Less than two weeks after an ugly brawl among star Major League Baseball players, commissioner Robert D. Manfred Jr., found himself answering some tough questions about the league's stance on fights and sportsmanship — from a Grade 4 class at Toronto's Humbercrest Public School.
The students — who describe themselves as nine- and 10-year-olds in Ms. Stevens's class — didn't mince words when they wrote to Manfred following the May 15 game, which saw Toronto Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista punched by Texas Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor.
"We think what happened on Sunday was wrong," the letter states. "Major athletes were acting like children, even though they should know better."
The brawl led to discipline for a total of 14 players and staff, including Odor, who was suspended for eight games. Blue Jays manager John Gibbons and pitcher Jesse Chavez each received a three-game ban.
The players likely had reasons for resorting to fists, the letter says, but the but the reasons didn't matter to the fourth grade class. Fighting should never be an option unless it is the only way to protect yourself or someone else, they wrote.
Read the letter from teacher April Stevens's Grade 4 class here:
The students also questioned the league's decision to suspend Odor for just eight games.
'That's not right'
"In elementary school in Toronto, students who fight or assault someone can be suspended for up to 19 days. Odor only received an eight-game suspension and that's not right," the letter states. "Because he didn't show restraint, he should receive greater consequences."
"We look forward to your response," the students wrote. The letter was signed with the handwritten signatures of some 23 students.
A week later, a reply came from the commissioner himself.
"I echo your premise that some of the behaviour demonstrated in the game was wrong and deserving of serious consequences," Manfred wrote.
He stated that Odor's suspension (seven games rather than eight, after the player's appeal) is the longest that a player has received for an on-field altercation in more than three years.
"It is a responsibility of our players and on-field personnel to rise above such circumstances and carry themselves with dignity and professionalism."
Here's what baseball commissioner Robert D. Manfred Jr. had to say in response:
The reply had the class stunned, even those who aren't big baseball fans.
'I couldn't believe my eyes'
"I couldn't believe my eyes. That's a letter from the MLB … from their commissioner. What? How?" Aldwyn Lipton said.
It was a happy surprise for student Jackson Galanyck.
"I was really surprised that we got something back from him … I kind of just expected one of those letters that they just give out to people who write in, but there was much more thought given and time spent," Jackson said.
Student Shannon Von Fintel said she was worried the fighting might dissuade parents from letting her watch baseball.
"I hope that parents see that we know it wasn't right, so that the kids can still go to all the games," she said.
For her part, teacher April Stevens said, "It's such an opportunity to say kids have opinions. They know what's wrong and what isn't, and they care deeply."
The class has reached out to Bautista directly, who couldn't reply because he was busy preparing for his game against the Boston Red Sox Friday night.
But student Julian Simardone told CBC News that if the Blue Jays catch wind of their letter, he wants them to know they did the right thing.
"I think Bautista and the whole Blue Jays team is a great team that they didn't fight and just keep on doing what they're doing."