Lee's Summit umpire says players meant to hurt him

07/29/2011 11:56 AM

07/29/2011 11:56 AM

A local umpire has alleged that two high school-age baseball players and their coach plotted to hit him with a pitch in a game last week, and he says he has an injured hand to prove it.

The incident occurred July 21 in a late-evening 18-and-under game in the Mac-N-Seitz Midwest Championships and Showcase at Legacy Park in Lee’s Summit.

In the fifth inning, home plate umpire Kyle Reynolds said he heard a coach call the name of the catcher to grab his attention. On the next pitch, Reynolds was struck by a fastball on his left hand as the catcher shifted to his right.

After the play, Reynolds did not eject the 16-year-old pitcher, 17-year-old catcher or their head coach. Instead, Reynolds left the game and informed the on-site tournament supervisor about the incident. Reynolds said he had his hand X-rayed the next day. He subsequently filed a report with the Lee’s Summit Police Department. His case has been assigned to a detective, according to Sgt. Chris Depue.

The coach and the players, who are unnamed in this story because of The Star’s general policy of not identifying subjects of an open investigation who have not been charged with a crime, denied intentionally hitting Reynolds. The coach said that the incident occurred because of a mix-up in signs between the pitcher and catcher.

“No, there’s no way,” the coach said when asked if the players had conspired to hit Reynolds. “They thought that when the umpire walked away from the game that it was because of something that was happening with the other team.

“It happens. I mean, it happens in games, especially at this age, when boys start to throw so hard and they have different pitches that are hard to catch. (The players) had done nothing other than change their signs since there was a runner on base.”

Before the incident, Reynolds recalled the atmosphere in the game as being typical for teams at that level of play. In the first inning, a coach from the team under investigation disagreed with a fair-ball call and calmly spoke to Reynolds about it. No other disagreements arose.

“Nothing stands out to me,” said Reynolds, a 22-year-old senior at Kansas State who has umpired games for eight years. “There wasn’t an ongoing problem.”

In video footage obtained by The Star, the play in which Reynolds was hit by the pitch occurs in the bottom of the fifth. The right-handed pitcher walks an opposing hitter, bringing up a right-handed batter. The first pitch lands inside, and Reynolds calls a ball. The next pitch appears more centrally located around the strike zone, but the catcher drops it and Reynolds calls ball two.

“Hey, man, don’t penalize him because I dropped it!” the coach recalled the catcher telling Reynolds, believing the pitch was ruled a ball because the catcher couldn’t hang on to it.

In the video, Reynolds does not respond. The catcher can be seen reacting to the call by placing his hands on his hips and pausing for five seconds before tossing the ball back to the pitcher. The catcher said he then asked where the pitch had been, and Reynolds said he replied: “It was rolling around the freakin’ ground.”

After tossing the ball back to the pitcher, the catcher turns his head to the left, toward the third-base dugout and the head coach, who is sitting on a bucket outside the dugout. The catcher then briefly pulls up his mask, spits and again looks over to his left. On the next pitch, the catcher shifts to his right knee just before the ball reaches home plate and strikes Reynolds’ left wrist.

“Right as the pitcher releases the ball, the catcher literally jumps to the right and the ball comes inside and caught me on the hand,” Reynolds said. “It wasn’t an attempt to make a baseball play. It wasn’t like even if he called an outside pitch. I don’t think he would have caught it.”

The catcher maintains that he and the pitcher got mixed up on their signals. With a runner on first, he said they changed their signs — meaning he flashed several signs but only one was the right pitch to throw. In that inning, the pitcher said, he was supposed to throw the pitch corresponding to the third sign — a low-and-away curveball — but did not see it and instead threw the pitch assigned to the second sign — a fastball. The pitcher and catcher also said it became difficult to see as the night wore on.

After the pitch strikes him, Reynolds remains in his position for several seconds.

In separate interviews with The Star, the pitcher and catcher said that they met near the mound after Reynolds was struck. The catcher said that he called time as a courtesy to the umpire.

However, in the video, neither player reacts to Reynolds’ being hit. The catcher slowly climbs to his feet to retrieve the live ball while the runner on first base takes second and the pitcher walks off the rubber to retrieve the throw from home. Then the catcher returns to his squatting position.

At that point, Reynolds removes his mask, exits the field at the other team’s dugout, and says, “I’m done.”

Otis Miller, the regional Triple Crown Sports operator, was not present at the game but has talked to some of the parties involved in the incident. Miller, who has not spoken to Reynolds, said Reynolds made the wrong decision by walking off if he believed he was intentionally throw out.

“I don’t know if the proper protocol was followed,” Miller said. “Proper procedure was to call a forfeit.”

Reynolds did not end the game or eject the two players and coach. But he says the game had spiraled out of his control.

“I never had that happen before,” Reynolds said. “I’ve never been on a field where that’s happened to someone else. That’s just so far out of the line. To be honest, driving home, it almost made me sick (that) it happened in front of this many people. It’s audacious. That’s what made me fear for my safety.”

To reach Candace Buckner, send email to cbuckner@kcstar.com

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