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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Struck Strikes Out: Hey, Blue! Losing your cool not cool

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

I've been hesitating addressing a recent incident that ocurred during the Cherokee Braves march to their third State Baseball Championships at Principal Park in Des Moines that began today.

In a second-round Class 2A District game played in Cherokee featuring the Braves and Maple Valley/Anthon-Oto, a situation developed that I've certainly never witnessed in my 50 years of playing, coaching, watching, reporting, and photographing baseball games.

Early in the game (bottom of the first inning), there was a close call at third base involving a Cherokee base runner, a force out, a juggled and eventually dropped ball. The base umpire - Curt Anderson of Paullina - in my eyes correctly ruled the runner safe as the ball fell to the dirt.

Cherokee baseball coach Scott Koch listens intently as umpire Stuart Christians explains a controversial call during the Braves recent District Tournament victory over Maple Valley/Anthon-Oto. Photo by Paul Struck.
However, after the MVAO player and coach argued the call, Anderson and home umpire Stu Christians of Le Mars convened and Christians then over-ruled Anderson's call. That brought calm and poised Cherokee coach Scott Koch out to question the call and Christians then explained his reasoning to Koch, who obviously didn't agree but calmly returned to third-base coaching box to let the game move on.

Then, before Christians returned to his position behind the plate, he walked back to the Cherokee side of the crowd and cautioned some fans to quiet down. He also walked over to the MVAO side of the crowd to tell them something similar. This was strange because both sides were really subdued at the time and it was only the first inning. In the midst of this, a man in the huge crowd hollered out, "Play Ball!"

"Who said that?" shouted Christians, scanning the area of the crowd where the words came from. "Play Ball!" then hollered a woman in the same vicinity.

Then, inexplicably, while pointing out nearly the entire crowd with a wave of his finger, Christians hollered out, "I'll kick everybody out of here!"

There was stunned silence and a few more "Play Ball!" calls from the crowd and Christians walked back to his position and signaled the pitcher to start the action.

Now, I don't know what was said, if anything, that set Christians off, and I was standing right in the middle of the action, next to the Braves dugout. I heard no derogatory remarks, no cuss words, nothing. I asked a few fans nearby and they said they had not heard anything either.

Now, when the time comes in the great game of baseball - high school tournament nonetheless - when any little bitty thing can cause an obvious control freak umpire to threaten to kick out more than 1,000 baseball fans, there needs to be a serious look taken at his certification and qualifications.

After the game as I sat at my computer downloading photos, I couldn't help but wonder just what Cherokee Washington High athletic director Neil Phipps would have - could have - done if Christians persisted in his silly threat. By rights, Neil would have had to clear "all" the fans out. Rightly so, we all know many would have resisted while expressing their total innocence. It could have escalated into real violence, to say nothing of the serious revenue hit at the concession stand.

Then there's the aftermath of two pretty confused teams of high school student-athletes wondering, What are the "adults" up to now?

Do you get a refund if you're thrown out of a game for no reason? Lots of luck to the people in charge of that bookkeeping.

I am in total agreement about fans respecting umpires and the tough job they have to do. I also understand there is a shortage of baseball umps for Iowa preps and that their population is steadily aging.

But harmless complaints such as "Come on, Blue!" and "That ball was outside!" are as ingrained in the game as spitting and sunflower seeds.

Besides, the game turned into a rout for victorious Cherokee, which further muted any of the fans' verbal challenges to the umpires' calls.

I'm hoping it was an abberation, but Christians didn't have the best of nights on his balls and strikes calls for either team that night, which causes me to wonder...

Was his knee-jerk threat to throw "everybody" out a pre-emptive strike to keep the large, enthusiastic crowd off his back for the entire game?

And, worst of all, has he done this before?

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