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Little Leaguers Criticize Knoblauch

October 8, 1998

Even Little Leaguers know what Chuck Knoblauch forgot: Get the ball first.

``He should have been paying attention,″ said Scott Fisher, a pitcher and infielder for the Toms River, N.J., Little League world champions. ``We’d probably pick up the ball and hold the runner.″

Rather than pick up the ball, Knoblauch argued with umpires, trying to get an interference call on the Indians’ Travis Fryman. Enrique Wilson wound up scoring the go-ahead run all the way from first base, and Cleveland beat the New York Yankees 4-1 Wednesday to even the AL championship series at 1 game apiece.

The Little Leaguers said Thursday that Knoblauch was right: Fryman should have been called out for interference after Tino Martinez’s throw hit him as he ran on the fair side of the baseline on the way to first in the 12th inning.

But the kids couldn’t believe Knoblauch didn’t finish the play before pitching a fit.

Joe Franceschini, a pint-sized infielder, yelled at his television. Outfielder R.J. Johansen boiled.

``I was really mad at him, ’cause he’s, like, a pro and he still had to complain,″ said Johansen, a Yankees fan like everyone else on his team.

Toms River manager Mike Gaynor is sure his kids would have played it right.

``My Little Leaguers would’ve hustled after it,″ he said. ``They wouldn’t have known the interference rule. They would have thought they blew it and tried to make a play.″

Case in point: During the World Series final, Johansen came running in from left field to cut off an overthrown ball. He fired it to the plate, throwing out a runner and leaving the game tied 3-all.

``I was kidding around with somebody this morning saying, `Where’s R.J. Johansen when you need him?′ ″ Gaynor said.

Fisher said a player on his team never would have acted as Knoblauch did.

``The coaches tell us, `Don’t argue with the umpires, ‘cause you could get thrown out of the game,’ ″ he said.

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