Honorable Mentions

Holy smokes….how did we get to the end of June so quickly?

As I umpire high school and miscellaneous baseball games around the area that I reside in I come upon various situations that I find notable if only for the way that they stand out.  They are as follows:

  • I was working a 13U AAA baseball game as plate umpire where a parent had set up a Bluetooth speaker at the back stop directly behind home plate.  It blasted classic rock anthems between innings and made the game more enjoyable, in my opinion.  After the game I saw the parent retrieving the speaker and thanked her for sharing it with the rest of us.  Her reply “Oh thank you.  Sometimes umpires don’t like it played.”  Well lady…THIS umpire enjoys AC/DC so keep doin’ what you’re doin’.

 

  • I was working another 13U A baseball game.  “Long hits to the gap where sure doubles are turned into singles” is what I thought as the entire line up could hit the ball well…they just couldn’t run to save their lives.  Dead serious…I think I out ran them on several occasions.

 

  • I’ve completed three complete seasons without getting hit in “the danger zone” with a wild pitch or foul ball.  It’ll happen eventually…again…but until then I say a simple prayer of thanks.  #deadserious

 

  • On that subject….I was hit hard in the inner thigh with a foul ball earlier this season.  A “son of a b*tch!!” escaped my lips before I knew it.  After regaining my composure I apologized to the batter and catcher.  “Don’t worry Blue…” the catcher replied.  “I hear it all the time from Coach.”  #bruisedbutforgiven

this bruise is typical for umpires…

  • I was squeezed into a concession stand for an hour with a bunch of ten-year old players waiting out a torrential rain (without much luck).  Firstly…ten year old’s are still children…acting like children except when its something that they’ve totally bought into.  “Yeah…we’ve got football camp coming up next month” one told me.  “Is it pretty intense?” I asked the group.  “OH YEAH!!  Two hours a day for a week!” replied the ringleader in a serious tone normally reserved for only the most important subjects.  “How’s the coach?  He usually work you guys hard?” I continued.  “Yeah.  That’s him over there selling Laffy Taffy at the window.”   The coach was a rotund man in his fifties…selling concessions to keep the boys in uniforms, equipment and baseballs.  #laboroflove

 

  • Secondly….ten-year old’s sometimes have little sisters who have to tag along.  This group had a little blonde kindergartner sister who wasn’t satisfied staying on the fringes of this group of boys….she had her nose stuck in their business whether they liked it or not.  From what I saw I think that most of the boys were fine with it….or just totally ignored her altogether.  Later in the day an opposing team was chanting “we got spirit!  Yes we do!  We’ve got spirit!!  How bout you?!”  but before anyone could answer them they’d shout “WE’VE GOT MORE!!”  This didn’t sit well with little sister and she’d yell back at them from the safety of sitting on a blanket in front of her parents lawn chairs.  In-between innings I walked over to her and asked “you know that kid shouting that stuff…?” She looked up at me from behind the back stop.  “I think he’s flirting with you…”  I’ll say this…kindergarten girls know what that means because she just about cut me in half with her icy glare!  Everyone else enjoyed my little jab….but her.  #shehasthelooksthatkill

 

  • Coach Talk: “YOU STRUCK OUT THE SIDE!!” to his pitcher.  Technically speaking the pitcher being praised did strike out three batters...but he’d pitched through the batter order twice in the same half inning, allowing a ton of runs.  Needless to say the game ended at the bottom of the third inning due to mercy rules.  #18-0

 

  • There are times during the baseball season when our sweaty equipment doesn’t dry out.  Working day and night games…it gets old.

 

  • “Hey Blue!  Can I have a new ball?!”  calls the pitcher.  “Sure thing sport!”  I reply.  As I empty my ball bag into my hands I ask “do you want the one with grass stains or the one with a crease from hitting the back stop?  I got this one that’s almost as dirty as the one in your hand.”  Two pitches and a foul ball later he’s back to his original ball.  #summerball

 

  • “We’re looking for only the BEST umpires….” read the opening line to an email looking for help at a tourney that was sent to me.  “How the hell did I end up on this list?”  is what I openly asked no one in particular.  There’s more games to umpire than umpires to work.

 

  • Between rain-outs and a nagging injury that started in January with the basketball season, my umpiring season has fizzled out.  I love to officiate basketball.  LOVE.  IT.  Baseball is a springtime whirlwind affair.  Assigners email, text and call…begging for open games to be filled with umpires.  I get it….but I’m tired, sore and trying to figure out what’s in store for me with this injury hanging on.  I’m serious enough to see my doctor about it for the second time.  This….is unchartered territory for me.  #gimpy

 

  • My last game of the season.  I enjoy being the plate umpire.  I like being there for every pitch.  Involved.  Maybe its the showman in me coming out.  I know that much about myself, I like the limelight.  I’ve learned when to let the game go about its business and when I need to take charge and use my voice to keep things in order.  When I’ve kicked a call I’ve admitted it.  There’s a fine line between being arrogant and being confident.   While I’m no where close to being what I could be….I’m still better than what I was.  #workinprogress

 

  • Sterling was one of my catchers yesterday at my last game.  He’s a gamer.  Loves the sport…I didn’t need to ask…I can tell.  He’s a left-handed catcher…which is a rarity.  His throwing style was to catch the pitch and then whip it directly in front of the right-handed batters noses.  I could see that the batters noticed this…and I think it may have unnerved a few of them…being more afraid of being hit by the catcher than the curve ball missing pitcher.  Did I mention that Sterling had a mullet?  You just don’t see many mullets these days, and as far as mullets go…it was a good one.

