Young team strikes out in court: no tournament

The fresh-faced boys looked snappy as a Norman Rockwell painting yesterday, wearing spiffy blue hats, matching Woodinville Baseball Club jerseys and little medals proclaiming them the district champs.

But instead of bats, balls and bases, the dozen 12-year-olds had a day in the King County Courthouse, forlornly fidgeting as their parents and a hired lawyer waited angrily to ask a judge to overturn the boys' disqualification from the big state tournament this weekend.

And in the end, it proved a civics lesson of sorts for the young players, coaches and parents alike as the judge swiftly rejected their pleas, saying that losing their chance to play America's Game doesn't merit a lawsuit.

"I don't think this was justice, what happened here," infielder Brandon Craig of Bothell sniffed afterward. "It was mean because she let us down, and we worked all year for this."

With seconds to go before the Pony League tournament started in West Seattle, Superior Court Judge Glenna Hall told the boys and their parents that it was sad that the league stripped them of their district championship because they fielded players who live outside Woodinville. But, she said, she couldn't find any real harm done.

"Baseball is something that's important - and a great deal of fun," Hall agreed. "But there has to be more than that to show irreparable and immediate harm, and that hasn't been shown here."

The parents of the 13 Eastside boys went to Seattle attorney Michael Brannan this week after learning of the disqualification on Monday, the day after they'd won the district playoffs in Mountlake Terrace.

The league said it finally reviewed the team's roster and found three boys who lived in Kirkland, Bothell and Duvall.

But the parents argued that the district knew all season that the three boys were on the team, and had specifically approved of it because those boys don't have a Pony League team for 12-year-olds in their communities.

The parents also argued that kicking the team out of the tournament hurt their future chances of playing high-school and college ball.

"We just want to play baseball," parent-coach Les Tiffany said, sporting a larger version of the team duds. "We just want to get the opportunity that they earned."

As the wait to see a judge stretched into hours, the boys roughhoused, clowned and made prank phone calls on the courthouse pay phone. But when it was their turn to talk to reporters, they were all business.

"You might as well rip these medals right off our necks," catcher Sam Rutledge of Woodinville said. "Why not just let us kids play? It's not like we're old and 18. We're just 12 years old."

But the league's lawyer, careful not to sound like a killjoy, denied the league ever approved the roster and argued that rules are rules.

"I have nothing against kids or baseball," Seattle attorney David von Beck said. "We're just trying to be fair to all the teams."

What's more, von Beck later told the judge, the suit should be tossed out because the parents - not the kids - were listed as the plaintiffs. And it's the kids, not their moms and dads, who got the boot.

And Hall agreed, though she admitted it sounds like "a technicality."

"I understand that this is important to them," Hall said. "I think we all feel sad that something has happened that is not the fault of the children, and it's causing sadness."

Meantime, on the sunny diamond of the High Point Playfield in West Seattle, the Arlington Storm squared off against the Mountlake Terrace Americans, the team that took the Woodinville boys' place in the state tournament.

The winner of the four-day meet advances to a regional playoff in Utah, with hopes of going to the Pony League World Series in Monterey, Calif.

Over the singsongs of parental atta-boys and bats cracking, tournament organizer and West Seattle team coach Ray Greive said he assumes league leaders did the right thing in denying Woodinville's berth.

But in the end, he said, other parents and organizers are more interested in the balls, strikes and homers of the game than the errors and outs of league politics.

"We're just happy to be having this thing," he smiled. "It's sad there's a cloud hanging over it, because we couldn't care who shows up. We just want to play."

Ian Ith's phone: 206-464-2109. E-mail: