Editor’s note: The photo at the bottom of this post included incorrect information. It has been corrected.
Sam Whitney wanted to play catcher for the Boise State football team’s defense in Thursday’s charity softball game at Memorial Stadium.
But the Broncos’ defensive end didn’t know all the rules, so I had to make him and his team a little upset.
I was among a four-member umpiring crew for the game, along with three other media members. I knew there was going to be a close play, especially when my turn came to be behind the dish. Sure enough, there was a play at the plate, Whitney had the ball in plenty of time — and he just stood there. He needed to put on a tag, since the bases weren’t loaded.
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Out came the defensive players from the dugout, led by redshirt freshman linebacker Desmond Williams and defensive tackle Jabari Watson. We had a fake argument, after which I explained exactly why it wasn’t an out.
Good thing for the defense, the group beat the offense 5-3, ending the game with linebacker Will Heffner putting on a tag at home on quarterback Jake Constantine. Proceeds went to Optimist Youth Football, providing scholarships to at-risk kids who want to play.
“Out on the (football) field, they’re amazing, but out here, it’s not as impressive,” joked freshman safety Mason Smith, a former minor-league baseball player who won the home run derby.
I get to see football practices, which are normally all business, but to be around the team and see the interactions up close in a low-stress competitive environment was pretty neat.
There was receiver Brock Barr’s self-deprication after hitting just one homer in the derby: “I need to get in the weight room.” Guys in the field would help each other as to where to line up. When there was a home run, the excitement of every player who came out to celebrate was infectious. Two teammates rushed over to help up cornerback Avery Williams after a great play to end an inning.
“We’re defense, that’s what we do!” Williams said.
Coach Bryan Harsin said Wednesday he believes the team has put in the necessary work he expected heading into fall camp, which begins Aug. 1. Through it, there also is a strong camaraderie, even with the gentle ribbing that follows after a pop-up to the catcher or a dropped ball.
“I think it brings us closer, building a relationship through something other than football, coming out here competing, running around and having fun, there’s nothing better,” said linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, the defensive captain. “... I feel we’re pretty tight-knit across the team.”
Added Watson: “Any sport, it can be tiddlywinks, dodgeball, baseball, softball, or kickball. It doesn’t matter. As long as it’s us against them, we’re going to compete to our fullest potential.”
Before the game, Harsin said to prepare for some heckling from the crowd. I couldn’t hear it on the field, but made sure to let offensive captain and quarterback Brett Rypien know this would be his one time to criticize officiating all he wanted. And no one made any reference to me picking the Broncos second.
“Terrible, all around, just absolutely brutal,” Rypien said of the umpiring, smiling.
It’s fun to turn the tables, I guess.