In Anchorage earlier this week, what could have been an extra-innings Alaska Baseball League classic turned into a gong show. Arguing balls and strikes in the 14th inning of a game between the Peninsula Oilers and the Anchorage Bucs, head coaches Kevin Griffin and Mike Grahovac came to blows, prompting the benches of both teams to clear and causing embarrassment for the usually collegian ABL.
When Fairbanks residents think of the ABL, their strongest association is likely with the hometown Alaska Goldpanners or the Midnight Sun Game that is a highlight of the season at Growden Park. Fortunately, the Anchorage fracas didn’t involve the Goldpanners. But it’s a poor reflection on a league more often known for relaxed summer evenings and getting to see some of baseball’s future stars before their professional careers begin.
Brawls in Major League Baseball are bad themselves. But those fights usually follow more provocative actions than simple disagreements about the strike zone — usually they follow a pitcher’s successful beaning of opposing players or batters charging the mound after such an attempt. And the stress level in an MLB game is considerably higher — wins and losses are more meaningful when millions of dollars in salaries are on the line. Additionally, as managers and coaches are often fired midseason for disappointing performance, they are in a higher-stress position with regard to their own employment.
At any level, however, there’s no excuse for fighting in baseball about something as minor as balls and strikes. Baseball is supposed to be a diversion from stresses of life outside the diamond, not a reminder of how easy it is to let your temper get the best of you and make a fool of yourself. Especially with families at the park, fights teach exactly the opposite lesson than values sports are supposed to instill, such as teamwork and sportsmanship.
Just as the ABL fight shows the problem of out-of-control tempers in sports doesn’t stop at the major league level, the issue doesn’t stop there either. Parents should be cautious to keep their own behavior in check when they coach or watch youth sports. Even more so than in the ABL, youth sports are a place for the athletes to learn life lessons that have little to do with winning or losing. Part of what they learn, too, is how spectators behave. Teaching them by example to respect both teams and officials will have far greater benefit than showing them that if they badmouth the referee for six innings, they might get a favorable call on a borderline pitch.
Sports themselves aren’t supposed to be serious — they’re supposed to be a relief and an escape. But the lessons we learn from sports are as important of those we encounter anyplace else, and incidents like the one on the baseball diamond in Anchorage this week undermine them. Let’s hope that when ABL teams play in Fairbanks, they have the decency to recognize it’s just a game before coming to blows.
— Fairbanks Daily News-Miner