I like watching women's softball, particularly the post-season College World Series, and ESPN has a great deal of coverage this year. On Saturday, there was a wonderful, hugely exciting game -- Kentucky vs. Baylor, an elimination game where the winner moves the semi-finals. Even though there was a men's College World Series game on ESPN 2, this was the game I watched. It was that enjoyable. There were also some oddities about it, particularly the broadcasting. More on that in a bit.
First though, Kentucky was leading 7-0 with only two innings to go in the 7-inning contest. In fact, they were only a single run away from being declared winners by virtue of the Mercy Rule (being up by eight runs after an opponent had five at bats). But then star Kentucky pitcher Kelsey Nunley, who I believe had pitched every inning during the post-season, clearly tired and started to get pummeled, giving up three runs in the sixth inning and left the bases loaded. Kentucky coach Rachel Lawson not only left her in the game, but inexplicably didn't have a relief pitcher warming up, just in case.
The ESPN analyst mentioned talking to the coach beforehand and said Lawson had commented that Nunley "would kill me if I took her out" and that she had "earned the right" to pitch the whole game. Rachel Lawson is a very good coach, but that really has me scratching my head. No player wants to be taken out, that's why you have coaches. To say, "You've lost it, great game, someone else is taking over." And when a player is going downhill and getting crushed, you don't have the "right" to stay in. The other players on the field have a right to get a victory from their effort. But stay in Nunley did.
She even stay in all the way through the next inning, the last of regulation -- and Baylor came back with four more runs to tie, with the winning run in scoring position. The coach left the exhausted pitcher in, no one warming up, and the game got away and went into extra innings. And in the first extra inning, Baylor scored to win the game, 8-7.
(They won on an odd play. With a runner on second and no outs, the batter bunted with two strikes -- always risky, since a bunt that goes foul on strike three would be out -- and when the catcher threw the ball to first base, it hit the runner, ricocheting and allowing the runner on second to come around and score.)
I'm sure the Kentucky coach would defend her decision. Coaches do that sort of thing. But you can't defend it. You can't say, "I'd do it again." Because you lost!
A few TV observations:
I wish TV coverage would stop relentlessly cutting the camera to show family members, especially when things are tense. A couple shots, fine. Or if the person is just wildly animated perhaps, that might be intriguing television, though even there it should be limited. But we're watching the game because we want to see...the game. If a game is tense, I don't want to see a mother fidgeting -- I want to see the third baseman fidgeting, I want to see the coach fidgeting, I want to see the players on the bench fidgeting. In this case, they kept cutting to the father of the Kentucky pitcher, who at first was excited that his daughter was on the way to a crushing win, and then collapsed. Watching him was both hellish and annoying. (Besides, why not cut to the parents of the other pitcher?) In the final, extra inning, when the first player by Baylor hit a double, even the father knew it was over and couldn't take it, and walked up the aisle to the back of the stadium. (If he knew, why didn't the Kentucky coach...?) C'mon, guys, show the players, show the game.
And back in the ESPN studio, analyst Cheri Klempf was having a bad day. I use "analyst" advisedly. Maybe she does a good job most of the time, maybe not. But tonight she was a waste of air space. First, when asked by the host after the game what she thought of the Kentucky coach's decision to leave the failing pitcher in, she said something along the lines of, "Rachel Lawson is terrific coach and has a lot of experience. It's a really tough situation out there, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't." Very true -- but the question was: What did you think of the decision.
And then later she was asked, who does Baylor use this emotion and carry it over to the next game. And she said -- and I swear this is true, and a direct quote -- "You do just that. You use the emotion and carry it over." Great. Thanks for the insight.
These women are terrific athletes. That's a reason I like watching. As I said, I even watched the game while the men's College World Series was on the next channel over It's a slower-paced game certainly, but the details are more pronounced. And it's great seeing these young women getting a chance to succeed in an athletic field on such a high level that didn't exist for a long time. But wonderful as they are as athletes, as skilled as they are hitting, running and fielding, it's also fun the watch them in the dugout going into what I can only call "cheerleader mode," with choreographed hand-swirling dance moves. There's no pretense or posturing that we see in a lot of other athletics. It's all stripped away to the purity of emotion. When something exciting happens -- sometimes players will jump up-and-down like (sorry, it's the only way to describe it) little girls. Then they go back to playing like champs. It's actually sort of charming. Wonderful athletics mixed with whimsy. A tough combination to beat.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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