Monday, August 25, 2008

Harrison Bergeron Plays Baseball

In his classic short story "Harrison Bergeron" Kurt Vonnegut portrayed a world gone mad in its quest for (so-called) equality.

“That dance – it was nice,” said Hazel.

“Yup,” said George. He tried to think a little about the ballerinas. They weren’t really very good – no better than anybody else would have been, anyway. They were burdened with sashweights and bags of birdshot, and their faces were masked, so that no one, seeing a free and graceful gesture or a pretty face, would feel like something the cat drug in. George was toying with the vague notion that maybe dancers shouldn’t be handicapped. But he didn’t get very far with it before another noise in his ear radio scattered his thoughts.

George winced. So did two out of the eight ballerinas.

Hazel saw him wince. Having no mental handicap herself she had to ask George what the latest sound had been.

“Sounded like somebody hitting a milk bottle with a ball peen hammer,” said George.

The upshot of the story is that the quest for "equality" quickly becomes the task of extinguishing excellence.

Cut to a 9 year old baseball player in Connecticut:

Nine-year-old Jericho Scott is a good baseball player -- too good, it turns out.

The right-hander has a fastball that tops out at about 40 mph. He throws so hard that the Youth Baseball League of New Haven told his coach that the boy could not pitch any more. When Jericho took the mound anyway last week, the opposing team forfeited the game, packed its gear and left, his coach said.

Officials for the three-year-old league, which has eight teams and about 100 players, said they will disband Jericho's team, redistributing its players among other squads, and offered to refund $50 sign-up fees to anyone who asks for it. They say Jericho's coach, Wilfred Vidro, has resigned.

But Vidro says he didn't quit and the team refuses to disband. Players and parents held a protest at the league's field on Saturday urging the league to let Jericho pitch.

"He's never hurt any one," Vidro said. "He's on target all the time. How can you punish a kid for being too good?"

The controversy bothers Jericho, who says he misses pitching.

"I feel sad," he said. "I feel like it's all my fault nobody could play."

Jericho's coach and parents say the boy is being unfairly targeted because he turned down an invitation to join the defending league champion, which is sponsored by an employer of one of the league's administrators.

Jericho instead joined a team sponsored by Will Power Fitness. The team was 8-0 and on its way to the playoffs when Jericho was banned from pitching.

"I think it's discouraging when you're telling a 9-year-old you're too good at something," said his mother, Nicole Scott. "The whole objective in life is to find something you're good at and stick with it. I'd rather he spend all his time on the baseball field than idolizing someone standing on the street corner."

League attorney Peter Noble says the only factor in banning Jericho from the mound is his pitches are just too fast.

"He is a very skilled player, a very hard thrower," Noble said. "There are a lot of beginners. This is not a high-powered league. This is a developmental league whose main purpose is to promote the sport."

How do you "promote" a sport by removing the only players who are any good at it?

I played baseball at that age, and I was anything but good. In fact there were a few pitchers who could intimidate me by how hard they threw the ball. There is a name for that; it's called baseball. A "fastball" is supposed to be fast. They wouldn't have called it that if it travelled slowly. If the opposing players really couldn't handle 40 mph heat they should consider taking up other past times, like maybe knitting.

Of course, I know the real villains here are the adults who become horrified if their little Timmy looks totally inept when confronted by a player with actual skill.

League officials suggested that Jericho play other positions, or pitch against older players or in a different league.

Local attorney John Williams was planning to meet with Jericho's parents Monday to discuss legal options.

"You don't have to be learned in the law to know in your heart that it's wrong," he said. "Now you have to be punished because you excel at something?"

Vonnegut called it.

2 comments:

Rahid said...

Apparently, he plays the guitar as well. Tallan Latz, an 8-year-old aspiring blues singer, was recently banned from performing at bars. Why? The other adult musicians were too jealous of him, so they reported him to the state for violating child labor laws.

The Iconic Midwesterner said...

Only in America do you need to call in the authorities when a kid excells at playing.