Player Ejected After Umpire Objects to Her Smile

By Ryan Young
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, April 28, 2006

A Richard Montgomery High School softball pitcher was ejected from a game yesterday after the umpire took issue with her reaction to his calls.

The pitcher and the coaches of both teams said she merely smiled at the umpire. The umpire said the player warranted the ejection because of her comments and body language.

Senior Candice Thompson, the Rockets' ace right-hander, was tossed in the top of the third inning of a 1-1 game against visiting Springbrook. Richard Montgomery forfeited shortly thereafter.

The umpire, John Gretz, had issued a prior warning to Thompson and said the ejection was for "unsportsmanlike conduct," which included a "mocking laugh."

"Basically, she wanted some more close pitches to be called strikes, and the way she expressed that wasn't [only] smiling," Gretz said. "It was a combination of gyrations -- raising hands up in the air, an exasperated body language -- and comments like, 'Where was that pitch?' "

Springbrook Coach John Haberman said he overheard the umpire's warning from the dugout.

"He was loud enough that I could hear him say that he didn't want her smiling at him when she didn't agree with his calls," Haberman said. "One or two pitches later, he said 'You're ejected.' It was definitely in regard to the smiling. She would give him a little smirk when she wouldn't agree with his call. And he took offense."

Thompson, who entered the game with an 8-2 record, said smiling is her common response to adversity.

"I usually just smile to get my frustration out," she said. "He came up to me and told me, 'If you don't get that grin off your face, I'm going to eject you.' And then I said, 'Sir, I can't smile?' And he said, 'You better cut that crap out.' "

Roy Stewart, whose daughter, Megan, was the Rockets' catcher, said the warning was audible from his place in the stands.

"I've never seen anything remotely close to this. Candice really never said anything the whole time," Stewart said. "All you could hear was him say either 'Next time you smile . . . ' or 'If you smile one more time, I'm ejecting you.' Basically, everybody was in shock."

Neil Spiller, the Springbrook scorekeeper whose daughter, Avian, is the Springbrook catcher, said he also did not hear Thompson make any comments to the umpire, aside from her response to his warning.

"I did not hear her say anything. She would kind of have this smile, this smirk on her face -- that look that you get when you're expecting something and you don't get it. It was more like a surprised smile," he said. "She had done that off and on, but I don't think it was to him, I think it was mostly to her catcher."

Gretz said he was inducted into the Greater Washington Fast Pitch Hall of Fame in October and has umpired close to 10,000 games in 30 years, including Atlantic Coast Conference college games. He said he had never ejected a high school player in either baseball or softball before yesterday. Gretz said he has umpired Thompson in the past, including a previous start this season, and hadn't had any problems with the pitcher.

"The bottom line, no official can be shown up by the players. And all she had to do was rein herself in. And she chose not to do that," Gretz said.

Richard Montgomery Coach Watson Prather said the umpire would not give him an explanation for the ejection.

"I'm just sort of flabbergasted," Prather said. "I'm trying to think back why would something like this happen. She never said a word to the umpire. All that she did was smile."

Added Thompson: "It's kind of hard not to smile when someone tells you you can't smile. I was shocked [by the ejection]. . . . I never said one word to him."

Prather said he planned to contact Montgomery County Athletic Director Duke Beattie. Haberman said he spoke with Springbrook AD Ron Lane, who was also going to phone Beattie. Reached at home last night, Beattie said he had not heard of the incident yet, but "I'm sure I'm going to hear about it in the morning."

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