You Make The Call

August 13, 2006

This actuallyhappened. Your job is to decide whether it should have.

In a nine- and10-year-old PONY league championship game in Bountiful, Utah, the Yankees leadthe Red Sox by one run. The Sox are up in the bottom of the last inning, twoouts, a runner on third. At the plate is the Sox' best hitter, a kid namedJordan. On deck is the Sox' worst hitter, a kid named Romney. He's a scrawnycancer survivor who has to take human growth hormone and has a shunt in hisbrain.

So, you're thecoach: Do you intentionally walk the star hitter so you can face the kid whocan barely swing?

Wait! Before youanswer.... This is a league where everybody gets to bat, there's afour-runs-per-inning max, and no stealing until the ball crosses the plate. Onthe other hand, the stands are packed and it is the title game.

So ... do youpitch to the star or do you lay it all on the kid who's been through hellalready?

Yanks coach BobFarley decided to walk the star.

Parents booed.The umpire, Mike Wright, thought to himself, Low-ball move. In the stands,Romney's eight-year-old sister cried. "They're picking on Romney!" shesaid. Romney struck out. The Yanks celebrated. The Sox moaned. The two coachingstaffs nearly brawled.

And Romney? Hesobbed himself to sleep that night.

"It made mesick," says Romney's dad, Marlo Oaks. "It's going after the weakestchick in the flock."

Farley and hisassistant coach, Shaun Farr, who recommended the walk, say they didn't knowRomney was a cancer survivor. "And even if I had," insists Farr,"I'd have done the same thing. It's just good baseball strategy."

Romney's mom,Elaine, thinks Farr knew. "Romney's cancer was in the paper when he metwith President Bush," she says. That was thanks to the Make-A-Wish people."And [Farr] coached Romney in basketball. I tell all his coaches about hiscondition."

She has to.Because of his radiation treatments, Romney's body may not produce enough of astress-responding hormone if he is seriously injured, so he has to quickly geta cortisone shot or it could be life-threatening. That's why he wears a helmeteven in centerfield. Farr didn't notice?

The sports editorfor the local Davis Clipper, Ben De Voe, ripped the Yankees' decision."Hopefully these coaches enjoy the trophy on their mantel," De Voewrote, "right next to their dunce caps."

Well, that turnedBountiful into Rancorful. The town was split--with some people calling for DeVoe's firing and describing Farr and Farley as "great men," whileothers called the coaches "pathetic human beings." They "should betarred and feathered," one man wrote to De Voe. Blogs and letters pageshowled. A state house candidate called it "shameful."

What the Yankees'coaches did was within the rules. But is it right to put winning overcompassion? For that matter, does a kid who yearns to be treated like everybodyelse want compassion?

"What aboutthe boy who is dyslexic--should he get special treatment?" Blaine and KrisSmith wrote to the Clipper. "The boy who wears glasses--should he never bestruck out? ... NO! They should all play by the rules of the game."

The Yankees'coaches insisted that the Sox coach would've done the same thing. "Not onlywouldn't I have," says Sox coach Keith Gulbransen, "I didn't. Whentheir best hitter came up, I pitched to him. I especially wouldn't have done itto Romney."

Farr thinks theSox coach is a hypocrite. He points out that all coaches put their worstfielder in rightfield and try to steal on the weakest catchers. "Isn't thatstrategy?" he asks. "Isn't that trying to win? Do we let the kid feellike he's a winner by having the whole league play easy on him? This isn't theSpecial Olympics. He's not retarded."

Me? I think whatthe Yanks did stinks. Strategy is fine against major leaguers, but not againsta little kid with a tube in his head--whether you know he had cancer or not.Just good baseball strategy? This isn't the pros. This is: Everybody bats,one-hour games. That means it's about fun. Period.

What the Yankees'coaches did was make it about them, not the kids. It became their medal to pinon their pecs and show off at their barbecues. And if a fragile kid got stompedon the way, well, that's baseball. We see it all over the country--theovercaffeinated coach who watches too much SportsCenter and needs to win farmore than the kids, who will forget about it two Dove bars later.

By the way, thenext morning, Romney woke up and decided to do something about what happened tohim.

"I'm going towork on my batting," he told his dad. "Then maybe someday I'll be theone they walk."

• If you have acomment for Rick Reilly, send it to reilly@siletters.com.

WHAT WOULD YOU DO?

To register your opinion, go to SI.com/reillyvote (nosignup necessary). Would you:
* Walk the slugger.
* Pitch to the slugger.

RIFFS of REILLY

Exclusively on Verizon Wireless V CAST and SI.com.

It's the title game, two outs in the last inning andthe tying run on third: Do you pitch to the star hitter or lay it all on thekid who's been through hell already?

PHOTOPETER READ MILLER

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)