 

  • One of my pet peeves is players not hustling.  I’ve been known to growl at players unnecessarily holding up a game.  The hotter it is…the shorter my fuse.  On more than a few occasions this season, as courtesy runners walked onto the field, to replace a runner at first, then slowly half-assed jogged towards first I, more than once, hollered “IT’S COURTESY RUNNERS NOT COURTESY WALKERS!!”   The message received, their pace quickened considerably.  #grumpyump

 

  • My last game of the season had a temperature at game time in the high eighties.  With all of my equipment on…I was sweating my ass off.  True to form…the baseball gods sent the game into extra innings.  

 

  • For the second game of yesterdays doubleheader I took the field as the base umpire.  As I placed my bottles of water along the fence I spied an elderly lady prying open a can of Pringles.  I inquired “did you bring enough to share…?”  “Of course I did.  I’m a grandmother!” she shot back.  (she didn’t offer up any for me either….)

Our games ended without fanfare…as most do.  My partner and I fist bumped and headed our own separate ways until next spring when baseball is again played in weather much too cold, on fields that have just lost their frost, by boys who are still learning the game from men too old to play.  I hope that I’m there.  #Hiswillnotmine

Thank you for coming along,

God bless…

R

Six bruises later…

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.

God bless..

R

 

My colon’s more popular than your colon

Who’s the worst?

  • During the NCAA basketball tournament, in a game between Northwestern and Gonzaga, the officials missed a pretty cut and dry goaltending call.  You’d expect reporters and especially the fans of Northwestern to come unglued, which they did.  What’s so disappointing to me is the reaction of some basketball referees.  I belong to several websites that you need to be an official to belong to.  Most of the things that are discussed on these sites are videos of plays that are unique, or just officials wishing to get other officials opinions.  What I’ve found is that some officials are the absolute worst when one of their brothers screws up.  Its like they’ve never missed a call in their career.  Did those officials miss that call?  There’s no question that they did.  Are they feeling poorly about it?  Probably.

Big Brothers/Big Sisters

  • I’ve been dumped by my Little Brother from Big Brothers.  More accurately…he and his mother have fallen off the radar.  Everything that we’ve tried hasn’t yielded any response from them.  Its a shame.  18 months of building a relationship with a kid with no positive male role model and then (puff)…its done.  Ended.  Not even a “goodbye”.  We had a lot of good times.  Movies. Dinners. His first baseball game and car show, and lots of talking.  Figuring out the world, school,  people and going over interview questions for his first job interview (he got the job).  I honestly don’t know what caused the sudden shift of him not wanting to get together.  I have an idea, but nothing concrete.  One idea is that he just turned thirteen, and he’s a quiet kid to begin with.  Those teenage years are tough, maybe he just didn’t want to engage.  Another reason may be that he told me that he and his friends were stealing and got caught.  I told our case worker, then was instructed to tell his mother.  I did.  She thanked me, and that was the last time there was any communication between us that wasn’t just me asking if Logan was available to go out.  Long story short…I wish them well.  I hope Logan does great at whatever he chooses to do.  One telling observation is from a year ago when we were on our way to dinner.  I asked him about his dad (who lived in another state and was rarely brought up by Logan).  Logan’s easy-going demeanor changed immediately to agitated.    He curtly replied “we don’t talk about him…” and since then…we hadn’t.  I hope that he’s okay.  I’ll get a new Little Brother this Spring.  More than likely…with a few issues to go with him.

Dieting…

  • Let’s just say that if you’re the type of guy who doesn’t eat a lot of fiber then increases it dramatically one day…your lower intestine will not appreciate it.  It’ll take a look at the large influx of veggies, fruits, nuts and berries that you gobbled up then swoosh them out the back door.  Literally.  Swoosh.
  • Since the swooshing of the berries, or as I call it “Black Friday”, I’ve lightened up on the fiber and eased into it.  I still cheat and eat some bad for me food (when your blood is 7% Frito-Lay you can’t just go cold turkey…) but I’m coming around with smaller portions, leaner meats, and (yes) fruits, grains, nuts and veggies.  Moderation my boy….moderation.
  • I lose a few pounds then put a few back on.  Its difficult when my lovely bride, the honorable Mrs. Richard Ripley, tells me that there’s “summer sausage and three different cheeses in the frig that’ll get thrown out if no one helps her eat it”.  So yeah….my goal is to lose fifteen pounds by next October through better eating habits and exercise, cheese and summer sausage be damned!

My colon is famous!!

