Va. high school catcher goes viral for ‘simple’ act of sportsmanship


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Video of a walk-off single in the 10th inning of a Virginia state quarterfinal baseball game went viral last week, not because of the clutch hit, but for the reaction of the losing team’s catcher in the wake of a season-ending defeat.

After the ball left Herndon junior Mitch Maurer’s bat and landed safely in right field, West Springfield’s Eric Fila removed his catcher’s mask, turned toward the home plate umpire and extended his hand. The umpire, Homer Gaouette, watched to make sure the runner from third base touched home plate before reciprocating the gesture, shaking hands with Fila as Herndon’s players celebrated a 7-6 triumph in the distance.

The video was recorded and posted on Twitter by Steve Beasley, who does PA announcing for Herndon’s home games and is the father of Hornets sophomore pitcher James Beasley. Unlike most of Beasley’s videos, which he tweets for the benefit of Herndon’s players and parents — and which might garner a couple dozen likes — this one was shared far and wide. Two days later, it was even shown during the Phillies-Brewers broadcast on NBC Sports Philadelphia, with Phillies play-by-play man Tom McCarthy praising Fila’s display of “class and respect” at “his team’s worst moment.”

Fila, a rising senior, doesn’t understand what all the fuss is about.

“It’s nuts,” he said in a phone interview. “It’s something so simple, it’s the standard, in my eyes, and it’s gone everywhere.”

Fila said he was scrolling through TikTok last week when he saw Beasley’s video, which had been shared by someone else with the caption “Catchers do this” and the thumbs-up emoji. About 15 minutes later, his mom came into his room and told him that the video was all over Twitter.

Gaouette, who has umpired baseball games at various levels in North Virginia for 34 years and worked 135 games last season, didn’t realize video of his postgame handshake with Fila existed, much less had more than a million views.

“I felt bad because I left him hanging there,” Gaouette said after watching the video for the first time. “He stuck his hand out and I kind of didn’t do anything because the game wasn’t over until the kid touched home plate. I honestly don’t remember shaking his hand after that, but I do remember he was a good kid. I’m glad he’s getting the recognition he deserves.”

Gaouette and Fila never expected their moment of mutual respect to be featured during an MLB game.

“I tell you what, that’s pro right there,” Phillies analyst Ruben Amaro Jr. said on the broadcast. “You gotta love that, and that kid is coached very, very well, and you love to see that. You see so many negative things happening in high school sports from time to time, a lot of stuff that you don’t really like, but that was a beauty. That’s a really nice moment.”

West Springfield Coach Jason Olms, who has coached Fila since he was 13, described him as a “natural born-leader” and “another coach on the field.” After one of his assistants told him the video of Fila shaking the umpire’s hand was shown during the Phillies game and spreading like wildfire on social media, Olms texted Fila the hashtag “MakeEricFilaFamous,” which was started by a coach from Nevada who saw Beasley’s video on Twitter.

“Eric wrote back, ‘You know coach, this is what I’m supposed to do and now everyone’s going crazy over it. I don’t know why this is such a big deal,’” Olms said. “I told him the difference is this was a gut-wrenching, 10-inning loss to end our season in the state tournament, and he still had the clarity at that moment to shake the umpire’s hand.”

“It’s rare that you get somebody who has that much sportsmanship, especially in a big game,” Gaouette said. “You don’t know how many people I’ve tossed because of their attitude. He’ll go far.”

Fila, who has been catching since he was 8, introduces himself to the home plate umpire before every game. During Tuesday’s quarterfinal, which lasted more than four hours, he and Gaouette talked about “everything,” including Gaouette’s son Joe, who starred at Manassas Park High and then pitched at William & Mary. (Joe saw the video of the handshake on Instagram a few days later, without realizing his dad was the umpire.)

“It’s a game within a game,” Fila said. “As a catcher, you have to buy your team calls. I don’t think anything good comes from chirping at blue. The more you butter him up and the nicer you are, the nicer he is to you. That’s just how I view the whole thing.”

“I don’t know about that,” Gaouette said with a laugh, when informed of Fila’s take on the catcher-umpire relationship. “Sometimes you’ll get attitude from the catcher, but I didn’t have any problem with him. He asked maybe once or twice about a pitch, but he was a very respectful young man.”

Olms has been guilty of arguing a call on occasion over his 11 seasons at West Springfield, but he tries to instill in his players the importance of being respectful and taking accountability for what happens on the field, rather than blaming the umpires. Fila, an emotional player whose passion on the field his coach said can rub opposing teams the wrong way, exemplified that lesson last week.

“I think [Herndon] showed a lot of humility and [West Springfield] showed a lot of grace in defeat,” said Beasley, who continued to post videos throughout the Hornets’ run to Saturday’s state championship. “How can you not get behind that? I think there’s a lot more of that in youth baseball than we talk about.”

Beasley has seen many examples firsthand. In fact, just four days earlier, he captured the same act of sportsmanship by South Lakes catcher Robbie Reddington, who shook the home plate umpire’s hand after his team suffered a walk-off loss to Herndon in the 11th inning of the Class 6 Region D final.

“I saw that video,” Fila said. “I wouldn’t say it’s the whole reason I turned around and shook the umpire’s hand. We could have him [call one of our games] next year. It was the right thing to do.”


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