Won't be long before it is ‘Say hey, Mia'
I think I was 15 when I umpired my first baseball game, a titanic Little League clash with 7- and 8-year-olds who were playing for the pure joy of the game and a snowcone.
The thing I recall most vividly was the young catchers' primary strategy of simply picking up the ball after it had hit my foot and then safely stopped rolling.
I also recall thinking to myself at the time that the next generation of baseball players must be shrinking, as I had to squat at an unusually low level to see the strike zone.
That zone, by the way, grew exponentially with every 10 walks.
I have umpired a lot of games since then, but never were the players twice my size.
For young Rachel Shore, 13, to stare strongly into the eyes of raging 18-year-old soccer players and holding her own, well, kudos to the young lady from Yuba City.
I played a little bit of soccer.
At the time, the only thing I really knew about the sport was one word: Pelé.
No one in my neighborhood really knew anything about the game, but we learned along the way.
Dressed in our old and odd-colored gym shorts, baseball sleeves of various hues and magic-marker numbers, we took to the field under the expert guidance of a coach who told us to kick the ball into the goal while pointing in the right direction, we hoped.
Halftime was good because we got orange wedges and a chance to breath again.
I quickly learned shin guards were a good thing, but before I had any, found some comfort in the ability to get even with the guy who just booted me in the leg.
The referee generally frowned on such retaliation, but I didn't think he really had the right to judge because he was wearing a matching uniform, complete with socks and shin guards.
I have since learned, of course, that soccer referees are some of the most trained officials in all of sport.
Coaches know how to point better, too.
I think there were two neighborhood teams then. For the rest of schedule, we traveled.
We quickly learned if we heard Spanish, then we might be in for a long day. It seems all those guys grew up playing fútbol, which translates loosely as “kick the ball in the goal.”
I would have never imagined then what the sport would become.
I certainly never thought that I would see 1,600 players ranging from 10 to 18 at one field complex and playing for 43 championships in a single afternoon.
I guess it is the Little League of the 21st century.
Sure there are still young catchers and umpires with a limp, but tomorrow's Willie Mays might look more like Mia Hamm.
Appeal-Democrat sports editor Todd R. Hansen can be reached at 749-4715. E-mail him at email@example.com.