An incident at the Park on Saturday night jarred me back into the past – to the “Dark Ages” of youth sports. I remember those days well – screaming coaches, yelling parents, verbally-abused players and umpires. Of course, I was part of the problem. 

I had no perspective about my son’s athletic ability. I figured if he didn’t make it as a major league pitcher; he could always play midfield in the World Cup. I took his games way too seriously. I bottomed-out the day I turned my back on a game involving 8 year-olds, because I couldn’t handle the tension.

I wasn’t completely off my rocker. I didn’t yell at the players I coached – OK once. I had disputes with opposing coaches but didn’t question calls by the ump. I reserved my wrath for teenage soccer refs in River Forest, where I earned at least two yellow cards. 

A teenager was at the center of Saturday’s controversy. The scheduled ump didn’t show, so a 16 year-old stepped up to ump his first game. (Full disclosure: he is the older brother of a player on the home team). The game pitted a Minors team from Forest Park against their counterparts from Berkeley. 

These boys are 9-11 years old.

Forest Park jumped out to an early lead and had a big rally going in the 3rd Inning until the ump called a Forest Park runner safe at home. The Berkeley coach pulled his team off the field in protest. To their credit, the Forest Park coaches forfeited the run so the game could continue. Calm was restored – temporarily.

There were a few fans, though, that never got over the ump’s mistakes. They rode him for the rest of the game. Finally, in the late innings, a blown strike call pushed the vocal ones over the edge. It was around 8 p.m. 

The person running the Dugout Cafe called the Forest Park Police to report that some opposing fans were “out of control” and there was concern a fight could break out.  Two officers arrived. They found there was no actual fighting and that some of the vocal ones had departed. The officers were professional and courteous in defusing the situation. No arrests were necessary. Oh – and Forest Park won 12-2. 

Berkeley Little League President Bill Hesslau later spoke to me about the game. He said resignedly, “You can’t control parents.” Their league has a motto that parents should “cheer and support” the players but there are a few that get out of hand. He mentioned that Forest Park and Berkeley have always had a good relationship on the field (I can attest to that) and that this had been a “minor incident.”

My ace correspondent, Samantha Apraham, covered the controversial game. Afterwards, she singled-out the star players on both teams. Forest Park’s Jaxon Entler made some sparkling plays in the outfield and drove in two runs. His teammate, Dominic Holguin earned the game ball for his pitching and clutch hitting. Berkeley’s Carter stroked a two run double, while Johnson hit a home run.

Sam had covered a less-volatile contest that morning. The Mighty T’s game featured the Cubs v. the Cardinals. Sam reported that many of the infielders started playing in the dirt. Coaches reminded them to use the “alligator mouth” method to catch the ball. The game ended in a “tie” and no police were called. Even “Dark Age” parents like me can’t get worked-up over a T-ball game.

John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.

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