Kickball Travesty

kickball.jpgGary Vice is a kickball umpire for Minneapolis Parks & Rec. He’s very popular and a very good umpire, receiving praise from players and league administration alike. Two drunk bastards are trying to have Gary removed from umpiring in the league they play in and in another league that one of those player’s fiance plays in in retaliation for his ejecting their drunk asses from a game for their unacceptable behavior.

The new league commissioner has refused to manage the situation (and demonstrated incompetence in a number of other areas) and as a result it is escalating out of control. Apparently having Gary’s umpiring gigs cut and scheduled around their team isn’t enough.

The email below is from Gary. You really have to read the whole story. This is about poor treatment of an outstanding employee, poor management of the league, and ridiculous behavior by two grown-ass men. Information about contacting the Park Board follows the email. I’m sure Gary would like to hear your words of support as well.

(Thanks to Taylor for the heads up.)

Dear Minneapolis Park Board Member and/or Kickball enthusiast,

For those of you who don’t know, I’ve been officiating adult co-recreational kickball games for the city of Minneapolis for the last four or five years after numerous seasons as a softball umpire. And while not meaning to sound immodest, during those years I’ve been fortunate enough to win the near unanimous approval of the players through my unique style–combining umpiring with a self-provided public address system and a little wit–to the extent that one of the first questions many teams have asked when they’ve called in to re-register their teams for a new spring, summer or fall league is “Is Gary Still The Ref?” or “What night is Gary working?”

Well, up until just yesterday, the answer to that question would have been an unequivocal every night, Sunday through Thursday, as the league’s former kickball commissioner, Jason Eisold, was only all too happy to schedule me across the board, handling virtually every game in every league for the last few seasons, including this one, while saying on more than one occasion, “Gary you’re the best ambassador we have for Minneapolis kickball,” and “don’t ever take a night off you’re irreplaceable.” And our leagues have flourished.

Then something happened. We got a new commissioner, and not only did my nightly reports on field conditions start going unacknowledged and unaddressed, but so did my reports about the verbally abusive and profane antics of two well-fortified beer drinking individuals on one very intense team, Balz Out, which has been playing on Thursday nights this summer, and on other nights for years.

Why am I telling you all this? Because these two individuals, combined with a comatose commissioner who failed to act and sanction these individuals earlier this summer, now want to see me removed as your umpire for the remainder of the season on both Wednesday nights (despite the fact the schedule had already been drawn up so that another official worked all of Balz Out’s games), and on Monday nights, because (get this) the fiance of one of these two individuals is the manager of one of the teams in that league.

And for what? Because I enforced Park Board policy and ejected these two players for swearing and drinking alcohol, which is something I’m admittedly quite loathe to do? (More on that later.) In any event, for reasons I cannot comprehend because they haven’t been adequately explained to me, apparently I’m not supposed to do that, and instead of suspending or disciplining the players back when he should have months ago, the league commissioner now wants to remove me from the officiating schedule on Mondays and Wednesdays for the remainder of the fall season just because these two guys have kept up their campaign to have me replaced without cause, and the commissioner, who is just as responsible, if not more, for this alleged dilemma than anyone, is now looking for an easy button solution, at not only my expense, but the expense of the rest of the participants in the league.

Yes, that’s right, the two least well-behaved players in kickball are trying to dictate policy for the rest of us in a vacuum of commissioner competence unless you folks speak out. There’s nothing like letting the fleas on the tip of the tale wag the dog.

Now here’s the back story that will help to put some of this in perspective.

First of all, Balz Out has traditionally fielded a very competitive team, and I’d always gotten along with them exceedingly well. So well, in fact, that one of the very two individuals currently trying to get me replaced once asked me to help him orchestrate his proposal to his aforementioned fiance earlier this summer when they met at home plate for the pre-game manager’s meeting since they had met playing kickball. So, I came up with an idea and pretended I didn’t have a coin for the pre-game coin flip, which you savy players know we don’t do anyway, while asking to borrow a coin from one of the managers, and out came a diamond ring and the manager’s of Balz Out and Al’s Ballers were officially engaged as I proclaimed kickball love.

And this is the thanks I get?

In fact, I believe I still have the support of most of the players on Balz Out’s team, (and EVERY single player on Al’s Ballers aside from possibly their now engaged manager), including several Balz Out players who have come up to apologize to me for their less well behaved teammates’ profane behavior, while firmly and openly shaking my hand and wishing me well. One flustered player on Balz Out muttered under her breath to me that after all the fun they’d been having for all these years her two overly spirited and profane teammates, one who wears a women’s wig whenever he plays, were now “ruining it for her.”

