Column: A good game, spoiled

Live MikeSometimes, I really hate my job.

I’m not talking about your garden variety, Monday-morning, hit-your-deadlines-type hate here. Everybody feels that from time to time, no matter how engaging they find their place of work.

My main gripe with working here is that, as amazing and affirming as sports can be, sometimes you meet people who just sour you on the whole thing altogether.

And it’s never the athletes themselves.

Sure, you’ll see the occasional outburst of bad sportsmanship on the field, but far be it from me to criticize any competitor for getting heated from time to time. When I was 17, I wasn’t always in control of my emotions and, to borrow from a classic adage, those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw sporting equipment.

More often than not, it’s the behavior of fans—only a few, and never the majority—that make me throw my hands up in despair.

Last week, while I was covering a playoff softball game, I found myself among the crowd, which is generally where I don’t like to be. As the higher-seeded team was watching a lead evaporate in the late innings, the underdogs’ dugout came alive. With choreographed chants—not uncommon to the game of softball—urging the batters on, these girls got loud. With each successive hit, they got even louder.

As a pitcher back in high school, I couldn’t stand teams like this. Mamaroneck, in particular, was a vocal group and the bench always did their best to throw me off my game.

But you know what? That’s part of the game and something with which I—and players everywhere—just have to deal.

It’s when the fans inject themselves that I start to have a real problem.

Last week, the home fans were about as bad as I’ve seen, hurling loud, derisive calls toward the visitor’s dugout to tell them to shut up.

“Maybe we should get the fire department to hose these animals down,” one man—presumably a parent—screamed in the direction of the teenaged girls who had simply come out to play some softball.

My stomach dropped. There’s a fine line between supporting your team and being an obnoxious jerk, and this guy just pole-vaulted over that line into uncharted troglodyte territory. Even removing the racial implications of what was said—which is tough to do in this spot—karma should at least have rewarded this grown man screaming at 14-year-old girls with a foul ball to the temple.

I didn’t say anything, though I wish I had. I simply found myself a new vantage point for the rest of the game and genuinely dreaded my weekend trip up to North Rockland for the section championships, where I assumed the fans, just one game away from watching their hometown team win a coveted title, would be even worse.

Luckily for me—and my continued passion for my job—the weekend restored my faith in our local fan bases.

Of course the fans up north were loud, I expected that. But they also managed to keep the games in perspective. Sure, Rye Neck baseball fans were ecstatic when their boys took home the Class B title, showering the kids with adulation as they proudly hoisted the Golden Glove. But it was other, smaller moments that stuck out.

In the Class C title game, Tuckahoe fans were angrily chirping at one of the umpires after a questionable call–and rightly so–but their anger was momentarily thrust to the wayside after Haldane’s catcher took a foul-tip off his hand.

In the Class B softball finals, Rye Neck’s star catcher, Sam Yanuzzi, came out of the game after a painful foul ball to the knee to the sustained applause of both fan bases.

You could hear the tone in the fans’ voices change as they wondered if these players would be all right. For a minute, they were able to put the game aside and put themselves in the shoes of the parents and friends who might be watching someone they love deal with a setback in the biggest game they’d undoubtedly played in their young lives.

Coaches from competing schools came out to cheer our local athletes, like Mamaroneck’s Mike Chiapparelli, whom I saw at both the baseball and softball championships that day.

Some athletes, like Mamaroneck’s Richie Barrella—whose own team fell short in its bid for a title—took to Twitter to congratulate Rye Neck’s players on a great season.

It proved to me there are at least a few people out there who can keep sports—especially at the youth and high school level—in perspective.

So maybe there’s still hope. Maybe there are enough good fans out there willing to cheer their side on and leave the extra-curriculars to the bad apples.

But as far as the rotten-fruit goes, I’m still hoping that karma fouls a few balls off.


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About Mike Smith

Mike Smith has been with Hometown Media Group since 2007, serving as the company’s Sports Editor. Mike has been commended for his work by the New York Press Association, winning awards in 2008 for “Best Sports Feature” and again in 2009 as part of a team that put together “The Game,” a breakdown of the Harrison-Rye football rivalry, which won for “Best Special Section.” His weekly column, “Live Mike,” offers his unique insights into a broad range of topics in the sports world. He resides in Eastchester, N.Y. and spends most of his free time serving as the player-manager for a competitive men’s baseball team in New York City. Reach Mike at 914-653-1000 x22 or; follow him on Twitter @LiveMike_Sports.