When I was a little boy playing Little League baseball, I once yelled at an umpire for calling me out on a strike three pitch at my feet. That night, the first thing my parents said to me was this: "Umpires make mistakes. Don't let them control the game. Control what you can control; why were you down 0-2 in the count to begin with?"
I've always remembered that, in all phases of life. I've always kept myself in control of my own destiny. Allowing other people to hold your fate in their hands is your fault. Sure, you can have people help you out with things, but what I've learned all my life is never to trust other people with things you can do on your own.
That was never made more prominent than today, when in perhaps the most atrociously blown call in a critical situation in College World Series history, the home plate umpire called an obviously wide 3-1 pitch to Casey Turgeon a strike, extending the at bat that eventually wound up a strikeout, and ultimately leading to Florida's demise.
So, go back to my theory. Control what you can control. The Gators put themselves down 5-1, mostly on defensive misplays and anemic bats. They didn't deserve to win, right?
The only problem with my mantra in this case is that Kent State didn't deserve to win either.
The ninth inning comes around, and Kent State pitchers proceed to walk the first two batters on 8 pitches. Cody Dent comes in, and bunts the two runners (Preston Tucker and Mike Zunino) over to second and third. After another walk, Turgeon steps in, quickly gets a 3-1 count, steps out, and then steps back in ready to do what he can to advance the runners.
Unfortunately, he forgot to take in consideration one minor detail; the umpire.
The umpire who made this unconscionable call on a 3-1 pitch that should have been ball four, scoring Preston Tucker with the tying run. Justin Shafer's ensuing fly ball would have been a sacrifice fly, scoring Mike Zunino, putting Florida up 6-5.
Instead, the fly ball ended the game and Florida's season.
While you can blame Florida as I do for not getting hits at key times, and making several fielding miscues to play themselves into a hole, the real reason Florida lost was because of the umpire. And I hate to say that, because I've always been taught to not let the umpire play a role in the outcome. Today, Florida was trying not to, and allowed KSU pitchers to basically walk the bases loaded on their way to a ninth inning comeback.
And they would have allowed KSU to walk home the tying run, too, except the ump called strike two on a pitch that Turgeon couldn't have reached with a street post. That's not letting the umpire control the game; that's earning a walk only to be robbed by the umpire, in the middle of a rousing comeback in which everybody does their job.
In any case, the Gators' season is over, one that saw highs and lows for a team that went wire to wire as arguably the #1 team in the nation. It was a great run with Mike Zunino, Preston Tucker, Brian Johnson and the rest of the guys who will depart for the professional world. I'm just sorry their season ended on something they couldn't control.
That's the heartbreaking part of it; these guys were erasing their previous seven innings of botchery with two innings of real Gator baseball. I want to track the umpire down, and force him to look these players in the eye, one at a time, and explain to them why ball four turned into strike two, and why their season ended when they had just earned- or more accurately, been given- the tying run.
Some say this calls for instant replay on balls and strikes.
It just calls for umpires with IQ's of more than one digit.