Commentary: Keep a cool head, wherever you are, and good things may happen

High tensions at the state finals cause players and writers to act strangely

May 31, 2012

Though I'd like to write about Saturday's Class 3A state baseball final being the highlight of my work as a journalist, a flawless pitchers' duel that went into extra innings tied 0-0, or 1-1, and from which emerged an ace hurler who went the distance in the final game of his high school career to bring home the title, it just did not live up to the hype I had created in my own head (I'm always hoping for a high school version of game seven of the 1991 World Series, when Jack Morris tossed a 10-inning shutout in the Minnesota Twins' 1-0 victory over Atlanta).

The game was plenty exciting, with North Harford bringing the tying run to the plate in the top of the seventh before defending champ J.M. Bennett managed to nail down a 4-2 victory, but both teams were obviously wound up, as each committed three errors (I'm betting that's close to a season-high total for both), and had potential game-changing rallies ended by baserunning mistakes. Those miscues, however, can be excused, as I've been to plenty of post-season games and know that strange things can happen to good teams in such high-pressure circumstances. What disappointed me most on Saturday was the ugliness that went on in the press box, with which I was involved.

I'm comfortable in the press box at Ripken Stadium, where the 3A baseball final was played. I spend most of my summer evenings in it, covering the IronBirds, and I'm willing to bet I've logged more hours up there than any reporter in the country. Arriving a little later than expected at Saturday's contest, I found the front row of the press box essentially filled, with the available seats having the desk space in front of them taken up by camera equipment (this happens at every game, IronBirds or otherwise, and I know better than to show up five minutes before the first pitch), so I decided to sit in the second row, which doesn't offer quite the same view, but is just fine for covering a game. Taking a spot between a plugged-in laptop computer and a stadium telephone, I fired up my own laptop and settled down for the biggest high school baseball game of the year. Five minutes later, the owner of the computer next to me ran back into the press box, and started excitedly telling me that the entire area I was sitting in had been reserved solely for his use, and, while grabbing my laptop and attempting to move it without asking permission, said, "you gotta get out of here now. I don't know who told you that you could sit here, but I'm on an eight o'clock deadline. Move!"

I'm not going to identify the guy by his name or the newspaper for which he works, though I'd like to, so, skipping that tidbit, let's say I was extremely angry with this fellow journalist who'd ordered me out of my seat without a hello, an excuse me, a please, a thank you or an I'm sorry. While trying to make room for myself in the front row after my dismissal, I, speaking in a stage whisper, referred to F.J. (fellow journalist, which is how I'll identify him from here out) by using a vulgar term for a human body part. In the spirit of brevity, here's the witty and insightful exchange that followed:

F.J.: I had this seat called. They should have told you not to sit here. Who do you work for?

Me: Everyone in this room is on deadline! You're not special!

F.J.: I had this whole area reserved.

Me: I heard you the first time; I don't care.

F.J.: Who do you work for?

Me: I work for The Aegis, and I've been in this booth more than everyone combined, so stop trying to pull rank.

F.J.: I know (Aegis editor). I'm going to call and say you're acting like a jerk.

Me. Do it!

F.J.: I'm going to.

Me: Good.

It might have kept going on like that for 10 more minutes had another reporter not said, "OK you two, let's cool it." I was so mad at that point that my temples were pounding, mostly because F.J., who has probably scared a couple college interns with his self-important act, thought he was going to cow me into apologizing. Later in the evening, when I went to retrieve my backpack, which was still sitting smack dab in F.J.'s territory, he pointed to a piece of paper on which he'd written, "[his name] from the [newspaper he works for] is sitting HERE," smacked it down on the table with his palm and glared at me. For an instant afterward, probably because I was at a baseball game, my mind went back to all the sandlot showdowns of my youth, and I thought that the best course of action would be to flip F.J.'s hat off his head. I came to my senses quickly though, realizing that to do so would mean one of two things, that I'd either become the bully that F.J. was attempting to be earlier, or he'd take the bait and we'd be brawling, in the press box, at Ripken Stadium, where I spend a good part of my summer, during the most important high school baseball game of the year, with an audience of a half dozen other journalists. I smiled and went back to my seat, still agitated, but happy that I'd let it slide off my back.

So, the tension of Saturday's state final was felt everywhere. The players were tight and committed errors they probably wouldn't have normally, the journalists were stressed and acting badly toward each other and the fans were torqued up enough that the home plate umpire issued a warning to a group who'd been loudly questioning his calls. Toward the end of the game, during a pre-inning warmup, a J.M. Bennett infielder sailed a throw over the first baseman's head, over the wall, and into a large group of North Harford fans. He allegedly did this on purpose as retribution for something the Hawks' fans had yelled at him or a teammate. If it was just an errant throw, the infielder certainly got a rise out of everyone with little effort, but if he was trying to plunk a North Harford fan on purpose, then he let the pressure of a big game get to him in the worst kind of way. Keep a cool head everyone, it's almost always better than the alternative.

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