Freedom Newspapers: Andy DeLisle
Florence Jackson of the Clovis Benchwarmer swings at a pitch Friday during the 23rd annual Custom Classic softball tournament at Guy Leeder Softball Complex in Clovis. The tournament drew 126 teams.
Ask before taking the last slice. Don’t date your friend’s sister unless you plan to marry her. If somebody offers to pay for dinner, offer to pay for the tip.
These are a few of the rues people live by, but put in no rulebooks or codes. These are the unwritten rules, ones that are only mentioned when somebody has the audacity to break them.
Softball also has unwritten rules, and participants at the 23rd Plateau Wireless Custom Classic softball tournament. are well aware.
With more than 120 teams playing in a double-elimination format, there are bound to be written rules. Those can be found posted on a board in the center of the Guy Leeder Softball Complex next to the tournament brackets. The board contains 10 rules, or commandments, of the Custom Classic. Those 10 rules cover such items as protests, time limits and mercy rules. These are rules enforced by a series of tournament officials in blue Custom Classic polo shirts, nicknamed the Custom Police by tournament director Roger Jackson.
Unwritten rules are covered by individual teams and forged through years of wins, losses and rainouts. The following are the most prevalent, based on an informal survey of players and officials:
Thou shalt not strike out
When the game is slow-pitch softball, it’s particularly embarrassing for a player to strike out.
The most common punishment, players and coaches say, is the purchase of beer. Jackson said when the tournament started, strikeout victims would have to buy a 12-pack. Now, players say the penance is a 30-pack, and in some cases a 36-pack is necessary.
It’s even more expensive for a member of Scum, a team sponsored by Steve’s Auto Glass and Re/Max. Any Scum member who strikes out, Steve Garcia said, must wear a skirt with a flower pattern until the next time they score a run.
“We’ve got a top to go with it, too,” Garcia joked. “We picked it up at a garage sale.”
Thou shalt chatter, with exceptions
Players are more than willing to support their teammates by cheering and encouraging them from the bench. What’s not accepted is chatter using a cell phone, a device that has become exponentially popular as the Classic has developed.
“No talking in the dugout,” echo Alex Lucero and Frank Martinez of the eXecutioners.
It’s not a standard that changes with genders.
“No cell phones in practice, no cell phones while playing,” said Angie Gallegos, coach of the Lady Members of Littlefield, Texas. Gallegos acknowledged that people can have phones if emergencies come up, but those instances are rare.
The rule applies differently to umpires — at least for now. Early on Friday, a group of Custom Police members caught one umpire checking his phone’s caller ID as a pitch came in. The staff members said he wouldn’t get much punishment, because the embarrassment of getting caught once is enough motivation to not get caught twice.
“That,” staff member Lance Langan said with a laugh, “will be in next year’s rules meeting. If your cell phone rings during a pitch, don’t look down to see who it is.”
Thou shalt be a good sport
Even with huge trophies and honors at stake, players try to view the other team as competition and not as an enemy. When the catcher makes a tag on a close play at the plate, the runner will often acknowledge the good play.
When a game goes final, teams meet along the first- or third-base line for a postgame handshake/high five/fist pound.
Still, to the victors do go a few spoils. D.J. Dominguez, who’s playing in his fifth Classic with the Quakes of Muleshoe, has his favorite celebration.
“You’ve got to cover the plate when you win,” Dominguez said. “It makes you feel really good.”
Outsiders shalt have a stigma
Teams visiting from Texas don’t always have the home crowd like a team from Clovis or Portales, but many out-of-state teams get small perks such as later starts to accommodate for travel.
Mike Vooth, a member of Scum, said Texas teams are viewed differently, but that’s usually because home teams might feel the Texas teams are better. After all, Vooth reasoned, teams that travel more than a few hours for the Custom Classic travel for many tournaments, and that experience combined with talent makes them formidable opponents.
Other Texas teams don’t see that stigma. Dominguez and Quakes teammate Ruben Ruvalcaba said they don’t feel any Texas stigma, but Muleshoe is close enough to be considered a local city for the Classic.
As for the Levelland Lady Members? It depends.
“We feel like it sometimes,” Gallegos said
“It depends whether we win or lose,” she said with a laugh.
Thou shalt not sandbag
Whether they’re called trophy-hunters or sandbaggers, the definition is the same. It’s a person or a team that plays in a level below their abilities, with the sole purpose of beating lesser competition for a trophy.
Jackson said he encourages teams to move up levels when it’s apparent they’re just a little too good.
“You try to look for teams that always end up winning,” Jackson said. “You try to get them to move up to the next classification.”
At some tournaments, various players said, teams looking for that extra edge will recruit star players after their original teams have been eliminated. Jackson said that type of sandbagging is pretty easy to catch in most cases, and guilty parties are thrown out of the tournament altogether.
“The teams will (end up telling) on themselves,” said Jackson, in reference to rosters that must be submitted prior to the tournament. “Someone will tell us, we’ll do roster checks. You don’t have that in good sanctioned tournaments.”
Thou shalt keep the Classic secret
When asked of unwritten rules, the first thing Jackson thought of was a phone call he’d received early in the week. A man from Amarillo called asking general questions about the tournament, and the conversation turned to the subject of people planning vacations and sick days around the tournament.
Jackson said this person knew of three people who got fired from jobs, because somebody told their supervisor they skipped work to play softball in Clovis.
For those instances, tournament officials admit don’t ask, don’t tell is the best policy.
“What happens at the Custom Classic,” Langan said, mocking a popular Las Vegas ad campaign, “stays at the Custom Classic.”