  • I have a colonoscopy later this month.  I had to have one anyway, and since March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month I decided to use our company’s Facebook page to promote the two together (good seats are still available…especially front row).  I don’t like to brag…but my colon is getting quite a bit of air time on Facebook.  Like over 1100 views since Monday.  I’ll venture a guess that my colon is probably the most popular colon of any of my high school contemporaries….so suck on that Ken Glaser! (a classmate of mine who was popular from kindergarten thru our senior year.  Ken’s good.  I think he’s an accountant now.  No hard feelings aye Ken?)  Anyway…the prep will be the worst part of it.  I’ve had them before, but a long time ago…back when they had a person use enemas.  Lots of enemas.  If you’ve never had an enema before I’d suggest that you put it on your bucket-list.  They’re a blast!

BASEBALL IS COMING!!

  • I’m working my way through the baseball rule book.  Its boring, but a refresher is necessary.  Baseball has so many rules with exceptions during many situations that, if you’re on top of them and can recite the rule to the coach when he’s pissed off….its a great thing.  My spring and summer nights are starting to fill up with baseball games.  This season I’m totally off the varsity grid, I’m only working sub-varsity and USSSA baseball.  They’re in my comfort-zone.  I’ve worked the varsity level for a couple of years and decided that the travel, late nights and temper-tantrums from coaches weren’t worth it.  Its not that I don’t get a few coaches that go sideways on me at the USSSA or sub-varsity level, its just that I handle them better AND I’m usually home by ten at night or much earlier.

Thanks for coming along!

God bless!

R

 

 

When you’re sliding into first and you feel something burst…

 

Tidbits from the field of play…

Have you heard of the “GREAT UMPIRE SHORTAGE OF 2016”?  Well…its out there.  Schools are begging for umpires to work their games.  I’m getting requests on a daily basis from schools near and far, as are all of the other umpires.  Simply put…there aren’t enough umpires to go around.  Some high school games are only getting one umpire per game, and that’s in a city of over a hundred thousand people.  I can only imagine that its worse if your school is out in the middle of nowhere.  Personally, I’ve worked just about every day and night for three weeks straight on games…sometimes a double-header in the morning and then a double-header at night.  Its a great way to make a little spending money on the side on your day off if you enjoy the game.  Long story short….you need to be able to be criticized, keep your mouth shut and move on.  Its not something most of us are good at. I spoke with a coach last week about a play that he felt that I missed.  It was a cordial discussion held the next day when we had another double-header with their school.  It boiled down to me saying “if I missed it, how could I have gotten it from where I was supposed to be positioned?”  His reply…”you couldn’t.  We shouldn’t have put ourselves in that position to begin with.”  He went on “we were scrimmaging this past spring and didn’t have an umpire so I volunteered.  It was the worst.  I’ll never do it again.” 

Now…onto lighter moments:

  • I keep a small equipment bag close by, usually in one of the dugouts, where I stash a bottle of water, sunglasses and towel to wipe the sweat off my face between innings when I’m behind the plate.  This day I also had a small bag of Skittles in it to snack on if my blood sugar dipped.  Mid-game I opened the Skittles and poured some in my mouth.  As I folded the bag and put them back into my bag I noticed a short little chunk of a kid, his uniform stretched tight over his belly, sitting on a five gallon bucket in the dugout…spying me.  I looked at him and said…”I want you to know that I licked all of those Skittles…”.  His replied back “that won’t bother me…”.  I just about fell out of the dugout laughing.
  • During the same game I had a catcher who was totally full of himself (more so than I).  It was a junior high game and the play was….eventful and challenging.  As the batter stepped out of the box to adjust, the catcher called out to his pitcher “THROW HIM THE CURVE COLBY!!” then turned back towards me and whispered “Colby doesn’t have a curve” with a smirk on his face.  The batter ended up walking.
  • A first baseman who was watching his pitcher lob pitches into the catcher turns to me, shrugs his shoulders and chuckles “Sixth graders…whadda ya do with ’em?”
  • Heard during a Little League game from a dugout “…when you’re sliding into first and you feel something burst…DIARRHEA…DIARRHEA!!”  I think the coach put a stop to the remainder of the song very quickly as I didn’t hear the rest.
  • Heard from the third base coach after the opposing teams center fielder made four straight put outs (two worthy of being on a highlight film) “hit the ball ANYWHERE BUT CENTERFIELD!!  HE’S KILLING US!!” 
  • In-between innings of a recent game where the home team was getting pounded (14-2 after the second inning) the home team coach walked down from the coaches box along the third base line.  I’ve worked with this coach before.  He’s friendly and very patient with his struggling teams.  He took off his cap and ran his hand through his hair as he chuckled under his breath “do you know where I can find some alcohol?”  Light moments.  His team won the nightcap, 7-2.
  • A really good team that I sometimes work for was getting drilled 19-2 in the second inning.  Absolutely falling apart.  The second baseman looked at me and said “our outfield is KILLING US”.  The next batter hit a grounder that went between that second baseman’s legs.  Karma.  The game ended after three innings 24-2.
  • I issued a walk to a batter two weeks ago.  He didn’t go.  He stood at home plate and just looked at me.  I looked at my clicker.  Sure enough…four balls.  I looked at the scoreboard and my partner…sure enough, ball four.  Still…he stood, before finally trotting off to first base.  His coach apologized between innings.  Turns out the kid is from Norway and doesn’t understand much English.
  • The smallest kid on the team finally got to play.  He’s noticeably smaller than the other kids on his high school team.  He messed up on a play and let a runner score as the ball went right between his legs.  His teammates reaction?  They came over, gave him a pat on the shoulder and said “Don’t worry about it Lawrence.  We’ll get the next one.”  That team is coached right.
  • Same kid.  Different night.  Gets up to bat and walks.  His bench goes crazy.  He eventually ends up at third and takes the shortest lead possible…maybe a step.  His teammate hits a single and Lawrence runs home.  His team still loses but I can’t help but wonder how many times that he’s got to cross home plate.

