From the Press Box: Ramblings, rumblings and calling out the umps

Opinion and Insight

Watching the State Softball Tournament games recently on Iowa Public Television brought to mind how strong the Raccoon River Conference is in softball.

If there was any doubt as to the strength of the league, consider last year.

In 2016 Carlisle finished second, Boone fourth and Perry sixth. This year, Winterset won the championship over Ballard, with Carlisle fifth. If the several RRC teams did not have to face each other just to get to Fort Dodge, it is likely the state quarterfinals would have featured four, five or maybe six RRC squads.

Perry gathers for a team prayer, led by senior catcher Brooke Huntington (facing, middle) prior to the start of their regional final at Carlisle. Emma Olejniczak (5), Rachel Kinney (13), Adriana Eastman (7) and Grace Stewart (10) join in, as did Sid Vancil (behind Olejniczak), Jo Diw, Alyssa Kruger and T.J. Sheehy.

Perry finished 26-11, and seven of those losses were to the three teams placing first, second and fifth at state. Not bad. Not bad at all, especially considering four or five of those games could easily have gone the other way.

The Jayette season ended in an ugly loss at Carlisle, but it is my hope the way the year finished does not detract from what was a second consecutive great season.

I have little doubt the Jayettes would have defeated any of the non-RRC teams at state and would have given any of their three league rivals a serious run had they met again.

It was nice to be able simply to turn on the television and watch the championship games, something the IAHSAA has managed to deny to well over half the homes in Iowa when it comes to the football, basketball and baseball tournaments. I continue to wish a pox on the money-grabbers for letting this happen.

The baseball season came to a sour end for Woodward-Granger who, like the Perry girls, had their dreams of playing in a state tournament dashed one game from the quarterfinals.

Woodward-Granger huddles prior to the start of an inning against DMC July 8. The Hawks had an outstanding season, finishing 29-6 overall.

The Hawks raced to a 25-0 start but hobbled home, dropping five of eight to enter the playoffs 28-5. The season ended 29-6, with several school records set along the way.

Like the Jayette softballers, the Hawk boys should hold their heads high. As the years go by the players on both teams can rightly enjoy a bit of pride for the special season they had in 2017.

Rain delays and a thrilling 16-inning 2A championship pushed the final softball title game in the rotation — 3A this season — to a late finish. Davenport Assumption and Albia waited all day, went to Harlan Rogers park and, once there, had to sit around for more than four hours before finally being able to play.

Davenport Assumption ace Nicole Simmons struck out the first 20 Albia batters she faced in the Class 3A State Championship game. Photo courtesy Quad City Times.

Their game ended after 1 a.m. in an 8-0 Assumption win. The Knights gave up a run in the bottom of the seventh to lose to Moline, Ill., (a much larger school already playing late in their season) in their first game of the year. Since then they ran off 44-straight to win the championship.

Assumption is, in my opinion and that of most of my colleagues in Fort Dodge, the best team in the state. They beat 5A champion Pleasant Valley three times, 2A titleist Iowa City Regina and Carlisle, 3-0, on a Nicole Simmons no-hitter.

Simmons had a no-hitter through six innings and allowed a run on two hits in a 9-1 win over Center Point-Urbana in the semifinals.

Against Albia she was a goddess, striking out the first 20 Lady Dees she faced to set the all-class record for strikeouts in a single seven-inning tourney game.

For some reason her coach pulled her for the final out. How in the world he thought it not worth having her whiff all 21 and thereby doubtless earn national attention escapes me. Albia would not have thought it showboating. He doubtless had his reasons, but what those were escapes easy recognition.

A ground out ended the game, but Simmons, in my opinion, was robbed by her coach of an even more spectacular finish than she had already written to her senior season.

Sometimes the coach just gets it wrong. This guy sure did.

Umpires are desperately needed for both baseball and softball. The current rosters statewide are shrinking as old vets retire, others tire of the grind and few young men and women are willing to take the not-so-great pay in exchange for their evenings and Saturdays, to say nothing of the abuse heaped upon them by fans and, sometimes, by sportswriters.

If I were 25 again and not in the media, I might take up the challenge, preferring softball over baseball.

Being an official is an often thankless job, one whose goal is to go unnoticed. Unfortunately, a recent incident reminded me of some of the all-time whoppers I have seen while covering Perry.

Often unnoticed — and that is their goal — the job of umpires, referees or game officials is often thankless. However, on the rare occasions they become the focus of a story, they should not be immune from criticism.

How Carlisle’s softball coach (whose return to the dugout after a one-year “suspension” after pleading guilty in 2015 to possession of crack cocaine and drug paraphernalia still raises eyebrows in many quarters) was not ejected — if not once, then three times — for demonstrably arguing balls and strikes (not allowed) during Perry’s July 3 game in Carlisle was one of the more amazing examples of cowardice by an umpire I have witnessed in my career.

The atrocious game turned in by two of the three basketball officials working the Perry boys Substate Final win over Glenwood in Atlantic in 2016 also comes to mind. Several photographs and numerous video clips show phantom fouls being called, or not called, as the case may be, all in Glenwood’s favor.

Anyone who was at Perry’s playoff baseball game at Harlan several years ago will no doubt recall the vast difference in strike zones between the two teams. So obvious was the disparity that numerous Cyclone fans mentioned, somewhat embarrassingly, that what had happened was a shame.

Again, that was from the Harlan crowd and from at least five or six different fans or groups of fans, not just one person.

So, yes, umpires are needed. Referees, judges and officials, too. A lot is asked of those who step up to fill those roles, but it is not too much to ask that they not be the story but, sadly, that is sometimes the case. Sadly, the number of such incidents seems to be sharply on the rise.

A series of recent incidents in Major League Baseball has spotlighted the unseemly arrogance of many MLB umpires.

Angel Hernandez, right, has been widely considered one of the worst umpires in MLB for many years. Photo courtesy Washington Post.

Jerry Davis tossing surefire Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre for an on-deck circle violation and Will Little’s temper tantrum in ejecting the Toronto skipper, pitcher and catcher — all within one minute of each other — are just the most recent examples of umps run amok.

Angel Hernandez remains roundly considered (by the anonymous player surveys MLB takes at the end of each season) the worst in the business — as he has been for years. Rarely has any umpire been the subject of as much continued berating from retired players and managers as Hernandez has been.

The late Eric Gregg could not stand being questioned even when he was proven to be demonstrably wrong, as he was repeatedly. As for Tim McClelland, don’t even get me started . . . .


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