Don Faust is still bitter over a Little League call. Courtesy photo
Don Faust is Chairman of the Board of the Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl, which will pit Texas vs. Missouri on Dec. 27 in NRG Stadium. It's annually one of the most successful post-season football games, with sold-out crowds and $3 million payout to each team.
As boss of the bowl, Faust will present the trophy to the winning team. That's guaranteed face time on ESPN. Faust is also CEO of Faust Distributing, one of the biggest family-owned beer distributors in Texas.
Don Faust is a big deal. Yet he is haunted by a sports memory that keeps him tossing and turning at night and remains a baseball controversy that may never be solved.
Let's jump in Mr. Peabody's Wayback Machine. The year was 2007. I was the manager of the Biscuits in West University Little League's "Minor A" Division for players age 9 and 10. The league assigned the Biscuits team to me because I may not have the healthiest eating habits. Everybody's a comedian around here, even Little League officials.
The mascot of the Montgomery Biscuits - yes, it's a real team, the Double-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays - is a hot buttered biscuit named Big Mo. Between innings, the mascot throws buttermilk biscuits into the stands.
Don Faust, sports kingpin and beer giant, was first base coach for the West U. Little League Biscuits that year. His son Jake was my first-round draft pick, starting pitcher and slick-fielding shortstop.
It was an early-season matchup between the Biscuits and the Ironbirds. Catcher Nicolas Baizan was batting with two runners on, and two outs. Nicolas's father Jordi was our third-base coach. Jordi is a singer and songwriter. His latest CD is titled Like the First Time.
Nicolas checked his swing and hit a squibber, a foul ball slowly dribbling toward our first-base dugout. Faust reached down and picked up the ball.
The home plate umpire yelled "coach's interference" and called Nicolas out, killing the Biscuits rally. Needless to say, Faust protested and I erupted from the dugout, questioning the umpire's understanding of baseball rules and principles of science.
I explained to him, a checked swing from a righty hitter imparts spin that propels the ball to the right. Nicolas' foul ball couldn't possibly have bounced back into fair territory. The Earth would have to fall off its axis for that to happen. Haven't you been to Astros games? The first base coach always picks up foul balls and throws them into the crowd. The fans love it.
The umpire wouldn't budge, and insisted that Faust interfered with a live ball - a ball that would have defied science and challenged the Bernoulli Principle - which explains why flushed toilet water spins counter-clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and clockwise in Australia. Nicolas was out. I could have shown him a frame-by-frame Zapruder film of the play and it wouldn't have mattered.
Faust was besides himself. He still insists the ball was headed to our dugout and the umpire made a historic bad call. .
You'd think that Faust would have more on his mind these days, what with the Texas Bowl only weeks away. .
"Of course I remember that! Stupid call," Faust said this week.
"I was in the first base coaching box and the foul ball rolled between me and the dugout. I stopped it with my outstretched left hand. It would have been geometrically impossible for that ball to magically become fair. It happens in Major League Baseball every game. The umpire was a dummy."
Then ... "I miss those days." Welcome to the world of Little League dads.
Meanwhile his son Jake is now a student at the University of Texas and Nicolas is a pro soccer player, a bit of a teen sensation, in Spain. They've clearly moved on.
Don Faust and I ... still tormented by an umpire's call 10 years ago in Little League. There's an excellent chance that we need professional help.
Ronald Acuña Jr. and Corbin Carroll just got a little more dangerous. Same for Bobby Witt Jr., Elly De La Cruz and the rest of baseball's fastest players.
Major League Baseball wants umpires to crack down on obstruction, and the commissioner's office outlined plans during a call with managers this week. MLB staff also will meet managers in person during spring training to go over enforcement.
The increased emphasis is only on the bases and not at home plate. The focus is on infielders who drop a knee or leg down in front of a bag while receiving a throw, acting as a deterrence for aggressive baserunning and creating an increased risk of injuries.
“I think with everything, they’re trying to make the game a little safer to avoid some unnecessary injuries," Phillies shortstop Trea Turner said Friday at the team's facility in Florida. “The intentions are always good. It comes down to how it affects the players and the games. I’m sure there will be plays where one team doesn’t like it or one team does.”
With more position players arriving at spring training every day, the topic likely will come up more and more as teams ramp up for the season.
“We'll touch on that. We'll show them some video of what’s good and what’s not,” Texas Rangers manager Bruce Bochy said. “You know, it’s going to be a little adjustment.”
Making obstruction a point of emphasis fits in with an ongoing effort by MLB to create more action. Obstruction calls are not reviewable, which could lead to some disgruntled players and managers as enforcement is stepped up, but it also means it won't create long replay deliberations.
A package of rule changes last season — including pitch clocks, bigger bases and limits on defensive shifts and pickoff attempts — had a dramatic effect. There were 3,503 stolen bases in the regular season, up from 2,486 in 2022 and the most since 1987.
MLB changed a different baserunning rule this offseason, widening the runner’s lane approaching first base to include a portion of fair territory. MLB also shortened the pitch clock with runners on base by two seconds to 18 and further reducing mound visits in an effort to speed games.
“Last year, you know, a lot of our preparation was around like, especially just the unknown of the clock and making sure like we’re really buttoned up on that," New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. "These guys are so used to it in so many ways that sometimes I even forget.”
Increased enforcement could lead to more action on the basepaths. But a significant element of MLB's motivation is injury prevention.
Top players have hurt hands or wrists on headfirst slides into bases blocked by a fielder. White Sox slugger Luis Robert Jr. sprained his left wrist when he slid into Jonathan Schoop's lower left leg on a steal attempt during an August 2022 game against Detroit.
“It’s been happening for a while. It’s been getting out of control," Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “I know some of the players complained about it the last two years.”
While acknowledging his reputation as a significant offender, Phillies second baseman Bryson Stott didn't sound too worried about his play.
“We like to fight for outs at second base,” he said. "It’s never on purpose, blocking the base. For me, or someone covering second to the shortstop side, it’s a natural move for your knee to go down to reach the ball. It’s never intentional. I guess we’ll figure out how to maneuver around that.”