I agreed. They were ruining it for me too, and for the other teams who had to tolerate their antics while asking me why the league doesn’t do something about them? I don’t know I would reply. There doesn’t seem to be anyone paying attention to my emails. “Don’t worry, we’ve got your back,” various individuals on other teams said.

Nonetheless, all I knew was that the kickball commissioner had taken an unexplained leave of absence, and that apparently meant these two guys got to hang around the backstop after their games were over and heckle me for the next few hours with beers in hand saying things like, “Now we’re not gonna fucking shut up” and then proceed to second guess every pitch, and every play until the teams in the field would ask in exasperation for them to please leave, to no avail, while chanting my name. (Thank you Mooseknuckles.)

After one particularly anguishing defeat this summer this young lady’s Balz Out teammates refused to go out and shake the hands of their opponents, whereupon she announced that she’d represent her team, and that’s what she did, one smiling diminutive kickballer alone high-fiving the opposition and saying “good game” while her teammates brooded on the sidelines.

And why, because they’d just been beaten by last season’s overall summer league champions, the undefeated Ligers, who had also defeated them in last year’s league champion playoff series. Obviously they take their kickball very seriously. Far more seriously than most teams. And more than one team has been outraged by the over-aggressive base running of one of this one particular Balz Out player who famously stated after nearly trampling a female shortstop, “I’m sorry, I thought you were a guy.”

Well, we have lots of players, and lots of teams in our leagues, and I have no doubt in my mind that they overwhelmingly support me and my efforts to facilitate their recreational activity with my humor and good nature and extra effort, while being critical of not only the poor field conditions we’ve had to endure this summer and fall, but who are also critical of the commissioner’s failure to discipline these two individuals, which emboldened their disrespectful and unsportsmanlike behaviors.

Trouble is, if you were to believe the current commissioner, no one has ever had anything positive to say about my officiating, although a number of you know that’s just not the case. So what has happened to your approbations? I dunno. I guess they got deep-sixed along with my requests for help remedying the poor field conditions, upon which I am about to elaborate.

To those of you playing on field 10 at Bryn Mawr on Wednesday nights you know what I mean. There’s a huge hole in the outfield that has been growing week by week. Two weeks ago it we were able just barely able to cover it with a trash can lid from a 55-gallon drum. Now it’s so large you could hide a fifth outfielder in the ground and that is not an exaggeration. And guess who has been presiding over the field maintenance? The answer–two transients who live in the woods surrounding the park who come out at night to watch our games. They dragged some plywood from their not-so-secret hideaways to cover up the hole so none of us would get hurt. I took a picture of one them last night standing in the hole up to his knees smiling to demonstrate the long neglected problem.

And what about the fact the lights would not come on when needed on field 9 at Bryn Mawr during the first three weeks of fall league play forcing teams to play in complete darkness? Why did it take a full month before someone finally opened the electrical panel and adjusted the timer that restricted the flood lights’ operation for fall league play when I communicated the difficulties we were having immediately after week one?

And can someone tell me why teams are being forced to play on a unlit field (field 10) at Bryn Mawr while the lighted field we used all summer (field 11) sits empty? Not to mention the fact that the very atypical and limited distance between home plate and the backstop on field 9 (which is lit) makes it incredibly challenging for kickers who’d like to have room to run up and kick the ball, only they’re practically standing on home plate already as they await the pitch. No fun.

As teams which played on field 11 at Bryn Mawr can attest to the fact second base was sitting several inches up in the air all summer long, week after week after week, generating complaint after complaint after complaint, until the last week of the season when everyone gave a raspberry cheer after it was finally corrected. What was the problem getting that base anchor lowered? Were they waiting until someone broke an ankle?

We have home plates that are ridiculously elevated, and others that are sunken several inches underground. In either instance this results in balls ramping up into player’s skins and essentially nullifying their efforts to kick the ball. Naturally these are field concerns that don’t affect softball players but do affect kickballers.

Meanwhile, field prep has been shoddy, with leveled fields and chalk lines the exception and not the rule. Safety bases frequently no longer have a spec of orange on them. And the trenches where softballers stand at the plate give kickballers nothing but headaches as they attempt to kick a ball that suddenly bounces erratically at the last second because the fields are in such poor shape.

And how would you like to show up for your kickball game on the opening week of your fall season and find that there are no bases (Bossen field 9) because they were put away after softball season ended. Then again, perhaps that’s not so bad, because you could have tried to play kickball on field 4 at Nokomis your opening week only to find an Ultimate tournament with a valid permit in progress out in the outfield. And when your umpire attempted to start your game the Ultimate players decide to descend upon the infield from the outfield with one girl standing on home plate so you couldn’t proceed.

