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Wednesday, June 18, 2008
LIFE OF REILLY

By Rick Reilly

You've heard of Kill the Ump, Lynch the Ump, and Strangle the Ump, right? Well, get ready for the latest thing—Bean the Ump.

It happened on May 31 in the Georgia high school Class AAA championship game. Stephens County was losing to Cartersville 9-1 early, partly because nine straight SCHS batters had struck out. The last ring-up so hacked off superstar shortstop Ethan Martin—who had just been drafted 15th overall by the Dodgers—that he threw his helmet in protest. But that figured. Martin and his brother, Cody, who was pitching, reportedly had been complaining about balls and strikes the entire game.

So now it's the bottom of the fourth, with Ethan playing short and Cody on the mound. The catcher is Matt Hill. There are no outs. The count is 0-1. Cody winds up and flings a very high, very hard fastball. Hill comes out of his squat, puts his glove up to catch it, then does a very funny thing.

He doesn't.

Instead, the YouTube video will show, he drops to his knees before the ball gets to him. Doesn't even try to catch it. Just flops to his knees, with his head looking down at the plate. Never looks up or back. The ball, meanwhile, conks umpire Jeff Scott square in the face mask. Rocks him back. Then squirts up the third-base line.

Scott Singer, who videotaped the game from behind the plate, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "I don't know what was going through their heads but … it's like, good god!" After the game, Hill explained that he'd been expecting a curveball, instead got a fastball and just didn't catch it.

Yeah, surrrre. I used to catch a little. Happens all the time. You're expecting a curveball and instead you get a fastball so you say, "Boy, didn't see that coming. I'll just drop to my knees and wait for the next one."

What's worse is that Hill's coach, Mark Gosnell, believed him! Right, Coach. And remember that time you found the school mascot tied up in a locker with a sock in his mouth? That was definitely terrorists.

If indeed this was premeditated—take a look for yourself and decide—then maybe Cody Martin should be drafted too. Say what you want, but that's pretty good aim.

Anyway, now the ump has to get back behind noncatcher Hill, who may very well have just schemed to remove his noggin from his neck. Wouldn't you have loved to have heard the conversation as they awaited the next pitch?

Ump: Uh, any chance you might catch this one, or should I duck now?

Hill: Depends. Is it going to be a strike?

Isn't it enough for an umpire to endure all the blind jokes—Hey, ump, what's it like to get your checks in Braille?—without two players actually trying to blind him?

Cartersville wound up winning the game 13-1, and when state athletic officials saw the tape, they snapped. "The catcher did not intend to catch the pitch," says Ralph Swearngin, executive director of the Georgia High School Association. "I didn't see the eyes of the catcher tracking the pitch." He put Stephens County on "severe warning" and fined it $1,000.

Then some payback came for Hill, who was planning to walk on at Gordon College in Barnesville, Ga., next season. He got the word from Gordon coach Travis McClanahan, who said, Forget it, we don't want you. "I've seen catchers get crossed up before," says McClanahan. "But he appeared to be blocking a curveball in the dirt. I was shocked. I've never seen that happen. I've never heard of a player even suggesting doing that."

I bet Hill didn't see that one coming. Don't know, though, since neither Hill nor Martin is talking.

As for umpire Scott, he had a headache after the game and went for an MRI. Then he decided to get himself a lawyer. And I'm guessing there are two things that lawyer is checking out: the health of his client and the health of Hill's dad's wallet.

Good god, what's becoming of us?

Track star: Well, yeah, I've always hated that official, but I sure didn't mean for my javelin to go right through his spleen like that!

Announcer: But you're a sprinter.

I hope Scott does ask for damages, and that the players have to pay in a way they'll never forget: by being forced to umpire Little League games. They'll be amazed how vile parental vocabulary can be, how far little brothers can spit and how many pitched balls wind up hitting them in the thorax.

But at least the 8-year-olds won't be doing it on purpose.

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