Calendars rarely lie, but there it is…my last league baseball game tonight. It doesn’t seem possible that in the middle of June my league games have come to an end but the opportunity came along for me to ref for a summer basketball league instead and I jumped at the chance. After having second thoughts earlier in the year about umping baseball games I’ve grown fond of it. It seemed that everyone I met had horror stories about angry coaches, overzealous parents and other bad things that have happened to umpires. My umpire boss who assigns me and the other umpires to games told us of when a drunk parent confronted him in the parking lot after a game last summer (he’d never heard of the infield fly rule and thought that my boss had it in for his kid). Anyway, long story short, I have had one bad experience through these past three months. One. It was at the end of a seemingly average game when the home team was making a comeback. It looked as though they had tied the score with two outs in the bottom of their last at bat…but I had called a delayed dead ball of offensive interference. It was a good call. It was the right call. No runs were allowed to score since the offensive interference happened that made for one out, the third and final out, and while one team celebrated what they thought was a now tied game I called over their coaches and the other teams coach and explained what I saw and why I was calling it. That conversation went over like a turd in a punch bowl.
To say that I was “unpopular” with the losing team and their fans is to put it mildly. I was accused and called some rather unsavory names…by the parents and coaches. It was the right call. I stuck to the rules. I held my ground. I was F-bombed. I got the heck out of there. As I drove home I wondered why I even attempt to officiate games. I’m always “wrong” in someone’s eyes. The strike zone is too small while the white team pitches but is too big while the white team is at bat, etc.
After a nights sleep and speaking with some experienced umpires (they confirmed that I made the correct call) I realized that sometimes things like that happen. Coaches are advocates for their teams. They have emotional, physical and financial investments in their teams. They have “sweat equity” invested. Its not uncommon to hear the players call out “Hey Dad, where’s the (fill in the blank)” while they’re in the dugout. I get that part of it, its just that the losing teams coaches taught their players how NOT to lose a game. With profanity, with accusations, with the proverbial sour grapes. The next morning I thought to myself “The players weren’t complaining, it was the adults behaving poorly that’s drawing my ire.” I’ve always been impressed with the kids, still am. Its the adults that can take the loins share of the blame for messing up the game.
That game happened this past Tuesday night, since then I’ve officiated two more games and haven’t heard a peep from anyone. Coaches, players and parents…all nice and calm. It goes that way in both sports. Sometimes the poop hits the fan and you’re front and center and get the brunt of it, whether you deserve it or not. Most other times its a walk in the park.
I’ve been told that if I want to move up to officiating high school games next year that I definitely have the ability to do so, its up to me. A long time official asked if I wanted to ump some small college baseball games…which I’m looking into as well, since I’ve enjoyed this a good deal, so much in fact that most nights as I stand either behind the plate or in the infield waiting for play to begin I look around me, see the beautiful blue sky, smell a combination of freshly mown grass and popcorn, hear the laughter of kids wrestling on a blanket behind the fence along the third base line and the positive shouts from parents and grandparents urging their kid to do well and I think to myself…”thank you Lord for putting me right here, right now. Amen.”