Alas…three weeks into my baseball umpiring season and these stories are the notables of what’s transpired thus far:
I belong to several officiating forums from all over the country. I don’t participate in the forums so much as read anything that might pertain to me and be of use in my officiating. Without question there are usually several reports of coaches, parents and even athletes behaving poorly, even threatening the umpire. Truth to told…I’ve had a couple of instances where the coaches have crossed the line and deserved to be booted from the game. These happened early in my career so I didn’t handle them as appropriately as I could have. Lessons learned the hard way I suppose. With that in mind I approach each game with an open mind and only address the coaches when I need information from them. It keeps it professional, in my opinion.
In one of the first games of my season I was the plate umpire. I wear $95 MLB shin guards, a $100 plastic & foam chest protector, a $30 Shock Doctor protective cup and a $150 hockey-style mask with $4.95 detachable throat protector. I do whatever I can to protect myself and still do a good job. Second batter of the game swings at a pitch and sends a screaming foul ball directly into my throat. In an instant I’m spun around and doubled over clutching my throat. In the milliseconds it replays in my mind I see my throat protector fly off into the air. Both coaching staffs and my base umpire rush to my side to make sure that I’m okay…which I am…thank God. The ball hit above my chest protector, below my helmet and directly onto the cheapest part of my equipment…bending one of the two snaps that hold it onto the mask. One coach stood with me while a coach from the other coaching staff worked on my helmet…manhandling it until the throat protector was reattached, A few days later a couple of bruises appeared on my collar-bone where the energy of that foul ball was expended. My point is…these coaches didn’t have to come out and help me. I’d like to think that they came out of their dugouts out of compassion and concern for another human being. I believe that the vast majority of coaches are good people with good intentions. #thatsbaseball
In the same game a batter swung at a pitch and fouled it off of his face. This was a big kid for his age. Literally six feet, two inches tall and only fourteen years old. He started yelling immediately. The pain he was experiencing was completely obvious to anyone within earshot. His coaches took him into their dugout as mothers for the team hurried about getting Advil and ice for the injured young man, while one wiped blood from his mouth. I felt that he’d lose a tooth or two, maybe even fracture his jaw. Baseball can be a brutal game. #brutal
In the second game of that day I stopped into the dugout of the team of that injured young man. “How’s #23 doing?” I asked to no one in particular. One kid looked at me and replied “He’s right there….”. Number twenty-three leaned forward, looked at me and in mid-bite of a Snickers bar answered “ahh…okay…”. No lost teeth. No broken bones…just a resilient, hungry teenager getting ready for the second game of a doubleheader. #dangkids
In the second game of the same day, I was behind the plate again…none the worse for wear. My collarbone ached from the earlier hit, but that’s part of the job. The first batter got up, swung at a pitch and sent it back into my face mask, knocking it askew with its force. Its been my experience that one foul ball to the mask doesn’t hurt, though it definitely gets my attention. Some are so fast that they’ll make my jaw ache. This particular batter looked back at me and asked if I was okay. I adjusted my helmet and replied “I’m good. Let’s go.” The batter smiled and countered “Wow…that’s twice in one day that I’ve nailed you!” It was the same kid that got to me in the first game with a foul ball to the throat. #ouch
In a more recent game a pitcher was throwing heat, and had a curve ball that would occasionally curve, which is about right for 13U baseball. While up to bat the oppositions coaches would yell to their batters “stand as far back in the box as you can!!” Over and over the coaches pleaded with their team to “STAND BACK IN THE BOX” thus giving their hitters more time (albeit milliseconds) to see and attempt a swing at the incoming fastball. One such batter glanced at me, rolled his eyes and slowly shook his head at his coaches exultations. He stayed put in the box. Struck out swinging. #goodforyouson
And lastly….as a plate umpire I introduce myself to the catcher of each team prior to the first batter. It goes like this:
- Dust off the plate
- Ask the batter if they’re ready
- Extend my hand to the catcher and say “I’m Rich”
The catcher returns my handshake (some begrudgingly…) and usually replies with his name. If not I won’t let his hand free from the handshake and reply “…and you are?” I don’t do this to intimidate the kid….I do it to get them into the habit of practicing this for when, and if, they move up to high school baseball. I finish this little ritual with a pat on the catchers shoulder and tell them “if you have any questions just ask me, we’ll sort it out together…okay? Let’s have some fun.”
In my fifth and final game of the day I started this little ritual again. My catcher was only about four feet tall and maybe sixty pounds. He was his teams third-string catcher but made up for it with hustle and determination. When I told him my name he replied “Demetrius”. I replied “Nice to meet you Demetrius”. The kid shook his head and tried saying his name again without me understanding it. He lifted his tight-fitting hockey-style mask up just enough for the pads to clear his jaw and replied “GLAD TO MEET YOU. I’m Cal.” I chuckled and told him “I like Demetrius better. Let’s see what happens and have some fun Cal.” Good kid that Demetrius. #smallbutmighty
Thanks for coming along and reading.