I went to the fights, and a baseball game broke out.
— Old joke
Three Space Rockets players brawled with each other in the home dugout during Saturday night’s National Extreme Baseball League game, and were ejected.
At the time, the Rockets led 3-2 over the Orlando Dragons, but their ejections left the team with only eight players. The Rockets chose to continue playing, with only two outfielders to cover the shortage. When the vacant ninth position came up in the lineup, the Rockets were charged an automatic out. Orlando rallied to win, 8-3.
I’m not going to name names or get into what caused the fight. I was asked by many people — players, coaches, fans, management — if I videotaped the brawl. The answer is no.
I’ve always felt that internal squabbles should be kept private, even if the participants drag them into public (which is what happened Saturday). What happened was an embarrassment for the team, the league and especially for the combatants.
As many of you know, I came to the Space Coast a year ago from California, where I covered the Los Angeles Angels minor leagues for my other web site, FutureAngels.com. I’m used to being around a certain standard of professional conduct, so when I see fights, brawls, head hunting on the local adult amateur fields I’m a bit taken aback.
Many adult amateur participants have told me this behavior is not unusual for these leagues, and not to expect too much from them. These leagues are “pay to play,” meaning the players pay a fee to participate in the league. They play once a week for fun, to blow off some steam, to still be part of game they enjoyed in high school, college, maybe even professionally in the minors.
The Brevard County Adult Baseball Association championship game on June 27 ended prematurely after a Rockledge Rays pitcher appeared to throw deliberately — twice — at a Merritt Island Marlins batter. The pitcher was tossed by the home plate umpire after the first pitch, which bounced behind the batter. This left the Rays with only eight players, so the umpire called the game a forfeit. The Marlins, who were winning at the time, said they wanted to win on the field and begged the umpire to let them continue. The umpire relented and allowed the pitcher to return, but the next pitch plunked the batter in the ribs. He was ejected again, the game was over, and the Marlins won by forfeit.
Click here to watch the video. Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection required.
I filmed this incident and posted it, unlike last night’s brawl, for several reasons. One was that it was between the lines. It was part of the game. It was also historic — this was the league’s championship game, and all the league’s players had the right to see what happened. That said, I did edit the video to remove actions of a personal nature that would further embarrass certain individuals and the league. The posted video told the story well enough without embellishment.
Personal ethics aside, I was shocked by what I’d seen, and by the Rays’ refusal to accept their second-place trophies at the post-game award ceremony. I was reminded once again that this is not unusual for adult amateur leagues.
Mind you, I’ve seen fights and head hunting and internal brawls in professional baseball. Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano was recently suspended for a dugout tantrum. Zambrano was suspended on Jun 28 and is currently at the Cubs’ minor league complex in Mesa, Arizona undergoing anger management therapy.
The NXBL lies somewhere between professional baseball and adult amateur ball. The league describes itself as “semi-pro,” in that it has a revenue sharing plan with the players should the league make enough money. But the players must pay to join the league, as with the amateur leagues.
The critical difference, in my opinion, is that those attending Saturday night’s game were paying customers. Yes, most of them were family and friends of the players, but they were paying customers nonetheless. They deserved to see a complete contest played between two teams fielding a full lineup of nine players, not one team handicapped because three teammates got thrown out for fighting each other.
The NXBL is struggling for credibility, and a very modest slice of the local entertainment dollar. I suppose some people might be more likely to attend if they knew they might see teammates fight each other, but such behavior might also turn off those such as myself who expect players to act like teammates.
Whether it’s professional or amateur or semi-pro, one constant I’ve always observed is that the goal is for the team to win. It’s not about individual achievements, or individual egos. What happened Saturday night cost the team the lead, and probably the win. And that’s the bottom line.