Have you noticed the increasing number of hit batters in county high school baseball this spring? Has the ploy become a major part of coaches' chicanery?
Are coaches encouraging players to take one for the team to get on base, or are pitchers throwing inside and the ball is just getting away?
I saw eight batters hit by pitches in the past two games I've covered. Three Arundel batters and a near fourth were hit in the Wildcats' 6-5 loss to Old Mill on Tuesday.
I witnessed six batters hit by pitches as Old Mill outlasted Broadneck, 3-2, in 10 innings Wednesday. Five (three Broadneck and two Old Mill) were granted first base; one was called out for intentionally getting hit with the bases full.
From my vantage point, some of those who were hit could have avoided it, but made no attempt to get out of the way. The batter is supposed to make an attempt to get out of the way, but it's a judgment call on the part of the umpire as to the batter's intention.
It was obvious that Broadneck DH Steve DePaul intentionally stuck his arm in the way of a pitch with two outs and the bases loaded in the top of the eighth at Old Mill.
DePaul was hit twice before in the game by Old Mill right-hander Jeff Haynie. DePaul (6 feet, 250 pounds) took first uncontested because there was reasonable doubt.
Before DePaul stepped into the batter's box with the bases loaded in the eighth, fans were yelling to home plate umpire, Charlie Morse: "He's got to attempt to move out of the way, ump, don't let him get away with it again."
Morse didn't as DePaul's arm got in the way of an inside 0-2 pitch and the plate umpire thumbed him out with no griping from Broadneck coach Mark Stover and his bench. DePaul said nothing and headed to the dugout.
"Nice try," yelled one of the Old Mill fans.
In Tuesday's thriller at Arundel, the Wildcats had three runners reach after being plucked by a pitch. Arundel catcher Mike Cozzone was hit twice and on one of the pitches made no attempt to move out of the way, but here again, there was reasonable doubt, and it was a tough call for the umpires.
The Wildcats almost had a fourth batter hit in a crucial situation in the bottom of the seventh trailing by a run, two outs and with runners on first and second. Arundel coach Bernie Walter demonstrated to reporters how the right-handed-hitting Kevyn Dodson should have turned his right shoulder and bat away from the plate on an inside pitch.
Instead, Dodson turned into the plate and the ball hit his bat for a slow roller and the final out.
Good pitchers throw inside to remind hitters that they don't own the plate. Rarely is there intent to harm someone by throwing inside.
The problem is that most high school pitchers don't use or know how to pitch inside and get beat because of it. I haven't been seeing batters get hit because pitchers are throwing inside. What I've seen a lot of this spring are batters not moving on curveballs, which don't hurt if they hit you, and get you a free ticket to first base.
"None of my umpires has said that it has become a problem with players intentionally getting hit, and they have the option to call the pitch a strike if in their judgment a hitter is trying to get hit by the pitch," said Anne Arundel Umpires Association chief Jack Kramp.
There are aren't any coaches who will admit that they teach batters to get a free base by intentionally taking a pitch somewhere on the body, but when you need base runners, you get on any way you can.
* Some oddities occurred in the two aforementioned games.
Tuesday at Arundel, the Wildcats' Tim Giles stepped out of the batter's box without asking for time, and Lee Haney's high and outside pitch was called a strike by plate umpire Dave Ferris. It's an automatic strike no matter where the pitch is, according to high school federation rules, Ferris says.
The next day at Old Mill, several fans questioned why Broadneck pitcher Chris Sutch was not removed upon coach Mark Stover's second trip to the mound in the same inning. Major-league baseball rules say he has to be replaced, but federation rules allow three trips during a game before a pitcher must be removed.