By Rob Patrick
HOT SPRINGS — Over the years, athletics and the military have turned around the lives of many a trouble young man, giving them a second chance and often providing the seft-esteem and self-discipline that had been lacking.
As the 2009 American Legion baseball season was unfolding for the Bryant Black Sox, it appeared that Tim Bearden was developing into another great example of that after getting a second chance in baseball for the Sox at the first of the summer in 2008 then putting in a stint with the National Guard starting mid-summer. In his first outing for the Sox, it looked like he had picked up where he'd left off and, well, there seemed to be all sorts of positive possibilities ahead of him.
That was until Wednesday night at Hot Springs Lakeside, a night that Bearden may come to regret for some time. His second chance at baseball is in doubt as a result.
Bryant had battled back from a 2-0 deficit, scoring twice in the top of the seventh to tie the game. Bearden came on in relief and worked a 1-2-3 inning, fanning two with impressive stuff. The Sox scored twice in the top of the eighth to take the lead and Bearden came back to the mound in the bottom of the inning. Things didn't go as well. Lakeside scored a run and had the potential tying and winning runs on base when Taylor Parker lined a 1-2 pitch into center. Zack Ritter, who had doubled in the first run, rounded third and headed for home.[more]
Bryant center fielder Caleb Garrett charged the ball, fielded it and fired to the plate in time for catcher Kaleb Jobe to tag out Ritter. But the ball came loose after the tag. Jobe, manager Craig Harrison and the Bryant fans contended that Jobe was trying to pull the ball out of his glove to make another throw when he dropped it. In that case, the out should have counted. But the umpire ruled that Jobe had dropped the ball and Ritter was safe, tying the game 4-4.
Now, there had been some disputes about the homeplate umpire's strike zone during the game but nothing that was extraordinary. Bearden, however, appeared to have gotten caught up in the emotion — emotion he didn't control — and when the call at the plate was made, he charged the umpire in a rage and bumped him as Jobe tried to hold him off. The umpire immediately threw him out of the game and declared the game was over.
Others arrived to push Bearden away but he started to make another run at the umpire only to be intercepted by other teammates and Bryant coach Tic Harrison. They appeared to have the pitcher headed towards the Bryant dugout even though he continued to carry on verbally, looking back at the umpire. As he turned, he saw the field umpire rushing onto the scene and confronted him, squaring off as if to box.
The coaches and players intervened in time to prevent physical contact and eventually got him to the dugout.
At first, manager Craig Harrison appeared to be appealing the ending of the game but he quickly had to refocus his argument as the police arrived. The umpires wanted Bearden arrested but Harrison negotiated intensely and, after the police talked to Bearden, they allowed him to leave with his coaches.
"I'm at a loss for words," Harrison said later. "This was not representative of Bryant baseball, Black Sox in particular. That stuff can't happen. It's just not to be tolerated. People are going home here that are going to look down on us and it just makes me feel — I'm just embarrassed. It puts things in perspective. I mean, we're just playing a game. And the game wasn't even heated, I didn't think. Kaleb was upset with a couple of calls but the players were fine with each other. But that's just part of the game, right? We just had one guy that lost it.
"I thought we had a lot more discipline than maybe we do," he added. "But I'm not going to call out the whole team for the actions of one or two players but it just really will put things into perspective on what we're doing here. We won't tolerate that. It's just not a part of baseball.
"The (police) officer — there are certain conditions that have to be met for him not to pursue the situation further," Harrison related. "Our player doesn't agree with that but we saw what happened. The conversation out there was to not pursue it."
The incident spoiled a heck of a game. The Sox had been shackled by Lakeside lefty Tyler Hill for five innings. They'd managed just two hits so they were unable to take advantage of four walks.
Bryant starter Ben Wells was nearly as affective. Lakeside picked up an unearned run in the first. Hill beat out an infield hit then Daniel Hernandez was hit by a pitch. Hill appeared to be headed home on a sharp single to right by Ben Crumpton but he stumbled and had to scramble back to first. Hernandez, on his way to third, tried to retreat but was caught in a rundown and tagged out. Wells then hit Ritter to load the bases. A passed ball allowed Hill to score before Wells fanned Jonathan Rogers and got Taylor Parker to ground out to short to end the inning.
It stayed 1-0 until the fourth when Rogers reached on a third-strike wild pitch, Parker singled and, after a sacrifice by Ryan Meeks, Logan Karsten singled in a run. Wells forced the Rams to strand runners at second and third, however, keeping it 2-0. He would allow just one more baserunner before turning the game over to Bearden in the seventh.
In the sixth, the Sox appeared to be getting to Hill as Hunter Mayall drew a lead-off walk and Caleb Garrett slapped a single to right. Crumpton relieved and struck out the heart of the Bryant lineup to keep the shutout intact.
In the top of the seventh, however, Justin Blankenship legged out a bloop double to left-center and advanced to third on a passed ball. Brennan Bullock was hit by a pitch before Trent Daniel drove a deep fly to right-center that looked like it might go out only to have Hernandez flag it down at the fence. Blankenship, however, tagged and scored Bryant's first run.
B.J. Ellis followed with a grounder to short. Lakeside got the force but Ellis hustled down the line to beat the relay, avoiding a game-ending doubleplay. Jonathan Wade came on to run for the Bryant catcher. He sprinted to second on Mayall's infield hit. Garrett then battled the hard-throwing Crumpton to a 3-2 count before taking ball four to load the bases for Tyler Sawyer.
A battle ensued between Lakeside's ace pitcher and one of Bryant's most experienced and productive hitters. Sawyer fouled off a pair of two strike pitches and eventually drew a walk to force in the tying run.
Jobe completed a frustrating night at the plate by flying out to left to end the inning.
After Bearden whipped through three Lakeside batters in the bottom of the seventh, the Sox scratched out two runs to take the lead in the top of the eighth. Brady Butler beat out an infield hit and advanced to second on a wild pitch. With Blankenship at the plate, showing bunt, Harrison noted that the Lakeside third baseman was charging and the shortstop was trying to sprint over to cover third. He signaled to Blankenship to square around again but pull the bat back as he had Butler running on the pitch. Sure enough Butler beat the shortstop to the bag and, when he tried to hit the moving target, Rogers, the Rams' catcher, fired the ball into left field, allowing Butler to score the go-ahead run.
A pitch later, Blankenship drilled a liner to the gap in right-center for his second double. Crumpton struck out Bullock but walked Daniel. Wade fanned but then Mayall and Garrett drew walks to force in a second run.
Crumpton gave way to lefty Foster Pratt. Sawyer belted a 1-1 pitch to deep left and, though Hill turned the wrong way initially in his pursuit back for the ball, he found it and somehow made the catch to end the inning.
Crumpton singled to start the bottom of the eighth and scored all the way from first on Ritter's long double to right-center. Rogers walked before Parker's single that led to the melee.
The Sox are scheduled to return to action at home on Friday at 7 against North Little Rock. Daniel, who recently committed to transfer to the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville after a fine season at UA-Fort Smith, will make his first start of the Legion season.