On Saturday at Kilbourn Park in Chicago, an umpire fled from home plate fearing for his life. “Keep your money! This game is over.” And so it was.
On Wednesday, a congressman was gunned down at second base at Simpson Field in Alexandria, Virginia, many hundreds of miles away from Chicago, but much closer in my heart. Somewhere in there the blood pumps to the part of my brain called Coach. It pumps from from that part of my heart up Mt. Vernon Avenue past George Washington Middle School. Hang a right turn on Monroe and just past the YMCA, you’ll see the dog park and basketball courts, bleachers and home plate. My blood pumps from Simpson Field.
Now there’s blood on second base. How many young men were gunned down at that same second base over the years? Would-be thieves were gunned down by young catchers. I remember TC Williams catchers Patrick Crook and Gus Cavanaugh and Alex Haitsuka. Haitsuka had an arm like a rifle and a temper like a time bomb. Crook couldn’t always make that 60-foot throw back to the pitcher, but he still hosed a few on the base paths, gunned them down at second base.
On Thursday, Chicago police reported two killed and ten wounded in various shootings across the city. Two of those shootings took place within a mile of Kilbourn and Humboldt parks.
See the map here.
Kilbourn vs. Humboldt were the two teams matching up at last Saturday’s friendly baseball game between thirteen and fourteen-year-olds. At least I expected it to be friendly.
In the third inning, the umpire told me that he was tired of being disrespected at Kilbourn Park. This would be his final game there. He was tired of the coaches drinking liquor in the dugout and swearing around these young men. He wasn’t talking about four-letter word swearing. Sometimes I’m guilty of saying “shit” or “damn” around the players. He was talking about four-syllable swearing that would get you ejected from a professional baseball game.
In the fourth inning, a Kilbourn player barreled over Humboldt’s catcher in a play at the plate. Our catcher dropped the ball and the runner was initially called safe. By rule, players must slide into home plate to avoid collision. I conferred with the umpire and he got the call right: out at home.
What followed was one of the greatest embarrassments I have seen on a baseball field. The liquored up coaches from Kilbourn Park lost their tempers and stormed homeplate to aggressively berate the man who made the call.
Another umpire may have ejected the coaches and continued playing the game. But how could he know that he would be safe afterwards and not confronted by the belligerent men in the parking lot? Instead, he walked off into right field in the direction away from the third base dugout where those coaches were drinking and swearing, and now loudly declaring “WE WIN!” while other players and parents scratched their heads in confusion. To the contrary, everybody lost that day, especially the kids. They learned that this is how disagreements are handled in America: one side threatens violence and the governing body quits.
Here at home in Chicago, like any community, giving kids a safe place to play, to compete and to grow into respectful young adults is paramount. What message does it send when adults argue to the point of a belligerent threat? When adults act like that during a game, how will these young men react during a disagreement on the street?
Congressmen are not the only ones bleeding near baseball fields. Here in my beloved city of Chicago and around the country, people are gunned down everyday. If we don’t do something to turn around our collective attitudes when handling disagreements on the field, in the classroom, in Congress, or in the streets, then people close to us will continue to be gunned down near our homes. Kids will keep killing in the streets instead of playing ball in our parks.