The basketball season starts up again for me this Saturday night.  Three games at night after a day at the store.  Its that odd time of the year when basketball camps, summer leagues and tourneys intertwine with the baseball season.  Honestly…its one of the most fun times of the year for me.  One night I’m calling strikes the next I’m running up and down the basketball court.  Good times.

Thanks for reading.  God bless.

R

Its a hit...

Its a hit…

Dear Coach….

 

The field is prepped and ready for games

The field is prepped and ready for games

A list of things that I wish that I could tell folks at the baseball games that I umpire.  In no particular order:

Dear Coach…thank you for working with these boys.  It must be a huge investment of time, money and energy to get 9+ boys on the same page, especially in this day and age.  I genuinely appreciate your effort, love of this sport and teaching them this wonderful game.  Without you…there’d be no need for me.  Again, thank you.

Dear Grandparent…I get it…you’re a GRANDPARENT and you love your grandchild dearly…but to yell “call it both ways” when you don’t like a call implies that I’m being a dishonest umpire.  A crook.  On the take.  That I’m conspiring to favor one team and not the other. I can 100% guarantee you that isn’t the case.  I don’t care who wins, I really don’t.  I’m there to be a fair and impartial observer and enforcer of the rules.  I put in many, many hours of training, reading, observing, being mentored and, quite honestly, my honor is on the line.  I’ve worked years to get here and I don’t plan on giving it up any time soon…so shut up would ya?

Dear Parent….thank you for letting your son play.  It must be an expensive deal paying for uniforms, training, bats, helmets, windbreakers, food, travel, lodging, snacks and tournaments.  It’s so complicated now and I appreciate you and your family’s commitment.  For sitting through hours and hours and hours of games on your weekends off in rain, wind, more rain and hot humid days.  Without you there’d be no need for me.  THANK YOU!!

Dear brother/sister of the ball player….thank you for hanging out during the games that your sibling is playing in.  It must be boring….but I was watching you the other day (in-between innings) and chuckled as you ran full speed on the high school track and jumped onto the high jump matt and bounced off.  I smile silently as you act your age and roll down the hill behind the third base dugout…shrieking and giggling the whole way down.  I eavesdropped on your conversation behind home plate with your grandpa when you told him that you’ve been practicing kissing boys at school and when he asks “why..?” you reply “…cause they let me catch ’em..that’s why!!”  I watched you wrestle with other kids, or do cartwheels in the grass behind the first base bleachers.  Sometimes…just sometimes….I bet that you’re having more fun than the ball players on the field.

Dear Assistant Coach….I appreciate your efforts, though this isn’t Yankees versus Red Sox.  Its eleven year olds learning a complicated game with weird nuances and silly sayings.  Can of corn?  Trade places with him.  Ducks on a pond?  BINGO!!  Load up!  Wear it!!  What I want you to do is…assist the head coach.  I don’t want your help on a call nor any tantrums.  Relax.  They’re ELEVEN.

Dear Coach….I got this.  I know that you’ve had bad umpires before.  I know that some umpires don’t hustle, don’t know the rules (and their exceptions) and are bad for the sport.  I’m not one of them.  I show up early.  I shine my shoes before every game.  I contact my partner the night before to ensure that we meet at the field at the same time AND wear matching shirts.  I hustle to get the angle.  From behind home plate I go from a crouch to a sprint as I run down the first base line several feet looking for a pulled first baseman’s foot on an infield hit.  I do what it takes to get it right.  I LOVE officiating.  You coach.  I’ll officiate.  It works best this way.

Dear Concession Stand Volunteer….thank you for your countless hours in (usually) hot and cramped conditions.  You’re usually the friendliest of everyone at the field and you give me free water and free hot dogs.  You running the money-making concession stand enables athletic departments to afford new stuff and new stuff makes people happy…including the stinky, sunburned, bug-bitten, bruised and stiff-legged umpires who get to drive home with a refreshing drink and full stomach.  Two words…YOU ROCK!!

