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Foul call needs plenty of review: Sandy Koufax League spat gets uglier than needed


A column of mine that recently ran in the HDN and garnered several strong reactions.

There were three undefeated teams, two district bids available, and only one man to make the decision.

When you factor in the presence of parents and coaches of 13- and 14-year old baseball players and understand that a volunteer of a local rec league had few blueprints or rules to guide him through the decision-making process, you can understand how things could get messy.

Aaron Blair and Kevin Butters, a pair of baseball coaches for the undefeated Homer team in Hillsdale’s Sandy Koufax League, have gone public with their cry of injustice — a cry that revolves around their opinion they were snubbed from postseason play without due cause.

They cannot fathom that their group of boys was passed over for two other teams with spotless records, without so much as a phone call or chance to state their case.

And they certainly don’t understand why there is no “forfeit rule,” when a team no-shows because they can’t field a full squad. Instead of being held responsible and taking a loss, the team that cancels is off the hook as if the game was never set to happen.

Blair and Butters’ team was ready to take on the Hillsdale and Jonesville boys, but struck out looking when both teams cancelled the scheduled contests.

Interestingly enough though, Jonesville and Hillsdale had plenty of guys in gear for July 8 when they happily accepted their district invites, without once having to take the field against Homer.

Blair and Butters said they can’t sleep at night knowing that an entire season of hard work came to an end thanks in part to the district selections made by League President Chris Adams and they are not afraid to lay the blame on his doorstep. They went as far as to say this in a lengthy letter to the editor: “I do not know how this Mr. Adams or any one guy can have all the power to destroy a Sandy Koufax team’s destiny.”

Blair and Butters believe if Adams cared at all he would’ve instituted a three-team playoff, leaving the best two standing.

Adams response to a possible playoff? Simple.

“I told them I made the decision and it is what is. Was it a difficult decision? Yes. Is life fair? No.”

The Homer coaches are resolute in fighting the so-called good fight for kids they felt have been cheated, but unfortunately it’s the wrong fight.

Don’t take on the man who volunteers his time to the league to “just promote baseball and let kids play the game” as he puts it, take on the system you have ascribed to by being part of the Southern Michigan Baseball Congress.

It’s not Adams’ fault the only regulation in the rule book regarding district selections is that host teams automatically get a bid and what follows is just shades of gray.

Adams also had nothing to do with the fact the American Amateur Baseball Congress (AABC) decided some time after the season started that the beginning of districts was going to be moved from July 15 to July 8.

If the season had one more week the chaos may have resolved itself with a game or two, but neither Adams, nor Joe Cooper, the AABC North Central regional vice president knows exactly why the dates were switched.

And under no circumstances whatsoever is Adams the reason that sports, even at the rec level in a league full of young teens, have lost the “all is good if they just have fun” mantra.

Sometimes it takes incidents like this to instigate change, but put yourself in Adams’ shoes for a second before considering what happens next.

In the past Adams said he has extended invites to Homer teams only to have them decline, and he has three undefeated teams, with two being from the biggest population areas of the county and another from outside the county lines.

He has very little time to make his decision and really his only job is to put two teams into districts who best represent his league.

He’s been the only one making that call since the inception of the league in 2002 and even Blair admitted he didn’t even know Adams name until a few weeks back, so obviously things were running along just fine.

Then this year he picks his teams and soon after has some livid coaches threatening to “have a news crew come out” to his house and people like me giving him a call.

Does he seem like such a bad guy now?

Regardless, the lesson that needs to be learned through this is that winning matters, whether you like it or not, and coaches, parents and players need to know the ground rules from the preseason forward.

I read through the AABC’s by-laws and one thing is clear — the word by-laws seems to mean “suggestions and ideas,” not rules and regulations in this case.

Adams isn’t given a whole lot of hard and true formulas to govern the league with, meaning that if something has worked since 2002 there is no reason he should be spending his free time slaving over the possible inclusion of a new policies.

I think a three-team playoff would have snuffed out this ill will aimed in his direction, and forfeits equaling losses is a good idea too, but now would be a good time for everyone involved to act like mature adults who actually care about sportsmanship and competitive ideals.

The coaches and Adams need to at least do a meet and greet, especially for all of the coaches who just learned his name like Blair and Butters, and bring questions and concerns to the table.

Instead of putting an entire summer baseball league in the hands of someone who already has enough time commitments of his own as the Hillsdale High School baseball coach and as a father and husband, why not let Adams be a moderator, one who has the final say but is willing to listen. It seems to make a lot more sense to make plans together now, instead of getting into verbal spats and calling names when things go awry.

From my experience Adams doesn’t shy away from telling you how he feels and he’s a strong-minded man no doubt, but I am positive he’s more worried about kids having a great baseball experience than he is about being in control.

I’ve read far too many headlines about little league coaches and parents of junior hockey players taking things too far. In this case I think the Homer coaches have a legitimate argument, but can’t we just all live and learn, and hopefully do better next time?

There are no lives at stake, I sure hope nobody is putting up betting lines on Sandy Koufax League games and I’d like to think I’m part of a society that is at its finest when working together.

I am all for playing fair when it comes to athletics, but that means fighting fair as well.

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About rjwalters

I am what you think I am — a journalist. Actually when I was hired at my current job, which by the way is Sports Editor of the Hillsdale Daily News in Hillsdale, Mich., I applied for a position titled "Wordsmith", so at my best I'll call myself a writer attempting to be a wordsmith extraordinaire.

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