I have had the pleasure this summer to coach the Cardinals -- a dozen 9- to 10-year-old boys -- as part of Ogden's Little League recreation services to the community.
My days have been spent practicing law and my evenings and Saturday mornings coaching baseball. Spending time doing both, I've realized that Little League and the law have a lot in common -- maybe too much in common.
In our last game of the year, there was a close play at home as the ball went past the catcher and the runner on third stole home. As the dust cloud cleared, three 9-year-old bodies were strewn across home plate.
The umpire waved his arms out wide indicating "Safe," and the stands erupted. Grown men started yelling at the beleaguered umpire. The players were in total confusion about whether the runner was out or safe.
One very beautiful mother (my wife) went to the fence and yelled at the yelling men, telling them to get a grip because it is, after all, Little League.
If this happens in a game where the rules are clear -- tag the runner, the runner is out -- imagine what happens when the umpire in the courtroom, the judge, makes a ruling on something that was cobbled together by the legislature in a way that makes it so unclear that most reasonable minds can come up with at least two alternative meanings.
The underappreciated bailiff and his gun are all that keeps the courtroom from turning into parents yelling behind the backstop. The court system has also installed an entire edifice of instant-replay officials. The appellate courts are in place so that at least most of the yelling and hair pulling over court decisions happens out of sight of the original judge.
Courts also rely on administrators and clerks. They are doing their job the best when the system runs smoothly and isn't noticed. The clerks handle a monumental flow of paperwork, interacting with the public and basically keeping a complex system running. Court clerks and administrators rarely get the appropriate recognition for their services to keep the halls of justice efficient.
In the local Little League, Butch Sawyer and his staff do a great job of herding volunteer coaches, parents, lots of young kids and dozen of teams in keeping a smooth-running system. Again, the comparisons are apt.
If umpires are the judges and the players are the litigants, then the Little League coach is the attorney. The attorney will tell the client what to do -- get your mitt down, play is at first and the catcher has the ball, so don't steal home.
The attorney has played the game before and knows what the player needs to do. This does not have any bearing on whether clients will listen to the advice they are paying for. The document your attorney asked for, she asked because she needs it.
Not getting the document makes the game much more difficult. Attorneys are happy when their clients do what they ask them to do, and the favorite players on the Little League team are those who do what the coach tells them to do.
Little League and the court are both highly competitive and emotionally charged. Cases and games are resolved in a way that usually creates distinctive winners and losers. Yet, maybe the most important thing for all the participants, in Little League and in court, is to keep an eye on what is most important: We are all members of a community that has rules and guidelines to elevate us to be better citizens and better neighbors and we should try to be good sports, even when we lose.
E. Kent Winward is an Ogden attorney. He can be reached at
801-392-8200 or firstname.lastname@example.org.