Dear Player…a little secret for you….I’m your biggest fan.  True story.  I want you to hit the ball.  I want the defense to have to make plays…and when they do…how great is that?!  I want you to throw that curve on an 0-2 count and watch it drop into the strike zone just before the plate and catch the batter off guard and have me bellow “THREE!!!” and ring up the strike out.  I like it when you take a low throw at first base, scooping it out of the dirt all stretched out while staying in contact with the bag and holding up your mitt as I hold, pause…then yell “OUT!!”    I like it when you steal and I like it when you throw the runner out.  Oh boy do I like it when you hit it to the outfield and make them run and the infielders set up cut off men.  I like it when you hustle and I love it when you tell the other player “good hit”.  I know then….you’re coached right.

Dear Catcher….you’re my favorite.  I won’t lie.  You’re the only player that I shake hands with prior to the game. When you protect me from getting hit with a pitch that’s heading straight for my face and I have to stay put and assume that you’ll reach up and catch it inches from my face and then you do…?  I love that.  I tell you under my breath that the last pitch was low and outside so that you can tell your pitcher and coach what I saw without me addressing him personally.  You’re my liaison to your dugout.  I like it when your pitcher is having trouble with his pitches and bouncing the ball around home plate and you BLOCK it with your little body (even with no one on…) and I don’t get hit….I really, really appreciate your effort.  You’re a tough little dude…and smarter than most of the other players.  I’ve been hit with pitches and foul balls.  They hurt.  They stun. They bruise.  Its an occupational hazard that both of us understand and willingly undertake for the game that we love.  My only hope is that you’re having as much fun as I am.

Dear Groundskeepers….you’re the unsung hero’s of the game.  You drag the field.  Chalk the foul lines and batters boxes.  You put in the bases at the correct distances.  You prepare the pitcher’s mound.  You weed, spray and mow the grass.  You paint the dugouts.  You water down the infield.  You knock down the wasp nests in the dug outs and take the birds nests out of the scorekeepers stand. You work tirelessly to make it pretty for the game then show up afterwards to cover home plate and the mound with tarps.  You turn on the lights around dusk and chase down foul balls that end up in the corn field.  You empty the trash cans and use leaf blowers on the bleachers to clean them up.  A lot of the time its the head coach and his assistants that assume these duties…and for little notice.  Thank you…whomever you are.

Dear Coach/Parent…I’m human.  I occasionally get a call wrong.  I don’t mean to, it just happens.  I won’t change it, don’t ask.  I feel terrible when it happens but the game goes on regardless.  I have to put it behind me quickly and proceed in a way where it won’t happen again.  If asked by a coach about it later on I’ll admit that I kicked it.  Humble pie.  I’ve found more willingness in coaches to move past a call if I’m straight up with them about it.  I’ve never had a coach throw it back in my face.  I can guarantee you that I’ll rehash it over in my mind for hours in the days that follow and learn from my mistake.

Dear Scorekeeper…thank you for being honest and recording the various numbers.  We rely on you to be our safety net when things go sideways…which happens when we least expect it.  Your watchful eye and attention to detail assists us in unsung ways. Thank you.

Dear Player…I want you to be safe, period.  Sometimes I’ll ask you to do something….like wear a helmet when you’re standing in the doorway of your dugout…that’s for your safety in case a line drive foul ball heads your way.  “Its hot” I get it….but you’re on my field son. Nothing, nothing could make me feel worse than you getting hurt.  I mean it, that’s why I stop games if it gets too dark to play or I hear thunder or see lightning.  I want you to be safe…regardless of what some adults say about it being “okay to play” in those conditions.

Dear Partners….thank you for everything.  The work.  The laughs.  The great calls.  Your friendship.  For what you’ve taught me.  For sharing your stories and your screw ups.  For arriving early and staying late.  For having my back and making me better.  Thank you.

Dear Connie…thank you for letting my wet and smelly chest, shin protectors, helmet and shoes dry off in our dining room.  It must look like an umpire exploded in our home.

Dear God…how can I say this…thank you for this “thing” that you’ve blessed me with.  For sunny skies shining down on a well-groomed field.  For healthy and lively children playing a game that I enjoyed playing and me still being a part of it.  For the friendships of other officials and coaches that have happened.  For friendly banter amongst longtime coaches.  For catching a spectacular sunset as I stand along the first base line as the lights make the field glow.  For the whistle of a red-winged black bird on the power line along the road as the game progresses.  For the sound of laughter and applause for the kids as they celebrate a winning run.  For the quiet drive home along a country blacktop, lightning bugs lazily drifting over cornfields….for all of these and more Lord…thank you, thank you…thank you.

Thank you Lord. Two more games in the books.

Thank you Lord. Two more games in the books.

Peace…

R

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Endings and beginnings…

Baseball season has ended.  Fall basketball leagues won’t start for another six weeks or so.  What will I do with all of this spare time on my hands?  For starters I have to get caught back up on what I’ve neglected.  I have referee stuff strewn about the house.  Whistles, uniforms, rule books, camp information, cold weather jackets, shoes, etc, etc.  Believe it or not….I’m preparing for basketball season already, which officially starts for me on November 20th in a small town forty minutes west of here.  I also need to haul stuff to the landfill.  There’s just something about moving, and then re-moving, then re-moving again…three daughters about their various apartments and cities that we now have one wrecked futon (I accidently drove over it with the truck…I wasn’t paying attention) two old dorm mini refrigerators, an old TV (weighs around 800 pounds, and old playground slide (not from their apartment) and various junk.

