#1…Now that I’m working high school baseball games I’m reminded of my friend and mentors (Joel “Duffman” Duffy) observation “Referees are clothing and equipment whores.” For example; basketball referees wear black and white striped shirts. There are different varieties, some with a side panel, others without, some with a state logo, others without. There are no rules stating which shirt to wear other than the standard black and white striped shirt…so I own six, I can only wear one at a time. It makes no sense, but you don’t want to be the only ref without the exact same shirt that night as your partners….that’s the mindset. The same is true in baseball. I have shirts in three colors: light blue, navy and black. I have them in two sizes of each color, one large enough to fit over the chest protector and one normal sized for when I’m the base umpire. Nine shirts total since some shirts are long-sleeved for spring baseball. So as I started to work baseball games with bigger and stronger athletes I felt under equipped in two areas, my legs and my head. I had puny little “little league” shin guards that only protected the front of my calves, so I opted to buy “big boy” shin guards because my calves are, literally, the best part of me. Some guys have rugged good looks, or a big, well-developed chest and arms…but for yours truly its my calves, so I dropped $80 on new shin-guards so that one of America’s finest assets will be better protected. You’re welcome.

#2…After having a kid practically take my head off while he practiced his swing I thought (while the ol’ grey matter was still intact) that I’d buy myself one of those shiny new hockey-style catchers masks that better protects the head of the wearer (me in this case). Its heavier and more cumbersome than my old-timey mask, but if it saves me from getting struck by a batters backswing, or flinching and getting hit in the temple by a pitch….it’ll be worth the $140 spent. It’ll still hurt like hell, to be sure, but I’ll be better off with it on.

I feel like a Star Wars bad guy with this helmet on.
I feel like a Star Wars bad guy with this helmet on.

#3…As I get on the road more to some of these baseball games I was reminded of a basketball tournament that I worked last summer. It was in some little country school, forty-five minutes from home. I didn’t know the way so I used my phones GPS and it took me down the final stretch of the trip on a gravel road. It was rolling hilly pastures with ponds at the bases of the hills and cattle lazily grazing as I drove by, it was quite beautiful and peaceful. On my way home that night, at sunset, I drove the same route and slowed down to take in the beauty that our Good Lord put in front of me and I saw an SUV pulled off to the side of the road, its back hatch opened. In the ditch filled with prairie grass and wildflowers was an elderly woman who had set up a canvas on an easel, dabbing it with paint, the wonderful images of the amazing orange-pinkish-reddish glow of the sun setting on that same rolling pasture with cattle interspersed amongst its hills. I had my windows rolled down and took in the aroma of that tranquil country evening, thankful that I was blessed to witness it and that someone much more qualified than I captured it on canvas. Little moments like these restore my soul.

#4…I had just met my partner that I was working with for a baseball game in Iowa City last week. I usually don’t know the person that I’m working with prior to the game so its standard procedure for the two of us to meet up half and hour before the game and pregame about “who’s going to do what” during the game. As I listened to Andrew tell me that he was a teacher at a local high school and that he coaches that high schools freshman boys basketball team a peculiar feeling came over me. I looked at him quizzingly and asked “did you have a beard last winter?” Andrew looked at me, thought for a second and answered “yeah…I did”. I asked again “did you bring your team up to Cedar Rapids last winter and play at Linn Mar high school on a Saturday morning?” Again Andrew answered “yeah…I did.” I followed up with “..and you got a technical foul that game didn’t you?” By this time Andrew was kind of laughing and scratching his head at my obvious clairvoyant skills when I replied “…I know that because I’m the ref that T’ed you up!” We had a really good laugh over that. I told him that I was glad to have the opportunity to explain why he earned the technical foul, but was angry with myself that I gave it to him when I got upset with his reaction to my call a few moments earlier in the game. I felt that I let my emotions get in the way of professionally administering the technical rather than popping him from twenty feet away with a demonstrative signal. I told Andrew “In three hundred games over the last two years I’ve given out exactly two technical fouls…you’re quite special, really.” We parted as friends that night, me thankful for the opportunity to clear the air and learn to keep my emotions in the locker room.

#5…While working a doubleheader recently in a small farming community in southeast Iowa I was struck by how unique it is to be a part of this profession. Its a hobby, really, but I love to do it. Its totally different than what I do during the day for my career. Another thing…one of my goals has been met, I was asked to join a varsity basketball crew for the 2014-15 season. With 22 varsity dates already penciled in I’m tickled pink to join Kim and Jerry’s basketball crew. I worked with Kim at a baseball game, as he works baseball as well as basketball. I can learn from these guys and (God-willing) be a good addition to their crew. As the sun was setting and the lights illuminated the diamond the field was blanketed with the aroma of fresh-cut, sweet smelling hay, as robins in the neighborhood trees chirped a few more times before turning in for the night. Here are some photos from that nights doubleheader.

Baseball umpires usually have their "locker rooms" in the trunks of their cars or trucks.   This night we put on our equipment next to this cornfield.
Baseball umpires usually have their “locker rooms” in the trunks of their cars or trucks. This night we put on our equipment next to this cornfield.

This stray kitten wandered out of the field to give Kim and I a pep-talk,  but always kept a safe distance in case we opted to make her our mascot for the night.
This stray kitten wandered out of the field to give Kim and I a pep-talk, but always kept a safe distance in case we opted to make her our mascot for the night.

The games over, the visiting teams bus being loaded with sweaty kids, we change out of our equipment for the hour and a half drive home.
The games over, the visiting teams bus being loaded with sweaty kids, we change out of our equipment for the hour and a half drive home.
A full moon may explain why the hometown pitcher balked three times in the first inning but for me in the cornfield/parking lot...it was a welcome reminder that Someone is looking out for all of us.
A full moon may explain why the hometown pitcher balked three times in the first inning but for me in the cornfield/parking lot…it was a welcome reminder that Someone is looking out for all of us.

Peace to you at midweek my friends,
R

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