Maybe you’d like to be a kickball umpire when a softball team, again with a permit, shows up to play on your field (NE #2) even though you’ve been playing kickball there all season and are scheduled to play there again that night, although the city has obviously erroneously double-booked the field, and you have to try and negotiate a truce between your justly entitled kickballers and a raucous group of metal bat wielding softball players.

This has happened to me three times. Just ask the Kickbots, a team which is just about the personification of the perfect kickball team with a team banner, colorful pom poms and a megaphone, not to mention a squadron of kids who run the bases in the middle of the fifth inning every week to everyone’s applause.

And yes, I started that tradition along with a number of others, like announcing attendance figures, inviting small kids to kick between innings, giving players props for making spectacular plays in the field, reminding them what time they play the following week, making up humorous player introductions, and using a game of rock, paper & scissors to determine home field advantage instead of a coin flip, which gives the contest more of a playground feel. Only the “coin flip” was done away with on most of the fall schedules by the new commissioner, which was a change nobody asked for, and nobody wanted.

On more than one night this season I’ve had to contend with a drunken transient disrupting play at Bryn Mawr. Things got so bad one evening that one particular individual, famous for his paint sniffing binges, “fell down” numerous times as players attempted to defend themselves. His face was bloodied when Park Police arrived an hour after they were called and just as we were leaving. A lot of good that did us. And what happened after I complained about the slow response? I was advised by my park board contacts to lie when I called 911 and turn in a false police report claiming someone had a knife when in fact they didn’t, which is something I’m just not going to do.

The weak link in this equation, obviously, is the league commissioner, who should be reassigned to other tasks so a more capable and responsive park board employee can oversee the needs of kickball over the course of the final half of the fall season, and naturally I feel this should include my uninterrupted participation on both Monday and Wednesday evenings as originally scheduled because I don’t think there’s any question but that’s how the teams want it, and their voice should prevail over that of an incompetent commissioner who is attempting to hide his own shortcomings by replacing me without cause.

So please, let the park board hear from you, and I suspect we can continue going about having our kickball fun on Mondays and Wednesdays, along with the other days of the week, in the same fashion we’ve come to enjoy for at least the rest of this season, and that’s with Gary the karaoke referee reminding you to “Have fun and don’t forget to tie your shoes.”

Sincerely,
Gary Vice
Kickball Umpire
GarysJustForKicks@yahoo.com

P.S. As some of you know, I’ve written a number of columns for espn.com as a correspondent covering the Minnesota Twins and Timberwolves, and I’ve been collecting anecdotes all season in preparation of writing a free lance article for a local publication featuring many of our experiences playing a kids’ game. Well I think the story just got more interesting. (And this chapter ain’t over. ) Thank you, everyone, in advance for your efforts. I hope you will forward this memo to all the players on your team in hopes many will choose to comment. I will be most interested in hearing what you have to tell the park board, so please copy me with your correspondence.

The current kickball commissioner is Jack Bartsh (612-230-6492) and his email address is jbartsh@minneapolisparks.org

His boss is KENT BREVIK (612-230-6495) and his email address is kbrevik@minneapolisparks.org

And the following are Park Board commissioners:

Mary Merrill Anderson (612-230-6443 #7) is a commissioner at large and her email address is mmerrillanderson@minneapolisparks.org

M. Annie Young (612-230-6443 #9) is also a commissioner at large and her email address is ayoung@minneapolisparks.org

Tom Nordyke (612-230-6443 #8) is also a commissioner at large and his email address is Thorndike@minneapolisparks.org

Walt Dziedzic (612-230-6443 #1) is commissioner of district one.

Jon Olson (612-230-6443 #2) is the board president and commissioner of district two.

Scott Vreeland (612-721-7892) is commissioner of district three and his email address is svreeland@minneapolisparks.org

Tracy Nordstrom (612-230-6443 #4) is the board vice president and commissioner of district 4 and her email address is tnordstrom@minneapolisparks.org

Carol A. Kummer (612-230-6443 #5) is the commissioner of district five and her email address is ckummer@minneapolisparks.org

Bob Fine (612-230-6443 #6) is the commissioner of district six and his email address is bfine@minneapolisparks.org

12 Comments so far

  1. Sadie (unregistered) on October 1st, 2007 @ 2:26 pm

    I have sent numerous email’s about this, aswell as my team has. I feel there has been so much support showing our frustrations that a few people can ruin something for a large group. This is a program created for the community not for those few indivisuals that have a problem. It’s very said that this park board has no support for there own employees but instead just want to take what they thought was the easy way out! Gary you have my full support. With out you, I will not play in there league.


