Photo via Public Domain Picture under Creative Common License
Our team was winning 26-0, it was my fourth time up to bat in a first inning that already had lasted for over an hour, and all I could think about was: How much longer will this last?
Baldwin varsity softball’s home opener on March 26 was halted in the third inning due to the “mercy rule.” We won 30-0.
As per state rules, there are two times when the mercy rule can be implemented. A game can be ended after the third inning when a team leads by 15 or more runs, or after the fifth inning when a team leads by 10 or more.
Our game showed that these rules should be adjusted. The state athletic association should add another option to restrict these types of games from getting out of hand, such as having the mercy rule go into effect as early as the first inning if a team is winning by 20 runs.
Coming back from a 20-run deficit is nearly impossible to do, so requiring play to continue through the third inning is not enjoyable for either team — to which I can attest, since I’ve been on both sides of this situation before.
Scoring that many runs can appear to some as being classless, but most teams are not out to embarrass their fellow competitors. We do not try to boost our batting averages and stats. Instead we just play the game as we normally do — staying disciplined with the bad pitches and attacking the good ones, and also striving for an errorless defense.
Purposely playing down your ability is not helpful to anyone: The losing opponent can feel belittled, while the winning team does not want to develop idle habits. Thus, high-scoring games like these are almost unavoidable without imposing an earlier mercy rule.
The umpires at our home opener recognized the unfortunate situation, so to mediate it they started looking more closely at our faults. Outs from interference and leaving the base early are rarely called unless it is almost blatant, yet the umpires used both of these rules to help end that long first inning.
In an average game, players receive about four at-bats for the whole game. Yet in this game, I appeared at the plate four times in the first inning.
This does have a mental effect, but only to a certain extent. Walking up to bat that fourth time, I had to accredit respect to the pitcher for how long and hard she had been working, and how desperately she was trying to get the ball over the plate to account strikes. So, my natural instinct was a bit of timidness; however, although that I was not looking to amplify my batting average, I did not want to hurt it.
After the explosive first inning, our coaches did start slightly slowing us down on aggressiveness in the basepaths to keep the game from getting much worse.
It might help to note that this was the second game of a doubleheader, so both teams were already tired and our opponent also did not have in their usual starting pitcher.
Back in middle school, I played in a game where the team scored 15 runs on us in the first inning, and it was mentally rough. One error leads to the next because everyone starts getting down on themselves. Glancing at the scoreboard and seeing how bad you are losing evokes the emotions of failure and frustration.
Although sports fans love epic comebacks and Cinderella-stories, ultimately the odds that a team would come back from losing by 20 are extremely slim.
It seems as if in these situations both teams end up with negative consequences: The losing team feels bad, and the winning team is accused of running up the score.
The state needs to make a change.
This story was originally published on Purbalite on April 5, 2019.