It’ll be a time to reconnect with relatives in other states, getting Mom back to her old stomping grounds and slowing down to sit and visit.  Beers and burgers with friends.  Movies and shooting hoops with my Little Brother from Big Brothers. Lining up help for a Christian Men’s Retreat this fall. Sitting in a lawn chair, eating ice cream in the evening as the neighbor kids ride their bikes up and down the sidewalk. It’ll mean driving along gravel roads on warm and humid summer mornings…watching the Killdeers race across the road while old ghosts from my past watch from the cornrows and pastures.  It’ll be a time when I drive two hours in one direction to have lunch and laughs with cousins that I don’t see enough of. When others ask what I did with my day off I’ll reply…”not much of anything” but in reality…I refilled my soul.

This coming basketball season brings change…I’ve joined a new crew that lives a lot closer to me and that I’ve known for years.  We’re friends off the court, which is a benefit as well…and I’ll still be able to work a few games with my old crew…which is a blast as well…I really am blessed in this regard and practically in every regard.

Summer’s here…its time to relax.

 

 

The end is near!!

The end is near!!

I hope that your summer is good as well.

Peace,

R

My secrets out…and Mrs. Ripley isn’t happy about it!!

I know.  I know.  Its been a month since my last blog so just calm down, grab a refreshing drink of your choice and hunker down for these five tidbits. Odds and ends from this end of Iowa.

  • It’s springtime here at the Palatial Estates and Worldwide Headquarters of Ripley Industries and I have a couplea days off.  I’m cooking this evening which means that Ol’ Sparky (our grill) is going to be fired up, thick juicy hamburgers will be charbroiled, topped with cheddar cheese and strips of bacon.  That alone is reason to celebrate but I’ve kicked it up a notch with potato salad and baked beans as quality side dishes.  A funny story about my baked beans goes something like this:  I’d volunteer to make some baked beans for reunions, parties etc. and literally everyone would tell me how great they were (this is a true story).  I was known in my family as “the guy who makes the BEST baked beans.”  My wife, the honorable and trustworthy Mrs. Richard Ripley, would make baked beans for us following the same recipe in the cook book but they weren’t as good.  She’d ask me if I did anything differently from the recipe and, in response,  I’d cock my eyebrows,  turn my head at an angle and reply “…like what?”  This went on for several years until one night she got all sexy-upped (more than usual is all I’m sayin’) lipstick, perfume…plying me with alcohol and her womanly ways and purred into my ear…”…are you sure that there’s nothing else that you put into your baked beans honey-bunny?”  Now normally I’m like a mountain…devoid of any emotions and cannot be swayed to betray secrets to even the prettiest girl but as Mrs. Ripley ran her fingers through my hair and told me how much she liked all of my jokes (even the knock-knock ones) and said that she was thinking pretty strongly of baking a cake later in the night (chocolate with lots of chocolate frosting) I casually replied “well….you know, about that baked bean recipe…I’ll usually use twice the amount of brown sugar in it than the recipe says to use…but I don’t really add anything to it and about that cake…when do you think it’ll be? “ “YOU USE THREE CUPS OF BROWN SUGAR IN ONE CASSEROLE DISH OF BAKED BEANS?!?!” Mrs. Ripley belted out at the top of her lungs. “Yep…been doin’ it for years…so about the cake…”  Mrs. Ripley suddenly remembered that her favorite TV show was about to start, shot me the stink-eye and left the room.  I’m still waiting for that cake to show up and coincidently….her baked beans are now the equal to mine.  Just wait until she finds out what I’ve been adding to her wine!
  • I used to work a part time job at a home for adult men who were mentally handicapped.  As part of my job I’d cook for them, help them with their laundry and for the guys who needed more help…give them baths.  At first…it was extremely awkward to do some of the things that I did as part of that job (imagine giving a person your own age a shower…washing them)  The guys, eight of them, had different levels of independence and communication skills.  A couplea of the guys couldn’t talk at all but they could do basic things.  I came to love those guys for who they were, not for who they weren’t,  their love for people and excitement for life was uninhibited.  If they liked you, they loved you.  This past weekend I worked the Special Olympics as a basketball referee and had a blast.  Two particular moments pretty much sums up the whole day for me.  I was working one game of adult men.  It was a pretty up tempo game when I called a foul on one of the players.  He jogged over to me and I thought that he was going to argue the call but instead said “Yep…it was me!!  As soon as I heard your whistle I thought to myself ‘I’ll bet that’s on me!”  My number is 58.  Sorry about that!!” and then jogged away.  I’ve worked in the neighborhood of 400+ games in the past three years and can honestly say that no player has ever said that to me!!  Priceless.  Earlier on, two different teams, one from a hearing impaired school and another from a community of kids who would commonly be referred to as “special-ed”, without physical handicaps, played each other.  It was hard, if only because the deaf team didn’t understand the game nor its rules.  We didn’t call any violations on them…they were simply that bad at the game.  We didn’t call anything on the other team either since it wouldn’t have been fair.  The deaf team was being beaten soundly, at the end of the first quarter it was 16-0.  The winning teams coach then had her team do something that I’ve never seen before….when her team got the ball they walked it up the floor and then waited for the deaf team’s players to catch up, take their defensive positions and then they would start their offense.  The better team let the deaf team shoot the ball unguarded, over and over again, getting rebound after rebound.  With just a few seconds left the deaf teams point guard, who for the previous three-quarters had just dribbled and dribbled and dribbled without ever making any attempt to dribble it towards the basket took her dribble from the half court line, to the far sideline to the baseline into the lane and tossed up a shot as time expired.  The ball kissed the backboard and swished through the net as the horn ended the game.  I hammered down the “count the basket” signal and both benches erupted, jumping up and down, high-fiving each other and congratulating one another.  It. Was. BEAUTIFUL.  The final score was something like 34-6, though my officiating partner for the day summed it up best.  “I always finish my year working this tournament.  I’m worn out.  The season is long.  The coaches, fans and players and all of their complaining and stupid stuff makes me want to quit….but then I come here and see these kids and adults having so much fun, playing, sharing and laughing….it rejuvenates me.”  Well said brotherWell said.  I hope that they ask me back next year.
  • If you’re old enough you remember the days that if you liked a particular song your choices were: buy the album, buy the 45 OR hope that you could record it off of the radio onto a cassette (which I had the rare and unique ability to do though the stupid DJ would still be giving you the weather report right up to and sometimes over the first few words of the song).  It kinda sucked.  You might only like a song or two off of a particular album but you’d have to buy the WHOLE album to get the two or three songs that you liked.  That’s why I liked K-Tel records so much, you’d get five or six really good songs mixed in with a few less crappy songs.  I owned several K-Tel albums as a kid and that’s probably the reason I’m a HUGE fan of ITunes.  This afternoon I downloaded around a dozen songs from the likes of Donna Summer, Neil Young, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin and Cosby Stills and Nash for about the same amount of money that an album would’ve cost me.
  • As avid readers of Rich Ripley already know….I’ve helped out at a Christian Men’s retreat entitled “A Walk to Emmaus” on several occasions.  The good folks who oversee this area of our state either lost their minds or lost a bet and decided to ask me if I’d be the Lay Director on this fall’s retreat.  I’ve accepted and am excited to see how this all works out.  I’m in charge of lining up a team of around thirty guys to help other guys over the course of a three day retreat.  Its a huge responsibility (God’s involved…you know…so I’ll have to behave as much as I can…which isn’t long) so my spiritual juices are flowing.  I’ve never made any secret about the fact that I’m probably the least holy person in the room, though I’ve been blessed with the ability to speak in front of groups…usually with a fair amount of humor involved….about my faith walk.  (keep us all in your prayers is all I’m sayin’)
  • Baseball season is just around the corner.  I’ve been reading the rule book and reviewing what I think that I’ll need to know.  Meetings and clinics are planned.  I’ve got varsity games already booked and my equipment bag opened up and gone through.  Probably the neatest thing going right now is that my umpire mask is being used by an eight year old for a play that he’s in at school.  I should’ve warned the little whipper-snapper that us umpires are regular “babe-magnets” and those third grader girls will be chasing him endlessly during recess.  Poor little fella….I hope that he gets caught just as soon as he wants to be…which may be ten or fifteen years too early for his mother.  (Melanie…tell Gabe to wipe all of that lipstick off of my mask before returning it….Mrs. Ripley insists.)

