Sometimes things don’t turn out anywhere near what was expected. Such was the case for a couple of ace pitchers in the Vermont State Legion Baseball Tournament over the weekend in White River Junction. Brattleboro’s Leif Bigelow and BF’s Kendal Heath were being counted on heavily to lead the way on the mound for the chances for their respective teams. Both became the victim of tough outings.

This is by no means a put down of either one of those outstanding hurlers, who both have a year of eligibility remaining at the high school level and are likely to play well beyond that. Bigelow is already pegged for the University of Connecticut and Heath is still putting together his resume. The one thing they and their teams both learned last week is, sometimes even the Chris Sales’ of the world have off days and can be scored on.

In fact, the probability both first rate hurlers were the general topic of conversation around the baseball complex was because they proved beyond anything else, that they are mere mortals. And if either pitcher is still thinking, I let my team down, think again. Neither of your teams gave you enough offensive support anyways.

Brattleboro Post 5 didn’t score a run in either of their tournament games and Post 37 only tallied once in the game Heath hurled. The best thing about the outings is, that coaches always preach that, any pitcher can be toast on any given day, and there are some that aren’t mortal often, but they are all mortal, once in awhile.

The Legion Tournament can be such a fun event and the competition can often be sterling. The BF-Rutland game had its blemishes, but it certainly had some excitement and a game that was in doubt most of the day.

One observation is, that whoever assigns the umpires for this event, must do a better job of acquiring the best. Many who worked the tourney shined, but there were at least a couple, that either had the worst day imaginable or didn’t belong there. I don’t blame the ump that showed up, I blame the assigner for not making sure he had his bases covered.

Or stealing a line, like with Paul Harvey, there is the rest of the story. In this day and age, there is (maybe has been for years and years), a number of problems with the umpire situation overall on several counts. The biggest dilemma facing most officiating groups in Vermont in all sports; is attracting new talent. Few young umpires enter the field. The boomerang effect is that many of the umpires, who have worked for years, stay on longer to cover those same bases.

Many umpires also choose to only work in the spring and take the summer off. Many cite the heat, but family situations and free time on the weekends especially, are additional reasons, which thin the crop. Then there is the additional problem in the State Legion Tournament that some of the games are played on weekdays during the work day and the fact, many umpires are located miles and miles away from the Tournament site and there is no mileage paid. For the record, umpires in Vermont are paid $85 for seven inning games and $100 for nine inning games.

Two additional intangibles surrounding the tournament are, that for the majority of the tournament, only two umpires are assigned for each game and then they increase number as the games go along and that the number of innings played in games, increases the same way in the later stages of the tournament.

I am set against nine inning games, but both the Vermont State Legion teams and I have no control over that in the end. My bias was set several years ago, when over a four year period, I kept track of two leagues, the old Northern Semi-pro League and games in Southern Vermont Legion, and compared when runs were scored. The seven inning games obviously saw less runs scored overall, but what stood out was, when games were of nine inning length, shockingly 43 percent of the runs were scored in innings seven through nine, as pitchers with less talent pitched or tiring pitchers yielded many more runs.

However, when Vermont submitted their state plan for 2017 for the tournament with seven inning games all the way through, except for the finals, the national committee approving plans, sent the plan back to the drawing board for adjustment. In the end, the first two rounds ended up being accepted as seven inning games, with the third round forward, being played nine innings in length. All regional and national legion tournament games are nine innings in length.

Back to the two umpire scenario. The host post is left with the decision of how many umpires to use in the tournament, because the bottom financial line of the tournament stops there. Hartford Post 84 decided to use two umpires the first two rounds, then three the rest of the way, with the exception of four umps being in place for the finals. The host team gets to keep the gate and the concessions profit, but they are fully responsible for the cost of the umpires and get to decide what the plan is, if any, beyond the minimum of two.

Each team, has to pay $65 as part of their season registration at the start of the campaign, which goes towards baseballs for the tournament. My suggestion is to up that amount by $100 or $200 per team, to help defray the cost of a third or fourth umpire throughout the tournament. The host team would be responsible for two umpires only, which is the minimum now, but this level of play requires more than that.

Lastly, back to the assignor for the Tourney games. Joe Fisher has that job and it isn’t an easy one. However, when he accepts his job, he is responsible for the outcomes. We understand he is a decent umpire himself, who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time one year ago in the Legion finals, and made a call which shook up the masses. Fisher had inserted himself into the title game (likely the correct call) when the assigned arbiter had a family member in the finals. The Legion powers decided, moving forward, the assigner, because of security issues needed on site during games, (plus other possible intangibles) could not work games in the tournament, which with late umpire cancellations or weather postponements, takes one more stable source out of his phone log.

The bottom line though is, the Legion has the responsibility to work with Fisher, and then must come up with a system to attract more quality umpires and have a system in place to make the tournament function at a higher level. This event is a showcase of the players who have advanced to the most important games of the summer. It is imperative the umpires are of the same breed.

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