plate, then the batter is out. The ball is immediately dead and all runners are returned to their base occupied at the time of the pitch.” This is part of rule 6.03 for “Batter Illegal Action.”


I was calm in the beginning. I walked in from the outfield as I saw he was deciding to count the runs. I said, matter-of-factly, “It’s a dead ball. It’s as if the swing never happened.” He said, also matter-of-factly, that this play is called “like a balk.” When a balk occurs, the swing may count if something good happens for the offense. For example, let’s say a pitcher doesn’t come to a complete stop in the stretch position with men on base, a common balk call, and the umpire calls it as he’s already started his delivery. He decides to throw the pitch anyway, and the hitter hits a home run. That counts. The runners do not just advance one base, as is the usual penalty for a balk. The home run stands.


The umpire applied balk logic to dead ball logic. I told him that’s not the rule, plus it doesn’t make sense. You’re rewarding the team who committed the infraction. That’s like if, after a balk on the pitcher, the batter swung and missed. Is it a strike? Of course not. This logic went over his head, or it didn’t and he was embarrassed I was making him look stupid. Either way, both of our voices started to rise.


“Are you going to listen to me or do you just wanna talk?” he asked. This was the crossroads for me. I could have gotten tossed in this moment if I said what I wanted to say, which was something so the effect of, “Are you going to learn the rules of this fucking sport or do you just wanna pull shit out of your ass?” I took the high road. I just said, “That’s not the rule,” and went back to left field. It was now, allegedly, 6-3. They scored once more before the inning ended to make it 6-4.


As is usually the case, you think about a bunch of witty zingers after the argument is over. I got back in the dugout after sulking in the outfield for the rest of the inning. According to this jabroni, a hitter can basically do whatever he wants in an effort to hit the ball, as long as he’s willing to sacrifice himself. Let’s say the winning run is on third base and there’s one out in the bottom of the 9th. As a hitter, why don’t you just sprint at the pitcher like a madman before he delivers the pitch, take the ball from him, toss it to yourself and smoke it over the goddamn fence? Why not? You’d be out of course, but by the rule that this umpire just invented, the runners would be allowed to advance. It would be a live ball. The runner on third scores on the home run and your team wins.


Makes perfect sense. Nice rule, bud.

Two Wrongs Make a Right?


The real reason this incorrect call was made, if I had to guess, was due to consistency. In the second inning, Matt, a utility player who usually hits in the middle of our lineup, tried a push bunt past their left-handed starter. This is a common tactic against lefties, since they tend to fall off to the third base side of the mound during their delivery. As a hitter, if you can bunt a ball past the mound on the first base side, there’s little chance the pitcher will be able to snag it, and you’ll probably be safe by the time the first or second baseman get to it. Matt put the ball exactly where it’s supposed to go, but was called out due to his front foot being out of the box when he made contact; the same call as the aforementioned one.


The problem is the home plate umpire fucked up this one too. We had a runner on first when Matt bunted. He advanced to second on the play, but was not told to retreat to first after Matt was called out.


I’m going to give the home plate ump the benefit of the doubt here and say he did know the rule but messed it up once and had to keep messing it up in order to be consistent. The other team would’ve had a major gripe if not one, but two of these calls went against them. Still, it’s pretty fucked that when the call went our way, a runner advanced one base and didn’t end up scoring, but when it went their way, they were gifted two runs. Men’s league baseball, am I right?


Poor little LJ. Just four innings into his batboy-ing career and he’s already seen his share yelling, cursing, and rule-breaking. Still, he kept his wits about him and collected each discarded bat with the skill of a seasoned veteran.


Better Competition


The Rangers smartened up and brought in a real pitcher in the 5th. A hard-throwing lefty with a tight curveball. Sometimes he gets wild and he tends to run out of gas after three innings or so, but he has good stuff. He went 1-2-3 in the 5th.


We replaced Willy with Angel, our own hard-throwing lefty. Angel had his usual electric fastball-change-up combo working, but his control wasn’t as pinpoint as it has been this season. He walked two and struck out two in a scoreless 5th.


Their lefty cruised past the 6th. Angel walked a guy and gave up a single in the bottom of the 6th. One of the few flaws in his game is his lack of a consistent pickoff move. His slide step is quick enough to prevent runners from getting good jumps, and when he does lift his leg, it’s very even with first base, meaning runners have a tough time reading if he’s going home or picking over. But in terms of actually trying to pick someone off, his move isn’t great.


The Rangers, much like the Thunders Kings of our league, wreak havoc on the bases. It’s run, rabbit, run. At all times. They started to get a good feel for Angel’s timing; their leads and secondaries got bigger. Alex isn’t afraid to throw behind runners. He snapped a throw over to first after a pitch in the 6th, but the runner beat the throw. Now is when the shit-talking began.


Their dugout started chirping at Alex behind the plate, essentially saying they could run whenever they wanted and be safe. The throw would be late or he’d throw it away. Jorge, who was playing outfield at the time, immediately roared back in defense of his brother.


The runner who Alex tried to back pick ended up stealing second, though he got an excellent jump. We had no chance to get him. The heckling increased. This time, they were egging their runner on to steal third. Jorge made sure none of their chirps went unnoticed, screaming back at them from 250 feet away in right field. Alex talked his shit as well. They were like the Brothers of Destruction in this game.


I had had enough at this point. Stealing second is one thing, but stealing third when the pitcher is using a slide step is next to impossible unless you take off early, which usually requires the defense to not be paying attention. All eyes were on this kid at second. Angel was pissed. Alex was pissed. Jorge was livid. Our middle infielders were bouncing around the base making sure he didn’t get too big of a lead. Rickey Henderson could not have stolen on us at this point.


