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Still on his Feet: A requiem for mismatched teams

May 20, 2014


By Robert Husseman
Of the News-Register



DAYTON – No outcome of a high school sporting event is certain. Anything can happen. Some outcomes, however, are much, much more certain than others.

On May 6, I attended the Dayton softball team’s Class 3A West Valley League game against Gervais, hosted by the Pirates. Dayton, at the time, was 15-1 and had not lost to a Class 3A school, let alone a WVL foe. Gervais was 0-13 and hadn’t scored more than three runs in a game all season. The Cougars – a nice group of girls, I’m sure, who work hard in all aspects of life – could have played the Pirates 10,000 times before recording a win.

Dayton coach Rob Umbenhower rested ace pitcher Sierra Ray and moved his girls around to different positions – anything to keep them fresh in the field. At the plate, however, there was little that Gervais could do. The Pirates smacked the Cougars for eight runs in the top of the first inning, with four hits, four walks, a hit batter and a Gervais error leading to base runners. (Dayton was the visiting team because Gervais’ baseball and softball fields have been unplayable for much of this season. Every game for the Cougars this season has been a road game.)

The second inning was more of the same: nine Pirates runs on eight hits (including an RBI triple by Kiley Hill and a three-run home run by Ray), three walks and one hit batter. More runs could have been scored, but Umbenhower induced the third out of the inning by ordering Stephanie Jacks to leave third base early in one at-bat, an automatic out.

It began dawning on the players as they entered the dugout for the third inning: the school record for runs in a game, 33, was within reach. The Pirates pleaded with Umbenhower to let them break the record, let them own a piece of Pirates history.

Umbenhower did not such thing. He could name his score, and he eventually did: 29-0, in five innings. The Dayton girls were not unsporting with their desire to run up the score – they simply wanted to set a record and test their mettle.

Over the next three innings, four more Pirates “accidentally” left early and were called out by the umpires. To say that the game ended mercifully is an understatement.

Gervais, bless their traveling hearts, have played seven innings once in 15 games this season – a 9-0 loss to Class 4A Taft. Dayton, currently ranked No. 2 in Class 3A softball, has played seven innings twice against 3A competition – both times against Rainier, the No. 3 team in 3A.

Girls’ high school sports are more stratified than boys’ sports: there are great teams, and there are awful teams, and there is a lot of room in between. Boys’ sports enjoy more parity, but even that only gets you so far – witness Horizon Christian (Tualatin) baseball’s 36-0, five-inning victory over Colton on April 8. The Vikings have won five games this year; they are normally competitive, but on that day the Hawks clearly had their number.

These five-inning mismatches allow victorious teams to empty their benches and test out exotic lineup combinations, but some mismatches are simply too great. There is a fix that the OSAA can make, if it’s willing to consider it: cap games at 20-0 after three innings, 15-0 after four innings, and 10-0 after five innings. Everyone in the losing team’s lineup would get at least one at-bat in a three-inning game, and we can drop the pretense that much of what happens in the fourth and fifth innings is truly beneficial for all parties.

Artificially keeping the final score low does the game a disservice. Sometimes mercy simply isn’t enough.

 

A legend retires

Sports journalism has not lost a titan of the craft in the traditional sense – Gary Smith is alive and well. He simply intends to pursue other interests beyond magazine longform writing.

In an age where length is a status symbol, depth is an exercise in restraint and breadth is a Renaissance ideal, Smith stands before us as a pioneer of the field. He announced his retirement on April 28, with four National Magazine Awards and countless other honors to his name. Smith’ss pieces for magazines such as Sports Illustrated and Life were occasionally flowery and breathless but always highly entertaining, addictively readable and skillfully ambiguous. The writer got out of the way and told a story, and launched a thousand imitators with every stroke of his pen.

Smith’s work in sports journalism has earned him plenty of acclaim, but his pieces so easily transcend sports that readers of all minds can access them. Many writers have lauded him and highlighted their favorite Smith stories; I would encourage readers to go through his work and see which ones resonate the most.

 

Required reading

Take these to the beach with you, or other parts unknown, as the weather heats up:

No Exit: One Startup’s Struggle to Survive the Silicon Valley Gold Rush,” by Gideon Lewis-Kraus (Wired, April 22, 2014). How is money made and distributed amid the Silicon Valley tech scene? And what is the opportunity cost? Come for the technological discussion and dreams of great wealth, stay for the human struggle that keeps everything afloat.

It’s Easier to Get Assists in Huntsville, Texas, Than Anywhere Else,” by Carl Bialik (FiveThirtyEight.com, April 4, 2014). FiveThirtyEight’s brand of statistically oriented analysis has taken off, and pieces like this one make me return. It combines exhaustive reporting with thorough analysis of a basketball statistic that can make or break players.

The Day I Started Lying to Ruth,” by Peter B. Bach (New York, May 6, 2014). No spoilers, promise. A recommendation: read it all on one page.

Any of the Pulitzer Prize winners and nominees from the Class of 2014. I will post a link online for your reading pleasure.

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