published Friday, April 16th, 2010

Prep teams use kangaroo courts for camaraderie

Chicago Cubs outfielder Kosuke Fukudome once spent all night in a law library preparing a defense prior to his court appearance.

The charge was "having never played major league baseball before 2008." His defense came in the Cubs' kangaroo court and his fine -- he was found guilty -- was to provide third baseman Aramis Ramirez and first baseman Derrek Lee with sunflower seeds for a month.

Though it is most often confined to the clubhouse, the kangaroo court is as much a part of baseball as hot dogs and umpires, so it was no surprise to find that some area high school teams have such courts or at least variations.

A Soddy-Daisy player was found guilty and fined for having the nickname "Swagger" put on one of his shoes. At Soddy-Daisy and on other teams, players have been charged for showing up in the wrong uniform, not wearing their sleeves when the temperatures at game time hovered in the low 30s or forgetting equipment.

"One guy was charged and got fined for hitting a double and then falling flat on his face when he rounded first," Soddy-Daisy coach Jared Hensley said.

Though his team doesn't have a court, Ooltewah coach Brian Hitchcox remembered the courts in his climb through the minors in the Philadelphia Phillies organization. He said most of the stories were not suitable for publication.

"We had judges and jurors, and they had costumes that they wore. It was a big deal," he recalled. "In AA the maximum fine was $5, and when I was in AAA it was $20. It could be for anything. One guy got fined for not sliding into a base and getting tagged out, another for taking a towel, using it and then putting it back with the clean towels. A lot of it was doing stupid stuff away from the game."

Former Giants manager Roger Craig once got nailed for taking a receipt for a taxi although someone else paid the tab. Ex-big-leaguer John Vander Wal, who loved fast food, was fined for going to McDonald's when players were getting $75 in daily meal money.

"The prosecution and the defense -- the arguments back and forth -- were the best part," Hitchcox recalled. "Kangaroo courts can build camaraderie. They bring people together and keep players from taking themselves so seriously and from being so sensitive. Baseball is probably the ultimate sport for that."

Hensley noted that the fines are much less for his club, which is 14-2 and among the District 5-AAA leaders.

"They're a dime or a quarter. If it's something radical it may be 50 cents, but on average it's a quarter, nothing that's going to break the bank with anybody," Hensley said. "At the end of the year we'll buy a couple of pizzas and have a get-together."

There is purpose to the court.

"It's about team chemistry and bringing the guys together," Hensley said.

"A guy could get charged for doing something wrong in practice, for foul language or throwing a helmet -- things that shouldn't be done around baseball," Sequatchie County coach Aaron Simmons said. "It's having a little bit of fun once in a while. There's a time to get after it and a time to relax. It's about team unity.

"The kids have gotten to where they can tell us anything. When we started doing it, the kids started opening up. It promotes the team concept, picking each other up, and it's been good so far. They have fun with it."

Marion County coach Steven Roberts had kangaroo court for a while, dropped it and then brought it back.

"Ultimately everybody pays," he said. "It could be for walking a batter, not getting a bunt down, missing a sign. All of the money goes into a pizza fund or a team dinner fund at the end of the year. Everybody has fun with it."

Heritage coach Eric Beagles has used something similar to a kangaroo court in the past for missed signs, disorganized lockers and forgetfulness.

"The one thing I remember is that we had to drop the fine from 1 dollar to 50 cents due to the frequency (of violations)," he said.

The bottom line is that the courts are an educational tool.

"I was skeptical about how the guys would do with it, but it has been a positive team-building activity -- just to get them in one room, nobody's getting feelings hurt and everybody laughing," Hensley said. "It has been an educational tool. The kids probably stay a little more focused on practice and in games. It has helped keep everybody on their toes."

about Ward Gossett...

Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...

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