Matt was up to bat with the bases loaded. Luke was on first, Austin was on second, and Colin was on third. I threw the first pitch to Matt and he made solid contact. A screaming line drive flew past me on the right, heading straight at the third baseman. The runners went. Luckily, the third baseman was taking some time off from his busy chore of making dirt circles with his cleats and was actually paying attention as the ball came hurtling toward his head. He reacted by raising his hands up to keep the ball from hitting him square in the face. To his good fortune, the hand that had the baseball glove on it was the first one to get up in front of his face, and to everyone’s amazement, not the least of which his own, he caught the ball.
That was the end of the baseball-looking portion of the play. The rest resembled a circus. This was five and six-year-old baseball, and no one, least of all the players, was expecting any of the batted balls to be caught on the fly.
At six years old, the rules of baseball can be confusing. Actually, at thirty-six years old they are confusing. At six they are a mystery. At the crack of the bat all three runners had gone, and since the ball was caught on the fly, they all needed to get back to their bases to tag up. No one tagged up. None of them even understand what “tag up” means.
I was standing on the mound, facing the infield and shouting, “Go back, go back!”
The third baseman who had caught the ball stood in utter shock, staring into his glove. Once he realized that he had just made a great play, he jumped up and down for joy. After he got finished with that, he realized that he should probably keep doing things, so since he was playing third base, he walked over and tagged third base with his foot. Colin, who had been on third, was totally ignoring my pleas to go back and had long since crossed the plate and was half way to the dugout. When the third baseman stepped on third, Colin was out. That turned his catch into a double play.
Now I was shouting, “Turn around, turn around!”
Shortly after the third baseman tagged third, Austin, my player who had been on second base, jogged right past him on his way to third. He had not tagged up on second, and when his dad, the third base coach, finally got Austin’s attention, he finally reversed his course and started jogging back to second.
Now I was shouting, “Get back to second, get back to second!”
The third baseman, now sensing that there might be another play to be had near second base, began jogging toward second, himself. The third baseman who was holding the ball, and Austin, his opponent who needed to get back to his base, were jogging side-by-side together down the base path toward second. They were literally six inches apart. If the third baseman had just moved his glove six inches to the right he would have had a triple play.
Now, the opposing coach was shouting, “Tag him, tag him!”
I was shouting, “Run, run!”
Austin and the third baseman just trotted along next to each other, wondering why everyone was shouting at them.
When the misfit jogging partners were ten feet from second base, the third baseman stopped and threw the ball…past second base and into the outfield.
Luke, my player that had started on first base, made it to second base, but finally got the memo from the first base coach that he needed to go back when he saw Austin coming back from third.
Due to the overthrow, Austin made it safely back to second base where he needed to be, but then, for reasons totally unknown to the coaching staff, continued his backward path and headed back to first!
I was now shouting, “No, no!”
He got all the way to first and shared the base with Luke for a while until they realized that they both shouldn’t be there at once. He finally looked up and listened to the exasperated first base coach telling him to get back to second base.
I was shouting, “Get back, get back!”
As Austin was running back to second, the ball came in from the outfield… back to the third baseman. By that time, he was almost totally convinced that there was supposed to be something happening at second base that involved the ball, so he ran it back over to second.
He and Austin arrived at second base at the same time. They both stopped short and neither one of them stepped on the base. They just stared at each other.
I was shouting, “Get to the… Step on the… Don’t get… Do… Base!!!” (I was a little excited by this time, and getting pretty hoarse.)
By this time, all six coaches and all forty parents were shouting something toward the vicinity of second base. The two players - the runner and the fielder – were locked in a bewildered staring contest, neither one knowing what to do, and neither one processing any of the fragmented information and suggestions being hurled at them from all sides. They stood and stared at each other for what was probably a sum total of two seconds, but it was an eternity to a coach whose heart had stopped.
Finally breaking the stalemate, Austin took one step forward and placed his foot squarely on second base. The third baseman saw this as a sign that it was now safe to tag him, so he did.
Forty-five people all leaned back and started breathing again with a laugh as I finally called the runner safe at second.
The longest, most confusing and most heart-wrenching play of the inning was finally over. The third baseman had made an unassisted double play at third, and then missed about nineteen opportunities to turn it into a triple play.
I was just as wound up and emotional for the opposing team’s third baseman as I was for my own runner. When I got done laughing with the other coaches and high-fiving the players involved, I attempted to regain my composure and turned to pitch to the next batter. There, standing at the plate was Matt, ready to go. I looked at him for a second, thinking that something was wrong, until it finally dawned on me that he was the batter that just hit the ball that started that whole mess.
He had run to first base when he hit the ball, but was sent away by the first base coach who was, at the time, frantically trying to retrieve Luke from second.
Matt thought he had hit a foul ball, and he was all ready to give it another try.
“Sorry, buddy. You were out a while ago.”
Whadda ya gonna do? That’s 5/6 baseball for ya.
See you soon,
Copyright © 2012 Marc Schmatjen
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