So here it was Friday afternoon, and the game was about to start: Fitch vs. Avon in the state softball quarterfinals. Avon pitcher Jackie Pengel, a kid headed to Syracuse, was taking her warmup pitches when Yogi’s line “you can observe a lot by watching” came to mind.
Pengel’s deliveries were accompanied by a grunt, illustrating the effort behind every pitch. I must admit that my immature side, which I rarely leave home without, made me think about how Imus In The Morning would often play sound bites of former tennis great Monica Seles, who was famous for grunting after she served. You can imagine the ensuing banter.
And so, the game began. I saw a lot by observing — or hearing in this case — mostly struck by the sounds of silence. As in: Why weren’t the Fitch kids in the dugout making various grunting noises as a means to distract the pitcher?
“Girls aren’t allowed to do that,” one member of the Fitch traveling party said.
I mentioned that if this were a baseball game, the grunts in the dugout would mimic an adult film. I say that not to be funny, but to suggest that bench jockeying has always been part of baseball and that high school dugouts have become louder and bawdier in recent years.
And nobody says a thing about it to the boys.
That’s called a double standard.
I get that the following question isn’t exactly original. But why are boys allowed certain behaviors on the fields and courts that girls aren’t?
Before we proceed: I appreciate that there are places left in sports where decorum is expected. Maybe I’ve been desensitized by boys’ sports long enough that my expectations have been altered. But honestly, this is sports. This is competition. This is a season on the line against a Division I pitcher. I want every advantage, so long as the kids stay inbounds. I don’t consider ribbing about grunting noises to be a character assassination. And it would have undeniably happened at a baseball game. Undeniably.
Modest proposal: Either raise our expectations for the boys or lower them for the girls. Let’s just be fair.
Examples of the aforementioned double standard happened quite frequently Friday. Early in the game, some Fitch players had softballs in their hands and were banging them against the posts that bolster the dugout fence. Simple noisemaking in support of teammates. Avon coach Mike Mihalek did not like it and told the umpires, who were quick to issue a cease and desist.
Funny, though, how the umpires were more attentive to Mihalek’s whims than when Fitch coach Jackie Lewis thought some of Pengel’s pitching deliveries were illegal. Lewis and her coaches thought Pengel was “crow-hopping,” or sliding the pivot foot off the rubber, replanting and pushing off illegally.
Was she doing it? Hard to tell. But a competitive advantage issue merited much more discussion among the three (male) umpires, who dismissed Lewis quickly. My guess is that if Lewis were a 6-foot-4 guy with a booming voice and commanding presence that their deliberations would have been more thorough.
Speaking of the umpires: After discussing the ground rules with the coaches at home plate before the game, one of the umpires, a kindly enough gent, suddenly launched into this impromptu soliloquy on sportsmanship to both benches. At home plate. Loudly. His intentions were pure. But it came off as forced, self-indulgent and patronizing.
Here’s why: Send up a flare the next time a baseball umpire is compelled to do the same thing. I have many friends who are baseball umpires. One syrupy, showy, self-indulgent speech to a bunch of boys about good sportsmanship would be grounds for immediate dismissal from the parking lot after the game.
Again: I appreciate the effort in girls’ sports to maintain levels of decorum that are disappearing from boys’ sports. But the double standard is deafening.
I admit that in years past, I might have rolled my eyes when I heard women mention a double standard. Those days are over. They’re right. And it’s time we all started paying closer attention.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro