Over the last few years WIAA baseball umpires have stressed the importance of sportsmanship at the pre-game conference at home plate. “Make sure your comments are directed at your own players” and “Let’s keep the comments positive” are among the phrases uttered by assigned umpires when referring to this seemingly yearly WIAA “point of emphasis”.
When it comes to baseball game and dugout decorum, the behavior of teams and coaches runs the gamut. At times the behavior is classy, professional, and businesslike. On the other hand, at times it can be can sophomoric, boorish, and tasteless.
Unfortunately in the realm of professional and collegiate sports, baseball tomfoolery among coaches, players, and spectators appears to be condoned and at times celebrated by both the fans and the media. Viewers who watch endless hours of SportsCenter are exposed to videos of coaches engaged in heated rhubarbs with umpires, players staring down pitchers after being hit by a pitch, and social media posts of fans screaming and yelling at players, opponents, and coaches from the stands. Unfortunately for some people this becomes the standard, the template for generating enthusiasm and success on the baseball diamond. Nothing could be further from the truth.
When it comes to the dugout behavior of high school players the old adage still hold true. The players are an extension of the coach and his staff. If your team’s behavior consists of incessant, non lexical noise making, chances are the coach engaged in such pathetic behavior did likewise while playing or watching in high school or college.
Ceaseless dog barking, dugout fence shaking, and over the top bombastic cheering have become commonplace in some Wisconsin high school dugouts. With the head coach and, at times umpires, doing nothing, absolutely nothing, to stop it. Sad.
Do not misunderstand me. There certainly is something to be said for a raucous dugout - one full of enthusiasm and steeped in good natured baseball banter. However when the conduct involves elementary playground commentary and blatant distasteful remarks it needs to be stopped. Teams that embrace in such negative game day behavior brings resentment among their opponents and fans and tarnishes the reputation of the school and community.
Fortunately there is an easy fix. And that responsibility rests upon the shoulders of the head coach. I would argue it’s not that difficult to demand players behave in a way that brings praise and recognition to their team, school, and community. In fact, it’s simple. Show respect and do it in three ways.
Respect Your School and Community. As school and community ambassadors, first impressions go a long way. Whether it be how you wear your uniform or how you treat the workers at McDonald’s when you stop for a burger after the game, the reputation you garner before you even set foot on the baseball diamond lays the groundwork for how others perceive you. Tucked in uniforms as you exit the bus exudes professionalism and class - exactly what you want when game begins and ends.
Respect Your Opponents. Whether you are or playing at home or on the road your opponents deserve your respect. Refrain from dugout taunting and behavior that could be viewed by your opponent as being disrespectful and derisive. You make ask what does “being disrespectful and derisive” mean? We all know the answer. We know it when we see it and there is no place for it in high school baseball.
Respect the Umpires. Saying please and thank you to the umpires before, during, and after game is always a good thing. Hustle on and off the field. Refrain from using an accusatory or sarcastic tone when corresponding with umpires. When our players and coaching staff communicate with game officials, we use phrase “Mr. Umpire”. The titles exudes respect. Improving a team’s sullied reputation with a “respectful approach” umpires will go a long way to restore what may be a tarnished team and school label.
Today, during any typical Wisconsin high school baseball game 50% of the fans are rooting for your team and the other 50% are rooting for your opponents. At neutral sites (regular and post-season tournaments) I would argue this dynamic changes. You have more fans and a different spectator pool. Now 33% are rooting for your team, 33% rooting for your opponent, and 33% are just there to watch a baseball game. What is your goal? One hopefully is to win the game. And two you want to become “an easy team to root for.” You want that 33% with no affiliation to be rooting for you. The 33% with no connection to either team to say to themselves or out loud “That’s an easy team to root for.”
How can you do this? Again, simple. By acting in ways that exude professionalism and class. Refuse to engage in ridiculous, idiotic, and disparaging behavior. As mentioned earlier we know it when we see it. And boy is it ugly. Very ugly. We do not want that four letter word associated with us, our team, our school, or community. Teach it and demand it. It will make our game that much better.
Written by Prescott baseball coach Jeff Ryan. With a career record of 317-87 in 18 years, he was the WBCA Coach of the Year in 2013, a three-time District Coach of the Year, and led the Cardinals to the 2012 Division 3 state title.