There has been a good bit clamor and harumphing about the poor umpiring during this Rockies-Braves series. I have to admit that the Umpiring has been a bit shaky at times. But by all accounts, there was somewhat of an uproar in certain circles of Rockies fans that the umpires were basically the sole reason the Braves won today's game.
Well, let me share a little perspective I picked up long ago that might help Rockies fans get past their outrage and soothe any guilt a Braves fan might be feeling if they believe the victory wasn't completely earned.
After many years of watching Braves baseball, there are a few plays that stand out vividly in my mind. Most recently, I was at opening day and witnessed Jason Heyward's debut homer- a play I'm sure will be seared into my memory until I'm gone or at least my memory is. But there are also painful plays. Plays that bring up much darker emotions. And sometimes those plays still haunt me. One such play has a name attached to it...a name that I still remember from my childhood. A name that I recall perfectly though I knew little about the player until I saw him playing against my beloved Braves. The name that after 19 years still sobers my spirit and darkens my mood- Kent Hrbek.
For those who don't remember, Kent Hrbek was 1st Baseman for the Twins in 1991. During Game 2 of The Greatest World Series Ever, there was a controversial play where Atlanta Brave Ron Gant beat a throw to first base, colliding with Hrbek. The 245 pound Hrbek proceeds to pull the 190 pound Gant off the bag. The umpire calls Gant out, saying that his momentum carried him off the bag. Replays show pretty clearly otherwise.
I was a fairly young child watching that game. I was deeply affected, maybe even disturbed by the unfairness of it all. Remember, the was the World Series and the "worst to first" Cinderella Braves. How could a play get called so badly at such an important event? It was then that I began to realize the essential truth: to be a true winner, you can't just win on even terms, but have to win sometimes when the deck is stacked against you.
I've grown over the years watching many kinds of sports and have seen no refutation of this. You see, in all sports, referees and umpires are going to make mistakes. And sometimes those mistakes are going to go against you in crucial positions. But when that happens, it is the challenge of a champion to rise above those obstacles and see your way to victory.
This afternoon, the "safe" call of Troy Glaus at first base was probably the most frustrating for Rockies fans. Whether the call was correct or not, there was still an opportunity for the Rockies to overcome that call and win the game. As a matter of fact, the odds were still in their favor. If the pitcher focuses and manages to get an out from a slumping Escobar or manages to trip up a rookie who has struggled against left handed pitching, the game is over and the Rockies go home with a series win. The call by the umpire is forgotten forever. But the pitcher didn't focus. He walked Escobar on 5 pitches. Then Heyward did a nice piece of hitting after being patient through 4 pitches. And let's not take anything away from Glaus who hustled down the line. Without that effort, the call is not close and it's an easy out. In the end it was a combination of hustle and patience and clutch hitting that won it for the Braves. Without those attributes, the Braves would not have a victory even with the bad call.
But Rockies fans, take heart if you still feel a bit cheated. It will pass. Life is unfair. Man up and take it like champs. You're a very good team and seem to be on track to win a lot of games this year, bad calls and all. If you can't win despite what you perceive as bad calls, then you have to ask if you belong in contention. Besides, it could have been worse- it could have been in a World Series game rather than mid April.
And Braves fans, don't feel guilty like you stole one from the Rockies. You earned the win. And if that's not enough, do what I do and remember Kent Hrbek. Every little call that perhaps goes our way is just a grain of sand trying to fill the dark infinite chasm of unfairness left by watching that play as a child.