“No pressure”, the man yells sarcastically from the stands, “No pressure at all, seven. Bases loaded, game on the line. No pressure,” he yells again as the pitcher, number 7 on his back, prepares to throw. I cringe.
It's the top of the seventh inning, the last inning in high school ball, in the Regional Semifinals. The visiting Gulliver Prep Raiders, which the man’s son plays for (as does my own son), were down 8-3 when the inning began, but have mounted an impressive comeback against the hometown Key West Conchs. They’ve scored two runs, the bases are loaded, and there are no outs. No matter what happens next, the boys from Gulliver have shown tremendous heart, and would have nothing to be ashamed of even if they lose. Except, of course, for the behavior of a few of their parents.
The man, who is seated to my right, continues to yell, mocking the home team pitcher, whom he has never met and is all of 15 (or perhaps 16). I find myself unable to stand next to him anymore, so I excuse myself over to the aisle and walk up the stands to another row, outside of the section where the Gulliver parents have assembled. I chat with some of the local fans, to whom Key West High School baseball is a considerable source of pride, regardless of the participation of family members on the current team. There is neither a pro sports franchise nor a college team in Key West. High school athletics are what they’ve got, and they turn out in huge numbers to watch them. Particularly baseball. Only 25,000 people reside in Key West, and at least 3,000 of them are here tonight. This is roughly equivalent to 600,000 people showing up at a Miami high school sporting event.
The man now next to me beams with pride as we discuss Bronson Arroyo, the Arizona Diamondback starting pitcher, born in Key West, and other major leaguers with Conch connections. He compliments the Gulliver team’s comeback; I reply that it is all the more impressive given the quality of the opponent. We wish each other luck, and I head back to my seat.
As is the case far too frequently in children’s sports, the sportsmanship which the coaches try so hard to instill in their players is usually on display on the field or court, but not in the stands, where the line between encouraging your son or daughter’s team and disparaging their opponent is frequently crossed. How can any adult justify, regardless of the circumstances, taunting an innocent 15 year-old kid just because he happens to play for his son’s team’s opponent that day?
I’ve written before about my dismay regarding the scarcity of sportsmanship here and here. But in those cases the individuals being derided were professionals, and adults. Deriding children is in a whole separate category.
By the time I make it back to my seat Gulliver has scored another run. They are now losing by two runs, 8-6. The bases are still loaded, now with one out. A base hit would most probably tie the game. “No pressure, seven,” the man to my right yells again. I look askance at him. He looks back at me, puzzled, not understanding why I would do such a thing.
Number seven throws, and the Gulliver batter hits a line drive up the middle. The Key West shortstop makes an outstanding leaping catch, then steps on second base to complete the game ending double-play. Conchs win, 8-6. The Gulliver players take it hard. Their season is over. There are tears. But there are no disparaging remarks, and no excuses. The Gulliver head coach has successfully inculcated a culture of sportsmanship in his dugout.
He needs to work on the stands.