Have a great week and God Bless!! Your humble and capable leader…. R

Its the year of “50 Eve”

I turned 49 earlier today in case you weren’t awoken to the sound of the huge display of fireworks over the city at midnight, nor the huge marching band parading up my street serenading the three block area surrounding the Palatial Estates and you probably didn’t hear the polka band that had set up shop in our kitchen (unless you were one of the many well-wishers lined up on the sidewalk and driveway…awaiting your chance to say something catchy and memorable on this…Friday February 6th….the day of my 49th birthday and the beginning of the year now known as “50 Eve” for yours truly.  If you didn’t make it by now….don’t sweat it….you’ve got 364 days left to surprise me with something.

My 48th year went pretty darn well, honestly.  Here are a few highlights:

  • Oldest daughter got a career job that she loves.
  • Another year of marriage to my smokin’ hot wife Connie Sue.  I continue to delight her so much that her brain sometimes confuses “joy” with “utter distain” at the sounds,  scents and sights that a middle-aged man like yours truly “puts out there” for her enjoyment.  Silly girl.
  • I umpired varsity baseball…a goal of mine that was met.
  • I received a post-season basketball tournament game assignment just a few days ago.  That was a huge goal of mine and, Thank God, with the help of my mentor and officiating partners…got that recognition! (in only my third year for gosh sakes!)
  • We continue to celebrate my Mom’s good health. She’s still full of piss and vinegar in her 80′s…the stubborn ol’ German that she is.  We love her to death.
  • Connie and I are now “empty-nesters” and are planning vacations for just the two of us.
  • Seeing my classmates from high school at our reunion.  Thirty years later…they’re just terrific people.

