I rejoined my high school baseball team, the El Cerrito Gauchos, as an assistant coach this year. I was helping out the guy who coached me throughout high school, and was pretty much content with reliving my high school baseball experience while also learning the basics of coaching a high school team.
Our team was good, not great. We were full of hard workers but no legitimate college prospects. But, as has been the case the past few years, a well-coached El Cerrito team exceeded everyone's expectations, got second in the ACCAL, and made the NCS playoffs.
That's where my gripe begins.
Last year the CIF decided to expand NCS to 12 teams, which meant that a lot more teams made it to the playoffs (think college football). The seedings were a lot more arbitrary. The area of teams to pull from was much more far-flung. And then there was the money issue.
I understand that high school sports need to make money. They get sponsorships, which is fine. I'll sit through an announcement about Les Schwab Tires in between innings.
What I don't agree with is the need to charge admission. Again, I'm all for making money. I understand that it needs to be done. But the requirement of a field to enclosed, to have a single entrance from which to bar admission without payment, is detrimental to the players.
Why, you might ask?
These kids are in high school. They're not used to traveling. Last year, the Gauchos went from El Cerrito (between Richmond and Berkeley) up Arcata High school. That's 276 miles.
El Cerrito had the better record. But because Arcata won their league, and El Cerrito came in second, our team had to make the trek. That's because of the seeding, so it's a little more understandable.
This year, however, the Gauchos came in second again, but the only losses were to ACCAL champs Alameda and a couple non-conference games. Yet they were still seeded behind teams that had worse records, were sixth out of eight teams, and in some cases, just not very good.
We also had to travel. Again. To a lower-seeded teams' field. Albeit, it was against Moreau Catholic in Hayward, but with no offense intended to Moreau, their field was a piece of crap.
The infield grass was patchy. The dirt was extremely dry. The outfield was full of gopher holes. There was no foul territory down the right-field line due to the fact that the right-field line was also the fence for a local cemetery. The left-field fence is only 280 feet away, while right field actually goes about 390 feet to the corner and slopes up a hill for the last 20.
On the other hand, our field, Cerrito Vista, is definitely the best field in the conference, and arguably one of the best fields in the East Bay. The infield grass is watered and cut regularly, and it slopes slightly upward at the foul lines to give us the perfect bunting surface, which we used liberally this season. The outfield grass is slow, but big and definitely coverable.
But there's no fence. There's no fence, there's no gate, and there's no point of entry that can be controlled for ticket sales. And because of that, El Cerrito is not allowed to host NCS games, and hasn't for the past few years.
So instead, because North Coast needs to be able to charge people to watch high school kids play baseball, a pop-up that would have been an out at home drifted lazily over the fence in the first inning for a three-run homer. A bunt that would have stayed fair rolled foul down the sloping third-base line.
Granted, El Cerrito didn't play well enough to win. Can't blame it all on the field, because sometimes you just don't deserve to win. But that game should not have been played in Hayward. Just like last year's shouldn't have been played at Arcata.
With all the hype about college players being exploited for money, is there any danger in speculating that the same might be trickling down to high school?