I have a hobby. While some guys hunt, fish, collect sport memoriable or fix up old cars I ref basketball games and umpire Little League baseball games. It’s something that I started last fall and enjoy a great deal. Its helped me meet new people, get into shape and breathed new life into this middle-aged guys life. While not every game is a pleasure to work, the vast majority are. I’m happy with it. As promised a month or so ago, I now have photographic evidence of me umpiring a baseball game. The following photos were taken by our daughter Macy who sat through a game (in a drizzling rain) and earned $20 off her IPod debt to me. I think that she did great.
The game starts with a pregame conference with two captains from each team and a coach. Home team is decided by a coin flip and ground rules are established. “There’s a gopher hole in left field, if the ball goes into it, it’s a ground rule double. Home plates open, five run limit until the final inning. Slide if it’s gonna be close and my strike zone is ‘nipples to knees’ with the inside and outside of the plate a strike.” That sort of thing.
Being behind home plate is both exciting and scary. It’s the best seat in the house if the pitcher and catcher are on the same page. If they’re not on the same page I get hit with pitches and it SUCKS. The catchers in this game were good. If you want to find out how fit your thighs and knees are, crouch behind a nine year old for an hour and a half.
Fans don’t always know what’s going on (or players and coaches for that matter) so consistent mechanics/signals for strikes, balls, outs and the like are valuable. The outfielders should be able to know what’s going on.
You live and you learn. In officiating basketball and baseball it’s a lot about angles and moving to improve your view of the game and plays. As the lone umpire in the majority of my baseball games I’m responsible for calls everywhere. First base, yep. Second base, you betcha. Third base you ask…why certainly. Home plate…stop it…you’re embarrassing yourself. Even the outfield gets my undivided attention when the ball heads that way. When there’s a grounder hit to the infield yours truly is on the heels of the batter/runner chasing him up the first base line (I hope that he doesn’t stop or I’m apt to run his prepubescent ass over…you just can’t stop one hundred and seventy pounds on a dime, ladies and gentlemen) I slow up and take in the throw (force play) from about ten feet away verses from home plate. Coaches are much less apt to argue a call when they see a guy their age (or older) haulin’ ass up thirty or forty feet of baseline just to get a better view and make a more informed call. And it carries over to other parts of the game too.
Wherever the play is I bust ass to get there. Recently this led to a problem.
There was a base runner on first base. The kid at bat had just hit the ball to deep right field. I could see that the base runner that was at first was going to try to score so I stayed between third base and home plate to cover anything as it developed. It looked like the defense was setting up for a play at second base so I ran there to cover the play on the batter-runner. The right fielder (a sweet boy I’m sure) muffed the throw and it went towards home plate where the former first base runner had slowed down between third base and home plate so I ran from second base back to home plate where there was no play BUT the batter runner was rounding second base and chugging towards third. (he was a freckled faced chunk, huffing and puffing his way along the bases) The catcher whipped the ball towards third where the third baseman was perfectly set up to receive the throw (if he was ten feet tall) though the ball sailed over his head (I’d just arrived at third base then) and the runner (God bless him) continues chugging right past me, this time towards home plate. (CRAP!! I HAD OVERRUN MY ANGLE!!) As I spun around towards home plate I could see that the catcher was set up to receive the ball and block the plate. I could see the back of the base runner, now half way to home plate and me…(I’m not making this up) almost falling flat on my face. In the reversal of going from home plate to third then back to home plate I became top heavy and started one of those “legs not being able to keep up with the top half of my body” like you see on America’s Funniest Home Videos. I was in a perfect position to do a number of cartwheels if I had that kind of ability, but (thank God) I pulled out of it and with the ball flying in over my right shoulder towards home, and the runner sliding under the catcher but not yet at the plate the ball tipped off the top of the catcher’s mitt and back to the back stop. That didn’t stop the catcher from applying a tag but I got to home plate just in time to point to the ball (now rolling away) collect myself (wait two seconds) and yell “THE RUNNERS SAFE!!!”. I called “time” and took my time brushing off home plate and to catch my breath.
I just about fell again running up the first base line later in that same game…I think that I was tired…jeez). My point is…coaches appreciate that hustle and I appreciate not being second guessed AND I think that the boys deserve someone giving a damn enough to hustle…even if it kills me…which it might.
And checking in with the scorekeepers between innings keeps both teams from claiming a victory if you’re on top of things. When I stay on top of the details, however small, coaches are more apt to coach and not question my ability and we spend more time playing ball than talking…which is what the boys came to do and folks came to watch.
Have a great Memorial Day Weekend.