The pitch hit the catcher’s glove. The umpire called the batter out, indicating he’d swung. And then everything at my eight-year-old’s baseball game went South.
First for some stage setting: we were the team in the field, and so were more than happy with the called strikeout. They, of course, were not. And when the call was made, their first-base coach — standing very close to our dugout down the right side of the field — began voicing his complaints.
“He didn’t swing!” he yelled at the ump. “He didn’t go around!”
While inappropriate, such outbursts are not shocking. I mean, coaches and parents get a little boisterous when passions run high. But what happened next was very uncommon and sent our coaches into the anger stratosphere.
The umpire, let’s call him Joe, reversed his call.
“What?!!! I heard our head coach yell. “You can’t do that! You can’t change the call because he argued!!! That’s ridiculous!!!”
Another one of our coaches who’s played a lot of baseball in his day began pacing up and down the dugout: “You never do that!!! I never seen that!!! He can’t do that!!!”
The tension in the air was super charged, and I bet if our coaches could have stood toe-to-toe with the Joe the umpire — who was at that moment the incarnation of all that is evil and unjust — there would have been professional-grade yelling and dirt kicking.
What made matters worse is that after letting the youngster in question continue to bat, he got a hit and they scored some runs, leaving our coaching staff even further fit to be tied. The anger being directed at the ump was palpable.
A few innings later, I was standing behind the fence near home plate (I’m not a coach on this particular team) when Joe started chatting with another father on our team who was standing next to me.
“I’m going to lose sleep tonight over this,” Joe said to the fellow dad, Chris, referencing what had taken place. Joe was clearly shaken and a bit downcast.
Chris responded with class: “You shouldn’t. Changing your call was the right call. The kid didn’t swing,” he said.
“But I will,” Joe said. “I really try to do a good job, and I hate it when I screw up. I know how important this stuff is to everybody.”
“It’s not that important. Stuff happens,” Chris said.
And with that exchange, with hearing Joe speak, he transformed before my eyes from an agent of evil who was likely in the pay of the enemy to a 60-something guy who was working nights umping Little League baseball games both to make a few extra bucks and, very probably, because he liked it. He transformed from an arrogant jerk to a caring and kind human being who, rather than deserving our scorn, was more entitled to our sympathy as someone who came up a bit short when trying his best.
And so I was struck at how, when passions run high, and when the person in question is at arm’s length, we can cast them in the most evil of lights — largely because it easy to do. This is why it’s a good idea for our elected officials from opposite sides of the aisle to spend some time together outside of the political arena. This is also why it’s a good idea to get to know all of those people you must work with. Familiarity, in this case, does not breed contempt, it neutralizes it.
Of course, on occasion, those you get to know will in fact be evil but, more often than not, you’ll find they are decent folks just like you. You will learn that they never said hello, for example, not because of arrogance, but just because they’re shy, or always in a rush, or whatever.
So the next time you’ve cast someone you don’t really know as an individual not worth getting to know, give them a chance. Try to have a chat and see where it goes, because you may just find that the person whose feelings you thought weren’t worth caring about is going to lose sleep because they care so much.