A tale of two Little Leaguers
One lawsuit and one scorekeeper showcase two sides of youth baseball
If you're looking for a way to kill Little League, you should call a woman named Jean Gonzalez of Staten Island, N.Y. I think she's found it.
A little more than five years ago her 12-year-old son, Martin, got a hit and the first-base coach waved him on to second. The problem was, Martin did not generally get many doubles. In fact, he'd never slid in a game before. So when he got to second, he slid clumsily, wrenching his knee, ripping his ACL and tearing his meniscus.
So what did his mom do?
She sued the manager. She sued the first-base coach. She sued the local Little League. She sued Little League Baseball, Incorporated. She sued everybody but the kid who cuts the outfield.
She said the manager -- Leigh Bernstein -- hadn't taught Martin the proper way to slide. (The coach said he had.) She said the local Little League had the wrong kind of bases -- Soft Touch detachable bases. (But the bases were on Little League's approved list of bases. They detach when you hit them with too much force.) She said it was everybody's fault but Martin's.
And just over two weeks ago, she settled for $125,000.
If you're looking for a way to feel good in this whacked world, you should call the Millers of Fullerton, Calif. I think they've found it.
Pamela Miller and her husband, Rolf, are the parents of Dieter, 12. This year, Dieter, a catcher, played in the first scrimmage of the season. While trying to tag a runner at home, he broke his arm. He was out of action for all but the end of the season.
And what did his parents do?
This is just an opinion, but I think it would be wonderful if people like Jean Gonzalez and her attorney were tied to the next shuttle and fired into space.
Here's a coach who is volunteering his time to teach kids the dying game of baseball and what does he get for his trouble? A lawsuit hanging over his head for five years.
Here's the local Little League -- New Springville -- trying to do something fun for the kids, at zero profit and thousands of migraines, and what does it get for its efforts? A lawyer of its own and a tugboat of paperwork.
What if little Martin had been beaned? Would his mom have sued the kid who pitched it? The stitcher of the ball? Abner Doubleday?
I called Ms. Gonzalez but she never called back. I called her attorney, Alan Glassman, of Brooklyn. He had to put me on hold a lot. "Parents keep calling wanting me to represent their kid," he said.
So what did the Millers do when Dieter was hurt? They spoke with his coach, Tony Mannara, and asked "Is there anything Dieter can do to stay close with the team?"
Mannara thought about it and answered, "Well, he could keep score."
So Dieter went to scorekeeper's school and learned how. He showed up an hour early for every game this year -- in uniform -- and kept score, kept the pitch count and cheered his cast off. Heck, he even came to practices.
"I'd like to have my own Little League team someday," he says.
As of press time, his parents had no plans to sue.
What is Little League supposed to do? It's already eliminated the on-deck circle for safety reasons. Maybe it should just eliminate the bases altogether? Hey, that was a pretty good hit. Ghost runner on second.
Coach Bernstein played Martin that day because Martin went out for the team. So what's the coach supposed to do, keep the kid on the bench all year? Ms. Gonzalez probably would've sued for that, too. Emotional cruelty, perhaps.
Anyway, it's finally over. Martin is 17 now and in high school. If you're his principal you better have F. Lee Bailey on retainer.
And what did the Miller family get for being cool? What did Dieter get for not sulking, quitting, or detaching like a pop-up base?
He won The Little League Good Sport Award.
He and his family will soon take an all-expenses-paid trip to Williamsport, Pa. for next week's Little League World Series, where he'll be honored as the kid who found a way to keep helping the team even though he couldn't step on the field.
"Big D is a stand-up young man," Coach Mannara says. "He's a fan favorite, a kid you'd never hear a bad word about. He embodies the true spirit of Little League."
No, it's not $125,000.
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RICK REILLY, 52, has been voted National Sportswriter of the Year 11 times. His new book -- out May 4, 2010 -- is called "Sports From Hell: My Two-year Search for the World's Dumbest Competition." It's the account of his search for the dumbest sport in the world.
Not to give anything away, but a good bet would be either Ferret Legging or the World Sauna Championships. It also includes embarrassing attempts by Reilly to try Nude Bicycle Racing, Zorbing, Chess Boxing, Extreme Ironing, the World Rock Paper Scissors Championships and an unfortunate week on a women's pro football team.