Steward: Spring is in the air, and so is baseball

Breach of peace, assault, stalking, threatening, harassment, attempted murder.

Words for the dark side of a dangerous inner city? Heck, no. According to the news, this is what some adults bring to Little League.

Celebrating its 75th birthday this year, Little League remains an exemplary organization for kids, thanks to the good adults who are willing to put up with the bad adults.

What is it that turns some parents into combative thugs on public playing fields across America, right in front of the kids?

Adult misbehavior doesn't occur at every game, but it happens with uncomfortable regularity.

From Boston to Los Angeles there are brawls in the bleachers, moms threaten coaches, coaches fight with parents, spectators insult umpires and those too civilized for hand to hand combat pull guns to make their point. Sometimes, coaches and parents end up in the hospital or behind bars.

Author Bill Geist's 1992 book "Little League Confidential" is one of most honest and humorous insider's view of Little League ever published. Recent news proves it still rings true today. He calls parental wackiness LLS (Little League Syndrome), a form of temporary insanity.

Just last year, a few bad apples continued to pull some surprising stunts:

A New York mom repeatedly sent threatening letters to a coach when her son didn't make the league's traveling team. She was arrested.

An Alabama spectator lost a debate in the stands and pulled a .45 caliber handgun to support his closing argument. He was arrested and charged with menacing, disorderly conduct and possession of drug paraphernalia. So much for teaching kids how to lose gracefully. And say no to drugs.

On the West Coast, following a game-related altercation in California, one guy shot up another's car as he tried to leave the parking lot. The gunman was charged with attempted murder.

Some spectators show more class and restraint than those lowlifes wrestling in the stands, hurling insults and waving guns. The more civilized among us just file lawsuits. Spectators sue players, kids sue coaches, coaches sue kids and everybody sues equipment manufacturers and Little League itself.

Parents have even sued their own kids. In New Jersey, a player's wild throw left the field and hit her own mother in the face. The mother sued her daughter and settled for $10,000. Not sure how they figured out the payment and lawyer fees.

A California coach recently filed a lawsuit against a player and his parents for $500,000 for an injury he says the player caused.

In another New Jersey case, another woman was hit in the face by a baseball and sued the little guy that threw it for $150,000. Do a lot of lawyers live in New Jersey?

A 12-year old broke her leg sliding into home plate in Pittsburgh. The lawsuit stated the injury was caused by baseline ruts and "resulted in permanent scarring and will limit her earning capacity." Is there a Pittsburgh, New Jersey?

Last year in Texas, parents of a Little League pitcher filed a million-dollar lawsuit after their son was hit in the face during a line drive by a player who they claim used an unlicensed and illegal bat. Why is everybody getting hit in the face?

I played Little League as a kid and served as league president for a few years. I stood a better chance of getting hit in the face by a parent than a baseball. Fortunately, here in southeastern Connecticut, we're not quite the wild eyed pistol wavers that show up at some fields, but I have known local characters similar to those in Geist's book.

As league president, I took some heat for the team. I was once chased across town by an irate parent after an all-star game. At my destination, he berated me in the street at length, nose to nose, refusing to listen to reason. Another guy lunged at me in the parking lot after a contentious meeting. I always kept loyal thugs (and a volunteer who happened to be a police officer) nearby for security. Can't take any chances in youth sports.

Jeff Garlin, star of ABC's The Goldbergs, produced a movie about Little League parents titled "Dealing With Idiots." Bad parental behavior is obviously widespread. A soccer movie called "Bad Parents" was based on adult shenanigans in Ridgewood (ready for this?), New Jersey.

Founding members of Little League figured that adult involvement would "eliminate bickering." There's a thought.

Colorful as they may be, bad parents in Little League are far outnumbered by the many great people who make the organization run at the local level. We made close friendships and met some wonderful people during our years in the organization.

It remains a rewarding and memorable time of life for kids and parents. I wouldn't trade it for anything.



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