The Czechs are taking infield and the catcher’s not wearing a mask. Safety issue – address it.
The Kaunas catcher has a mask, but it doesn’t have a dangling throat protector. Safety issue – deal with it.
Game starts and both Kaunas coaches go out to coach the bases, leaving no adult in the dugout. We ignore it.
Every kid, it seems, is wearing a rope necklace. We ignore it.
Kid swing two bats in the on-deck circle. We ignore it.
Coach puts on a mask and comes out to warm up a pitcher between innings. We ignore it.
Baserunners clap their hands in an attempt to break the pitcher’s concentration. It’s not in the rules, but we don’t let them do it at home and it’s annoying, so we tell them to stop.
Balks galore, but not on attempted pickoffs so much as just awkward pitching motions. We ignore them and use the opportunities to instruct.
Parents drinking beer and smoking in the stands right behind home plate. We ignore it.
We’re at the Sporto Vilkai Cup in Utena, Lithuania. It’s not a Little League event – it’s a baseball event being contested by mostly Little League rules.
We bring our strict, rules-oriented, Little League way of umpiring halfway around the world, but it doesn’t take very long before we throw it out the window and morph into the umpires we think they NEED us to be.
Sam Griffith and I are co-tournament directors and co-umpires in chief, and if we told these teams we were going to play the game naked, run the bases the opposite direction and walk on two balls instead of four, they’d agree in a heartbeat.
That’s how much credibility we have here.
But part of the reason we HAVE credibility, in addition to being Americans, is that we have adopted the role of facilitators moreso than hard-core umpires when we’re here. It’s way more about teaching than mandating. It’s a philosophy that needs to be embraced, and it’s not for everyone, witness a number of one-and-done Americans who have insisted on bringing their my-way-or-the-highway umpiring style to the European LL Regional and were either too frustrated to re-apply or were asked not to.
We have talked over and over about this since Sam and I started coming to Europe in the early 2000s. We see things all the time that we’d have to call at home, or if we were still on the Kutno invitation list, that we’d have to call there, but that we don’t call here.
First off, if we green-booked these games (the LL rulebook is green) we’d have to explain the calls, and that could be problematic, depending on who you’re talking to and how much English and/or gesturing they understand. Second, you have to wonder about the value of micro-managing a game teams over here are still trying to learn.
Trust me when I say that the games here have little or no flow to them as it is – if we start interjecting ourselves into the games more than we already have to, they will be impossible to watch and the kids will hate playing.
And no one wants that.
So we “swallow our whistles,” so to speak, electing to let the game be played without an inordinate number of stoppages, and we look for teaching moments before, during and after games.
That’s why we enjoy coming here, and why we think they like having us.
FIRST-DAY RESULTS were a bit surprising. Kaunas-Lithuania rallied for seven runs in the top of the 7th to beat defending champ Czech Republic 10-7 and Belarus broke a 4-4 tie in the 5th and edged host Vilnius 5-4. Our fifth team, Poland, arrived today and will play a double-header Tuesday.
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