Last week Manchester’s 14-year-old Babe Ruth all-stars suffered one of the most painful losses of any local sports team this year.
Playing in the district championship against Franklin County last Monday, Manchester came out on top 11-2, only to be told at the end of seven innings that, due to a rules technicality, the all-stars would lose by forfeit and the championship plaque would belong to Franklin County.
That outcome was particularly bitter for Manchester given how hard the team had worked to play in the district finals. After losing in the first round to Franklin County 4-3, the all-stars fought back the second night by defeating both Tullahoma 16-15 and Franklin County 13-12 in their second meeting.
Because the championship game was being played after five days of rain delays, Manchester’s coaches—along with the tournament director and local Babe Ruth officials—were under the impression that because six days had elapsed and a new week had begun, rules for maximum allowable innings for two consecutive games would not apply in this contest.
After Manchester southpaw Zach Duncan began pitching his third inning Monday, however, Franklin County protested that tournament rules in fact do not make provision for days-long breaks between games. Because Duncan had pitched five innings in the previous game—six days earlier—Franklin County contended that Manchester had broken tournament rules that allow a pitcher to hurl a total of only seven innings in two consecutive games. The consequences of such a rules violation are clear: the violating team forfeits.
Calls to the Babe Ruth district and state commissioner sustained Franklin County’s objection. The final decision was not made till the sixth inning, however, and the forfeit was not announced to the teams till after Manchester had apparently won the game.
That’s when the character of the Manchester players, coaches and their families really shined. As local Babe Ruth president David Eldridge notes, when a coach drafts a player, he’s really drafting a whole family. Family members of players make up most of the fans in the stands of youth baseball games, and those fans can be notoriously volatile when calls and decisions don’t go their way.
I’ve seen fans whip themselves into a frenzy for much less that Manchester suffered Monday. Adult family members of youth players can be, to say it bluntly, incredibly childish.
But not these Babe Ruth fans.
After the decision became known that Manchester lost by forfeit, team members and their families were, quite understandably, shocked, saddened, and angry. But without exception everyone on the Manchester side—players, coaches, families—carried themselves well. One of the most important lessons of sportsmanship is learning how to lose—without whining, complaining, stomping, or any other type of temper tantrum.
Last Monday the adults in the stands set the example for the 14-year-olds by carrying themselves as adults.
Pete Rob and his coaching staff also deserve to be commended for leading with dignity and style even as they faced criticism for following the rules as they had been led to understand them. Tournament director Kevin Green also deserves a degree of credit for heading off potential trouble by taking responsibility for the rules error even as the decision was announced.
All in all, it was a disappointing outcome in terms of the game, but a time to be proud of Manchester as both a team and a community.
Despite the loss, Manchester’s all-star 14s move on to this week’s state tournament, which begins Friday at home in Manchester. Here’s wishing them a clean, decisive, and sportsmanlike run.