Game Fixer

Blue not a friendly smurf

BRIAN BAKER, The Game Fixer

There might be a blemish on the memory of three North Toronto seniors — Greg Gott, Spencer Cook and Keenan Crawford — as their high school sports careers reached a bizarre denouement June 6.

A late afternoon sun baked the earth’s surface like the inside of a kiln. One umpire went home after being clocked in the head by players warming up in between innings. Blue at the dish had a ricocheting ball target his collarbone previously.

Neither one were in either team’s good books due to missed calls, inconsistent strikes and by-the-book demeanour. Still, the teams showed sportsmanship when the refs dropped.

Now with his base cohort in the wind, the plate umpire ran a one-man show for a full inning. With the Norsemen at bat against the Goliaths in the top of the fourth, he called an out that would send the North Toronto dugout into an animal-testing lab during sera time.

Crawford stole second but was called out by Blue — decked out in powder, not navy — deviating only slightly from behind his dish to make the call.

One player parroted the mocking phrase “Do you want my glasses?” one too many times. The umpire walked up the first base line to confront the Loki-in-question.

“You’re gone.”

In one breath post-tossing, the umpire then declared the game over. He pivoted on one foot, turning to coach Lorne Smith, telling him he had no control over his team. In another swift movement, Blue turned to the accused and carpet-bombed an obscenity combo.

As disorientation abated from such artlessness, no one noticed the ump had vanished.

It all transpired so fast that even newspaper photographer Francis Crescia couldn’t snap the high-tailing smurf as he escaped into the East York wilderness.

As an umpire for nearly 20 years in Whitby, I had heard of these moments where umpires spontaneously combust on the diamond. The old guard shared these ghastly horrors, but only as cautionary tales.

Life as an umpire in Whitby was limited if one ever uttered the F-bomb to a fan, parent, player or coach.

There was a decree by the umpire-in-chief that hell would be released on his command. That would be two-fold for me, as the chief’s son.

However, if an umpire felt threatened at any moment he could call the game.

But like Goliaths coach Jake Gallo said, there was no storm siren.

“Personally, I think an umpire has to give some warning before he just gives up on a game like that,” he said.

I’ve never experienced threats. I did throw people out: a max of eight in one season (2007), as well as three from one Pickering team in a 1995 game. But I never forfeited a single game because somebody crossed the line.

The loss of professionalism by Blue at the North Toronto-East York game puzzled me, but it piqued Smith.

“Losing like that is just appalling,” he said. “And I’m livid about it.”

The three seniors mentioned in my lede seemed to take the incident in good humour, laughing about the ordeal as they changed. Crawford’s mother boasted Smith was the best coach her three boys have had while at North Toronto.

The parents, players and even Smith acquiesced into the no-hill-to-die-on malaise.

I will admit, the trigger being pulled on the North Toronto player was warranted, but throwing the game for the rest of the kids is a troubling reaction, especially since the game was legal. With three-and-a-half innings finished and the home team ahead, it just seems the umpire wanted to go home.

At the end of it all the Norsemen, now donning their summer shorts and tees, dropped their uniforms into a mesh pouch Smith held out.

Gott, Cook and Crawford shook their coach’s hand, thanking him for his years given to them, not only through baseball, but their lives at the school.

Hopefully those three will remember the highlights of their time spent on the sandlot. Perhaps years later they’ll share this hazy moment of umpire hijinks in a pub, recalling the moment when a smurf acted more like Gargamel.

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