“Llevatelo!” I yelled from left field. Take it. Go for third. All I could imagine was the eruption after he was surely thrown out. I wanted it to happen.


Angel starts his delivery and the runner goes. He got a bullshit jump. Alex caught a high fastball and fired to Matt at third. He was fried. Toast. Quemado. About as out as a runner can be. He slid into Matt’s glove after the throw beat him by about 12 feet. Cheers abounded across the field. Then the field ump said “safe.”


Apart from getting a grand slam taken away from him by Jazz Hands earlier in the season, I’ve never seen Matt get so worked up. The umpire’s explanation was that Matt’s tag was high and he slid underneath the glove. There’s no way he could’ve seen that from where he was positioned, which was behind the runner. “YOU’RE NOT THAT GOOD!” Matt yelled in his face. This nearly got him tossed. He said it again as he was walking away, but no ejection, thankfully.


This runner later scored on a single. It was 6-5 at the end of the 6th, with three of their runs coming due to umpire stimulus packages.


Some Rules are Actually Rules

We again could not find any answers for their lefty in the 7th. He went 1-2-3. Angel punched out two in the bottom half. The score held at 6-5 heading into the 8th.


Their pitcher was cooked after three innings. That’s about all he’s got in terms of length before he loses command and velocity, which is what happened in the 8th. Matt, Jorge (a different Jorge. This one is a switch-hitting infielder.), and Willy started the inning with three straight singles.


There was already a healthy dollop of bullshit heaped onto this game. Now’s when we would be served an extra serving altogether.


The Rangers swapped their hard-throwing lefty with…their soft-tossing lefty who started the game. Our league allows for re-entry as long as the pitcher does not leave the game. He played the outfield after he came out of the game, so he was allowed to come back in to pitch. Our league follows Major League rules when it comes to the three-batter minimum (barring an injury, a pitcher must face three batters before he’s taken out of the game).


Not that he had much to offer in the first place, but this guy really didn’t have it his second go-around. He walked two batters, and since it was clear he wasn’t going to get any outs unless we helped him, their manager attempted to pull him. Not so far, hombre. We made it clear that he had to face one more hitter. The pitcher and manager were none too pleased with this, but had no counter-argument other than, effectively, “c’mon, bro!” About 10-15 minutes of shouting and cursing later (poor LJ, just sitting there, taking it all in), the game resumed.


The poo-slinging lefty walked his third and final batter. He was replaced by a righty who threw harder, but not as hard as their other lefty. The bases were juiced and I was up.


By this point, we’ve yelled at each other, gotten the rules wrong twice, and lost probably half an hour of game time just arguing over a litany of dumb shit. I was done with this game. It was 8-5 at this point, and I told myself I was gonna go deep on the first pitch I saw. Grand slam. Put this game away. Nowhere to put me with the bases loaded, so sure enough, the first pitch zipped over the heart of the plate. I was a little out in front, but still got enough of it to do some damage in the form of a one-hopper to the centerfield fence that cleared the bases. Andy, our lumbering first baseman, followed with another double, this one hitting the base of the centerfield fence. He was quick to point out to me afterwards how much of a bitch I was due to his ball going farther. I didn’t care at that point.


Willy came up a few batters after Andy and got plunked in the upper arm. I’m not sure what it is about Willy, but he is almost guaranteed to lead the team in hit by pitches every season. He doesn’t crowd the plate, he isn’t enormous, and he doesn’t lean in trying to get grazed by pitches. Pitchers just lose their control when they face him, and it happened yet again in the 8th.


Willy was…not pleased. He admitted afterwards that he overreacted, but in the moment he was just frustrated to have nothing but a bruise to show for his final at bat of the day. He barked at the pitcher and their dugout, and once againnn, both benches got into it. Their manager, who complained about everything there was to complain about for eight innings, had finally had enough of this game. He marched across the field to our dugout, where he was met by a handful of our players, namely Jorge, who had a fire to him that could not be quelled on this fine morning. "I drove two hours for this bullshit!"

No action from their skipper, however. He was just saying they were done. Throwing in the towel. We technically won 12-5, but we also technically won by forfeit. Who the hell knows?


LJ, full of the Holy Spirit as he was, had just witnessed three hours of debauchery. What an ungodly game baseball can be.


Nick's Home Run Quest


How could I forget?! Nick’s home run wager with me! In my last Coral Gables A’s article, I detailed the rare power-outage of our three-hole hitter, who decided to put his money where his mouth was. If he homers before the regular season is finished, I owe him and his wife dinner and/or a round of beverages, and if he doesn’t the offer is extended to me and my wife.


How did Nick do in his last chance for romance? Let’s see…


First at bat: Flyout

Second at bat: Popout

Third at bat: Lineout

Fourth at bat: Single

Fifth at bat: Hit by pitch

If you’re wondering where Nick hit himself in the lineup this game, it was leadoff. He was all in on maximizing his home run chances. Alas, it was not in the cards for our stocky, allegedly-powerful manager and utility man. He finished 1-for-4 with a single, popout, flyout, lineout, and a hit-by-pitch that was ohhhhh so close to a very sensitive region.

Nick of the Coral Gables A's was sadly not able to homer this season.

My wife and I will be sure to sip our Johnnie Walker Blue Labels slowly. It’s good to savor your victories.


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Tyler Petsch
Tyler Petsch

Great article La Flama Blanca. Ump inventing rules is a new one. I want in on HR bet.

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