The real boys of summer take sting out of strike


August 18, 1994|By PAT O'MALLEY

Baseball strike? Who cares?

I don't because amateur baseball on the high school and summer levels is more genuine and in the spirit of what the game was meant to be.

A three-week journey (vacation) to youth baseball tournaments in Cleveland, Altoona (Pa.), Chicago and Marietta East-Cobb (Ga.) more than satisfied my appetite for the real game -- amateur baseball, which still and always will be a boys game.

Let me share a few things I learned and observed this summer. I start with something I knew and many local coaches knew all along and maybe we take for granted.

Jack Kramp's umpires, who work high school and summer games in Anne Arundel County, are as good as there are around the country if not the best. Local coaches need only travel to national tournaments to appreciate the consistency and professionalism of Kramp's men.

Like every large group of officials, the Anne Arundel umpires do have a handful of guys who border on incompetence, but overall Kramp's men can not be beat.

Traveling with Gunther's Little Orioles to Continental Amateur Baseball Association and National Amateur Baseball Federation tournaments, I've come to appreciate our local umpires even more.

It's not that the out-of-town arbiters contributed heavily to any of the results at those tournaments, but rather their overall performance does not compare favorably to our local group.

A couple glaring differences I noticed in our local umpires and those around the country are the commitment of the Anne Arundel group to work together as a team to get the call right and the hustle of Kramp's men to almost always be in position to make the best call.

It's not beneath Kramp's men to ask for help from a colleague to make sure of a checked swing or whether or not a fielder had his foot on a base. It's their goal to be 100 percent accurate even if it means reversing a call and admitting that they are not infallible.

Some umpires I witnessed on the road this summer carried themselves with such an arrogant and pompous attitude that coaches would not dare question their judgment even with diplomacy. Not so around here, because Kramp's men deem to get the call right no matter what it takes or who is involved.

Around the horn, I observed the best pre-game infield practice I've ever seen in the one taken by Japan in the CABA 15-and-under World Series in Crystal Lake, Ill. In all my years of writing about and coaching amateur baseball, I've never seen a team take infield with such energy and spirit.

It was non-stop electricity as the Japanese players chattered, cheered and executed play after play with extraordinary accuracy and intensity.

The Japanese coach/fungo hitter didn't just rap the ball at his players, but instead smoked each ball at them no sooner than they had jumped into position for their turn. The coach drilled a couple of his players in the chest and no play was an easy one.

The outfielders chased balls that caromed off the fence and their bodies. Each play was like the last they would ever make and attracted a bevy of admirers.

Infield practice concluded with the players rushing into a huddle with the coach at home plate and removing their caps out of respect as he spoke.

It may not be necessary for their players to remove their caps, but every coach would love to have them put forth such intensity.

In Cleveland, Miami had two Cuban defectors -- one of whom was a member of the Cuban National team -- pitching for it after being in the country for just two weeks. . . . Also, in the CABA high school series in Euclid, Ohio (near Cleveland), the grounds crew used crushed corn cobs on the infield dirt . . .

Honoring a 50-year tradition, the Springfield, Ohio entry in the NABF World Series in Marietta (Ga.) wore stirrups and shorts like Bill Veeck's Chicago White Sox of the mid-'70s.

Footnote: North Carolina State, Maryland, Clemson and Florida International are very interested in North County right-handed pitcher Mike Wooden.

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