In the past couple of weeks I’ve worked plenty of baseball games. I’ve moved up to working more games involving teenagers and fewer games with the lesser skilled, but often entertaining “ages 10 or less” teams. The bigger kids know how to play the game well and, honestly, their games are much easier to officiate. Here are a few notables from the past two weeks;
During a tournament where the blue team was being thrashed, I was situated as the field umpire just behind the pitcher’s mound and shading a little towards third base when a looping line drive was hit in the direction of the shortstop. The shortstop ran in and plucked the ball out of the air just inches from it hitting the ground. I signaled the out with my right arm cocked at the elbow, fist clenched when the shortstop still galloping in from his good catch trotted over and fist bumped my fist and returned to his position. He thought that I was giving him a fist bump for his good play and didn’t even really acknowledge the out. Freckle-faced farm boy from Benton county, made me laugh during an otherwise uneventful game.
At the same tournament I was at the same position (formally known as the “C” position in umpiring) when there was a close play at second. When the play is close and climatic the umpire can “sell” the call more convincingly if he/she barks out the call and uses the mechanics of their call in a demonstrative way. It was a close play and I barked out “SAFE!!!” and the second baseman popped up with the ball and WHIPPED IT AT ME (I was about ten feet away). I, as best as I could, swatted the thrown ball away from myself (looking like someone wildly flailing at a bee or wasp I’m sure). I had no more knocked the ball down when the second baseman realized what he had done and apologize profusely explaining “I thought that you were yelling for the ball!!” Kids….they can hurt you with their reckless abandon!!
I had a game cancelled due to rain but was asked to umpire an 8U game (I try not to work this level…its like herding cats). The nice things about 8U ball is the pure enjoyment that is on the kids faces and that everyone gets to play…its still a game and everything is awesomely fun. One little guy got into the batters box, his batting helmet sat on his head cockeyed. His eyes sparkled. His grin was so big that you just knew that he was thrilled to finally get to play ball “just like the big kids”. He looked back at the catcher, smiled some more, nodded “hi” then took his turn at bat. Good God Almightly…that played on my heart, his pure joy of being an innocent child playing a game. Maybe that’s why I enjoy officiating so much…simple moments like that. (for the record he struck out once, and walked once)
Last week I worked a 10U game. 10U games are an hour and a half long or six innings, whichever comes first. As with most things in sports there’s always an unhappy camper/loser. At the end of the fifth inning time had expired with the teams tied. I would’ve loved to officiate one more inning so that a possible winner would have been decided but the sun was setting and we had run out of light. I told the coaches that we had “timed out” and that there wasn’t enough light to safely complete the game, so the game was over with a tie. While neither coach complained to me that night one of them called my officiating boss and told him that I had to “leave and get home to my wife.” The reason that I ended the game was for player safety, so “little Jimmy” wouldn’t take a line-drive to his face since it was too dark for him to see it coming OR “little Bobby” in the batters box who didn’t see the errant fast ball until it was too late to duck and he took it in the teeth. I take “player safety” over “coaches complaining” every single time, that’s my first priority, that’s my job. It bothers me that the coach would think differently than that. Sooo….when my umpire boss told me about the coaches phone call complaining about me (on a coaches conference call no less) a coach from a nearby town asked who the umpire was. When he found out it was me he told the complaining coach “I know Rich Ripley, he’s worked my games. He’s got the best interest of the kids in mind and if he said that it was too dark to play…it was too dark to play.” I felt like hugging that coach when I heard that. I still might.
Its Wednesday. I’m of the opinion that I may not “be here” tomorrow so I’d better make the most of the present. That’s why I take my wife flowers for no reason. That’s why I’ll buy tee-shirts with humorous sayings on them (some appropriate, some not so much) for my friends and family, or take a buddy a Dairy Queen Blizzard at work when I know that he’s struggling, to lighten their loads. My point is, you should do something outside of yourself routinely, for others and occasionally…for yourself. I think that we’re called to do that. So with that in mind I give you permission to have some cake, or pie or permission to head to the movies on a weeknight. Go ahead…you deserve a treat.
Have a good week, thanks for reading!