  2. angie (unregistered) on October 1st, 2007 @ 7:35 pm

    I think this is crap. Gary is a great ref – sometime infuriating but that is a refs job. He makes things fun and is a HUGE part of the kickball experience. I have written to the kickball commissioner and his boss. I don’t think I’ll play again next year if they ban Gary. Some people take kickball too seriously. It’s supposed to be fun!


  3. Jane (unregistered) on October 1st, 2007 @ 10:17 pm

    Okay, so I’ve been playing kickball for the last couple of years and I heard about this. It sounded like a bummer, but I didn’t realize how seriously it had gotten out of hand until I got my email and then read this blog. Really, people, now I am guilty of it too…but Gary, do you have a life? Do you really have so much time on your hands that you could write such a long email completely blaming other people (I should say, namely, one other person), for the situation you are in? Do you really not take any responsibility for your situation? I mean, good grief. I have to say, I’m glad you’re gone. Is this how you treat people who don’t agree with you? Goodbye.


  4. Todd Erickson (unregistered) on October 1st, 2007 @ 11:12 pm

    I found Gary to be extremely professional with everything he undertakes. The fact that he’s a good writer and could put together a piece like he did shows that he cares and is very thorough with everything he does. I would like to see the Park and Board support frontline workers who are trying to bring some order to what should be a fun event – not some place to where drunks are allowed to become disorderly and ruin things for others. Keep up the good work Gary. I hope justice comes your way and that you continue to add enjoyment to many.


  5. Nancy (unregistered) on October 2nd, 2007 @ 8:55 am

    I played in the summer league. Sure Gary is fun and makes lame jokes, but it is a fact that he sucks at calling games. Each week the strike zone change several times per game, and he would even manage to blow foul ball calls. Once he called a runner out at second, and the opposing second baseman said he never touched the ball or saw the runner get tagged. Gary thought for 2 seconds, and said the calls stands. We paid extra to play in the league that is reffed, and so we expect comptency, not ineptitude. Gary is not funny, and he is inept at reffing kickball games. Sorry.


  6. Nancy (unregistered) on October 2nd, 2007 @ 8:57 am

    Actually Gary really sucks at making calls, every week. We paid extra to play in the league with a ref, and while he succeeds at making himself laugh with a microphone each Thursday, he is inept at reffing a game.


  7. Nick (unregistered) on October 2nd, 2007 @ 11:21 am

    Gary is an egomaniac who is not good at making calls.


  8. Erica M (unregistered) on October 2nd, 2007 @ 11:26 am

    Not being a kickball player myself, I’m wondering…

    …how many people are here commenting because they’re friends of the two unruly players?

    …how many people are missing the point that this is really not a good way to run the league, even if you think Gary’s umpiring skills suck?

    Just my observations based on comments. Somebody correct me if I’m wrong.


  9. Brian G (unregistered) on October 2nd, 2007 @ 12:10 pm

    At first I thought this post was about this youtube video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T-Ke5pZ1H9g Then I read on… This is Bull. No matter the league, the refs deal with so much crap. Good Luck Gary.


  10. pauljahn (unregistered) on October 2nd, 2007 @ 7:58 pm

    I’m guessing the two individuals are also those who didn’t go out to shake the opponents hands after they lost a game (as shown above)?

    I’m wondering how playing rec-league kickball (or soccer, or basketball, etc.) no matter how intense the game is piss people off so much they won’t do the obligatory handshake after a game. I’ll stick with the CSC league.

    For this alone, Gary has my full support.


  11. Erica M (unregistered) on October 2nd, 2007 @ 9:10 pm

    this youtube video

    Heh!


  12. Josh (unregistered) on October 4th, 2007 @ 1:39 pm

    Seriously, Nick and Nancy need to look at the real issue. One- Gary is human and he is going to make a calls that not everyone likes.

    I have played kickball for three or four years now, with Gary almost always being the ref. I am sure he made one or two calls in that time that I didn’t agree with but the other 98 percent of the time he was spot on and made the whole damn thing fun. The one time we had another ref he got mad at us for cheering and basically made up rules about us not being able to move in the outfield before the ball was kicked.
    And to say it is a fact that he sucks at calling games based on your vague examples is complete smoke and straight up ridonkulous, considering I have never had these same issues in my time on the field.

    Two – This is not about his umpiring skills but about the undue and unjust firing of someone who does his job and deserves the support of his employer.

    Straight up, this is where this story is ridiculous. I can see no reason why this fellow should have been let go as he has always made the game enjoyable, and based on the information presented here (obviously just one side) there is no reason to cut the man off.



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