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Lil' Romney Oaks Would Want You to Read More. [Aug. 11th, 2006|12:45 am]
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thegreatone0381's post about Romney Oaks and the PONY intentional walk in the champ game was a good one . . . also used was a great article link to stir the pot.

I first noticed this Rick Reilly Turd Statue in reference from pollack1020's post, here.

In brief, it's a champ game in a Pony league (read: really early little league level), and it's last inning, two out, team at plate down by one, with a kid on 3rd base. The best hitter, Bleak, is at the plate. An out means the team in the field wins. On deck, the next batter, there's a cancer survivor, Romney Oaks, who is also the worst hitter on the team.

The fielding team's coach decides to intentionally walk the best hitter (4 pitches away from the plate), to get that kid, Bleak, on base. They want to pitch to the cancer kid, Romney.

Romney strikes out. Team in the field wins.

The local news has more than one piece of actual journalism about Romney Oaks . . . the articles spend length and detail up to the point of asking what you think, and they're not like Reilly's, which sits there as an opinion column, guiding the morons (read: leading the opinion for a majority of douchebags).

This next article is like observing Walter Cronkite after a bout of Jerry Springer.

Monson: Weighing compassion, drive to win

By Gordon Monson
Tribune Columnist
Salt Lake Tribune

Pony League Baseball and the human condition collided at home plate during a recent championship game, leaving defeat and doubt in one dugout, maybe disgust, too, and imperfect victory, at some cost, in the other.

Standing in the vortex, in the batter's box, was 9-year-old Romney Oaks, a survivor of brain cancer who played little league baseball, in part, because he wanted to be a regular kid who did regular things. What he became, after that single at-bat, though, was anything but regular.

He was transformed into the explosive centerpiece - "a powder keg," as the league president put it - of a discussion about what junior sports should teach children who participate, what the value of that participation is, whether adults mess up the kids' fun, and at what price winning should come. Clear-cut answers are about as easy as knocking a heavy split-fingered fastball out of the yard.

Romney struck out.

And ignited an uproar.

Here's the setup: The two best teams in Bountiful's 10-and-under Mueller Park Mustang League - the Yankees and Red Sox - met in a championship game, played the last Friday night in June. The undefeated Yanks were in the field, up by one run in the bottom of the last inning. With the tying run on third, two outs in the books, and the Red Sox' best hitter, Jordan Bleak, coming to the plate, Yankees coaches huddled and decided to do something they hadn't done all season: They told their pitcher to intentionally walk a hitter. An absolute anomaly in a low-key recreational league in which regular-season games were governed by competitive limitations, such as a maximum of four runs allowed in an inning. Those limits had been suspended for the championship game.

Bleak already had nailed a three-run homer and a triple.

"It was a baseball move," says Shaun Farr, one of the Yankees' coaches. "These kids wanted to win."

Romney was the only thing that stood in their way.

The undersized youngster, who had been diagnosed with the brain tumor five years earlier, who had battled valiantly through a mighty survivor's fight via traditional treatments, including surgery and chemotherapy, had been restricted, thereafter, in his baseball skills. When manning his position in center field, he wore a batter's helmet as a precaution to guard the shunt in his head. When he swung the bat, it looked like a drag bunt.

Red Sox coach Keith Gulbransen, who was coaching first base, says he overheard the Yankees coaches discussing their strategy: "They said, '. . . This is the kid who hit it out. And look who's up next.' They knew who was on-deck. It was heartbreaking. It was sound baseball strategy. But, at this level, was it fair? Romney knew what was going on."

After two strikes, Romney already had tears in his eyes. It was merely a matter of seconds before the kid who wanted to be regular became a special K. After the third whiff, the plumbing fully clogged and backed up, spilling down his face.

There may ordinarily be no crying in baseball, but, on this night, there was.

Anger, too.

Gulbransen heatedly demanded an apology from Yankees coaches Bob Farley and Farr: "Apologize," he said. "Romney didn't deserve that."

"This wasn't about Romney," says Farr. "It wasn't about picking on a cancer survivor. It was about taking the bat out of their best hitter's hands in order to win. Our kids had worked hard. We played within the rules. We were trying to win."

Farr says he and Farley had no clue Romney Oaks had battled cancer, a remarkable assertion, considering Farr had coached Romney two years earlier in a basketball league.

"He was my third-best player, an aggressive athlete, out of seven or eight guys on my team," Farr says. "I love that kid. He was normal, athletic, completely into sports. He played a lot in the games. I had no idea he had cancer. I didn't know he was weak. But, in the championship baseball game, I could see that he wasn't swinging the bat much. And we didn't want to get beat by their best hitter, so we went to the next guy in the lineup, period."

Gulbransen's complaint focused on the move's age-level appropriateness in a chummy little rec league.

"I told Bob [Farley], 'Your move was strategically brilliant, but, at this level, inappropriate,' " Gulbransen says. "He asked back, 'When does it become appropriate?' That's the issue. What are we trying to teach these kids? At age 9, they are out there counting dandelions. They're herding cats. I guess the answer would be, when the kids are really in it for themselves to play the game. I wouldn't have done what those coaches did at this level. At higher levels, at comp level, it's appropriate. This is just for fun."

