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A baseball score of 29-2 has many names: Landslide, rout, drubbing, blowout or massacre. But a teachable moment?

What lessons can be learned from a beat down of that magnitude?

I asked the coaches of Casa Grande (the victor) and Santa Rosa (the vanquished) what exactly happened on Casa’s home field Wednesday afternoon and both said this: It’s not what it looks like.

“It looks disrespectful,” said first-year Casa coach Chad Fillinger. “There were no hard feelings after the game. We apologized.”

No apology necessary, insisted Paige Dumont, now in his eighth season as coach at Santa Rosa.

“The Casa coach at no point disrespected us,” he said. “It was handled well. I have no complaints at all.”

Casa Grande is 13-4 overall and 8-0 in the North Bay League. They are ranked fifth in the North Coast Section.

Santa Rosa is clearly struggling. The Panthers are 0-18 overall and 0-9 in the NBL. They have scored 49 runs while allowing 210. They have endured their fair share of blowouts this season: a 21-5 loss to California of San Ramon in their season opener, a 22-2 loss to Maria Carrillo last week, and then Wednesday’s 29-2 game.

But when I asked Dumont if Casa should have done more to slow the bleeding or if Carrillo should have pulled back in that contest last week, he was adamant: No.

“In the world of baseball, if there is a passed ball, it’s more disrespectful if you don’t take a bag,” he said. “It’s more of an embarrassing slap in the face.”

When Carrillo started to pile up the runs on the Panthers last week, coach Sam Bruno tried to put the brakes on. He told his kids to take only one base when clearly the opportunity was there for more.

“(Dumont) saw that I was intentionally holding runners up and not running up the score,” he said. “He wanted us to still play and said, ‘We are not going to take offense if you keep playing the game.’”

Bruno can empathize. His Pumas got pummeled so badly in the third game of the season that the game was called after 4½ innings. That loss dropped the Pumas to 0-3. It became a turning point.

“I was almost happy as a coach that we got 10-run ruled and kind of deservedly got booted off the field. It allowed us to dig deep and be who we are,” he said.

The Pumas have won 12 of their last 14 games and are now in second place behind Casa Grande in the NBL.

But the 10-run, so-called “Mercy Rule” that was invoked in Carrillo’s 13-3 loss to Napa doesn’t exist in NBL baseball. It’s there in softball, but not in baseball.

In softball, a team is declared the winner when one team has a lead of 10 runs or more after 4½ innings if the visiting team is behind or after five innings if either team is behind by 10.

At a preseason meeting, league baseball coaches nixed adding the rule. And it might surprise folks to know who made the strongest case not to use it.


What: North Bay League Championships

Where: Santa Rosa Junior College

When: 4 p.m. Friday, 500-yard freestyle; preliminary races start 9:30 am. Saturday; finals start at 2 p.m.

“We don’t want that,” Dumont said of the 10-run rule. “It’s taking away innings for kids to get better. There are always opportunities to get better.”

Dumont said he’s teaching his kids to take their lumps and still fight.

“In the fourth inning, they are still up on the fence, they are still cheering. They are still trying to encourage each other,” he said of the Casa game.

And the mistakes – his Panthers had 25 hit batters, walks or errors Wednesday – will continue to be addressed.

“It’s not like we aren’t working on it,” he said. “Every single day we are working on fundamental stuff.”

And that means life lessons. Lose focus? You make errors. You make errors? Runs pile up. And up. And up.

“It’s all self-inflicted,” he said. “Our team kind of deserved what they got.”

I give credit to Dumont for teaching his kids to fight it out and for not wanting to take innings away from athletes on other teams. But when does an inning lose meaning? When does an additional at bat or outing pitched start to feel like kids are getting fed to the wolves?

In those cases, the mercy rule starts to make sense.

“I think it should be enforced,” Bruno said of the 10-run rule. “Yeah, there are more innings for the kids, but not quality ones.”

“When it’s that kind of game, who’s having fun out there?” he said.

Even with the mercy rule, blowouts can still happen. Just ask Montgomery softball head coach Mike Malvino. The Vikings, now second in the NBL, had a horrible outing against Cardinal Newman on March 29, falling behind 23-3 before the game was called after five innings.

In his case, Malvino said Newman coach Bill Vreeland did nothing wrong. The Vikings simply didn’t come to play and paid a steep price.

“It doesn’t bother me. I don’t know what he could have done,” Malvino said.

Malvino’s Vikings have been on the other side of blowouts and the skipper isn’t afraid of telling his kids to step off the bag in order to be tagged out. But he understands the issue is delicate. Make too much of a show of “sportsmanship” and you are rubbing it in a foe’s face, just in a different way.

“There’s a real fine line,” he said.

And for teams trying to prepare for a more challenging foe, asking kids to play bad ball is tough.

“We stress playing hard for seven innings,” Bruno said.

Fillinger agreed.

“We have really been trying to drive home professionalism,” he said.

That said, Fillinger sounded pained about the way Wednesday’s game unfolded.

“There was no way to end this game,” he said. “We emptied our bench in the third inning. It would never end. It was tough to watch.”

Casa officials even turned the scoreboard off after four innings. The score was not reported to The Press Democrat.

“It was 100 percent unintentional,” he said.

Some of this may get addressed when the league is re-aligned for the 2018-19 school year in an attempt to create more parity. Under the new configuration, Casa Grande will move off to the newly established league with the likes of Napa and American Canyon, while Maria Carrillo will be in an NBL baseball division with Analy, Ukiah, Cardinal Newman, Montgomery and Rancho Cotate. Santa Rosa will be in the mix with El Molino, Elsie Allen, Healdsburg, Piner and Windsor.

NBL Commissioner Jan Smith Billing said without the mercy rule, coaches are forced to get creative which can translate to insulting.

“You don’t want to make a mockery of the game or be condescending,” she said.

With that in mind, Smith Billing expects a renewed discussion of putting the mercy rule back on the books for baseball to come up at a meeting Tuesday among league officials.

“Kids don’t learn anything except to hate the game when they get annihilated like that,” she said.

It’s hard on both teams.

“You hate to see scores like that,” Bruno said.

Vote to return the mercy rule in 2018-19 and we won’t have to.

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes and SoundCloud “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”

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