Says Farley: "I treat baseball as fun. I'm positive because I've seen too much negative through the years. I teach the kids basic skills. I'm not in it to win at all costs. But, when it comes down to a championship game, a coach has an obligation to his players to give them the best chance of winning. Everyone wanted to win that game."

Still, Farley says had he known Romney's health history, he would have rearranged his strategy at game's end.

"I would have told our pitcher to go ahead and pitch to their best hitter, but to give every pitch everything he had, and not worry about walking him," he says. "I would have tried to save Romney's feelings."

On the other hand, is it proper for a coach, then, to not intentionally walk a team's best hitter in that situation, to avoid a move he normally would make, based solely on the fact that the next opposing batter is a cancer victim?

Let's put ourselves in that situation. What would we do? What should we do?

Put the game on the line by pitching to the strong hitter? Or pursue the surest route to the win, the way the Yankees did?

"It's unfortunate," Gulbransen says. "At age 9, the boys learned there are shortcuts to winning. The [coaches] took the boys out of the game."

Or did they just play smart?

Find your own answer.

League president Craig Parry, a neighbor of all the coaches involved, who attended the game, has a unique perspective on the scenario not because of his administrative position, but because his own son developed a malignant brain tumor as a young kid, caroming through a similarly heart-wrenching life challenge.

"It's a difficult call," he says. "It's hard because kids are going to have their feelings hurt. But the Yankees coaches didn't do anything wrong. These are all good people. But they wanted to win. They did the best they could in an imperfect situation."

The collision between baseball and the flawed human condition initially left Romney Oaks defeated and distraught. The powerfully positive news is that the young boy subsequently told Gulbransen that he would have none of such discouragement over the long haul.

"Romney made a determination," Gulbransen says. "He said he wouldn't quit. He said he wouldn't be the kid who strikes out to end the game next time. He wants to be the kid who gets intentionally walked."


Any youngster strong enough to stare down cancer can handle the best and worst baseball can serve up, too. The kid may have struck out in the Mueller Park Mustang League. But he's already won the game.


Gordon Monson can be reached at gmonson@sltrib.com. To write a letter about this or any sports topic, send an e-mail to sportseditor@sltrib.com

Choice points, some culled from Monson's piece, many with my own Reilly-esque interjections:

1. Romney's mention that he'll fight through and try try again. Way to be. Just brush 'em off.

2. Reilly missed the point about this being a championship game in the league. The mercy limits had been lifted, such as the one about a 4-run-max-per-inning. Sorry, Reilly. Do some investigation. Google News is two keywords, the kid's first-last name, away . . . from getting all the second-hand facts, at least.

3. The Red Sox coach was ready to start a fight over this outcome? That's a great demonstration for the kids. Plus, no one asked him why he put the weakest kid in the batting order right after the strongest kid. I'm more concerned about the Sox coach. Choice quote from Gulbransen, the Sox coach:

"I told Bob [Farley], 'Your move was strategically brilliant, but, at this level, inappropriate,' " Gulbransen says. "He asked back, 'When does it become appropriate?' That's the issue. What are we trying to teach these kids? At age 9, they are out there counting dandelions. They're herding cats. I guess the answer would be, when the kids are really in it for themselves to play the game. I wouldn't have done what those coaches did at this level. At higher levels, at comp level, it's appropriate. This is just for fun."

Uh, your teams were in a championship game. You have wins and losses in the Pony league in order to determine such things, like champ games. The Yanks coach had an opportunity to show the kids the intentional walk, and it was a legitimate time to pull it. The line, Gulbransen, ends at teaching the kids to slide into the ankles and legs of the fielders . . . to bull-rush the catcher . . . when running the bases. It's drawn at ordering the kid to intentionally hit a batter.

4. Was anyone on the Yankees really picking on Romney by an intentional walk to get to him? He still had to bat. What if the kid in front of him got on base, and Romney struck out? Would they have went after the Yankees pitcher? Who would they blame then?

5. The kid, Romney, was of the most frail health, to begin. He had to wear a helmet in center field . . . his swing, as Monson noted, was like a drag bunt . . . just putting the bat over the plate, is what that description means. Where was Gulbransen and the Pony league to question whether Romney Oaks was healthy enough to play in the game?

Now, it's your turn to be the Yanks coach.

Poll #790394 Two Outs, Last Inning, Man on Third, Best Hitter, Bleak, at the Plate.

Romney's on deck. What do you do?

Pitch to Bleak.
Walk Bleak. Pitch to Romney.

If you read any of this, you might guess my opinion. That's why Reilly should be a blogger too.


[User Picture]From: sauce1977
2006-08-11 06:28 pm (UTC)
People were talking about how the Yanks coach would have looked even worse if Romney got a hit.

Jesus. They really had it in for the guy.

I was wondering if they were going to crucify the kid who was pitching.
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