No “birthday blog” would be complete without a goofy photo of the celebrant in their early years.  Here’s your dose of laughter America.  You’re welcome.

130 pounds just teeming with testosterone.  In 1983 the thing to wear at Bennett High was bib overalls, a flannel shirt and mirrored sunglasses....in your parents kitchen.  Practically irresistible to upper (and lower) classman of the opposite sex...I somehow maintained my virginity well into my twenties.  (my basketball warm ups and uniform are hanging on the door knob in the right of the photo.  Coolest uni's EVER!)

130 pounds just teeming with testosterone. In 1983 the thing to wear at Bennett High was bib overalls, a flannel shirt and mirrored sunglasses….in your parents kitchen. Practically irresistible to upper (and lower) classman of the opposite sex…I somehow maintained my virginity well into my twenties. (my basketball warm ups and uniform are hanging on the door knob in the right of the photo. Coolest uni’s EVER!)

Here’s a throwback photo….me chasing a kid from Oxford Junction at a Junior Varsity game in ’83.

Avert your eyes if you don't like seeing A LOT of upper thigh.  (notice the crowd...we really didn't pack them in the old gym for the JV games)  Look at the mad hops Kory Stuhr has along the baseline (I'm pretty certain he cannot attain the same height these days without the assistance of a step ladder)

Avert your eyes if you don’t like seeing A LOT of upper thigh. (notice the crowd…we really didn’t pack them in the old gym for the JV games) Look at the mad hops Kory Stuhr has along the baseline (I’m pretty certain he cannot attain the same height these days without the assistance of a step ladder)

My Junior year student ID….because…you know…EVERYBODY was trying to attend Bennett High illegally since it was such a cool-ass place to go to and learn about wielding (both arc and gas), no-till farming, crop rotation and Consumer Math (after I dropped Algebra).  My graduating class in ’84 was 24 kids.  Twelve boys.  Twelve girls.  We could have probably done without the photo ID’s.  In that community….if we did something wrong…our parents probably knew about it before we got home from doing it….or shortly thereafter.

I was voted "Junior class male" MOST LIKELY TO BECOME THE UNI-BOMBER"  Jeez...how about those eyebrows?

I was voted “Junior class male” MOST LIKELY TO BECOME THE UNI-BOMBER” Jeez…how about those eyebrows?

How many blessings do I have in my life…..?

...more than these two arms could ever hold.  (you could also title this photo "twirling!!  I'm twirling!!  Look at me TWIRL!!")

…more than these two arms could ever hold. (you could also title this photo “twirling!! I’m twirling!! Look at me TWIRL!!”)

And lastly….I actually enjoy the music of the early 80’s (and this is from the generation that brought you Dee Snyder’s Twisted Sister to the for front).  Simple, fun and bouncy songs that make you happy.  One of my favorites is Diesel’s Sausalito Summernight.  An obscure song from a foreign group that got into the Top 40 enough to be heard but quickly forgotten.  Thank God for YouTube.  Here they are, getting together for a tribute concert…rockin’ it better now…than back then.  See if you remember it.

 

Thanks for reading.  God bless.

R

Call a plumber while I figure out this outlet…

Occasionally I’ll try new things; occasionally.  It seems that I don’t have much luck with trying new things, like the time that I tried replacing a toilet (with another toilet) but broke off the fresh water pipe inside the wall of the bathroom.  One frantic call later and a plumber was on his way (at two o’clock in the afternoon on a Saturday no less).  The next Saturday I tried replacing the little rubber washer inside of our kitchen faucet, the lady at the hardware store said that it was an easy thing to do.  Thirty minutes later, with water squirting out from said kitchen faucet and yet another frantic call to the same plumber who answered my call “Hello Mister Ripley…what are we working on today?”  God bless them…they only charged me $75 each time…so I learned a $150 lesson in eight days….I don’t plumb no matter what the lady at the hardware store says.  Don’t even get me started on the time that I tried to fix an electrical outlet cuz my hand is still tingling.  Or how about the time that I spent $60 to make shrimp tacos?  The house smelled like fish for a week and the recipe said that it’d feed “four”…I ate them all that night.  Or how about the time that I tried selling used cars for a living?  I could sell them, I just couldn’t make a living off of it.  It’s not that I screw up everything that I try…its just that I have a history of trying new things and not having a good deal of success in each and every one of said “new endeavors”.  With age comes some wisdom…so whenever I get a wild-hair to try something new I file it away for a few weeks to mull over the possible consequences, financial set-backs, injuries and electrical burns.  Its not a perfect system…but its what’s working for me now.

Avid readers of Rich Ripley, and most employees of RIPLEY INDUSTRIES, are well aware of my affection for officiating the sports of basketball and baseball.  Last fall, between seasons, I became bored since I had nothing to officiate.  Other officials told me “work volleyball games.  Easy money, easy to work.  EASY.”  I thought to myself “why not?”  They desperately need officials and I love to officiate…so why not?”  Indeed…why not?

I registered with the state.  Paid my dues.  Studied for and passed the exam (I scored 90%).  I attended a clinic, where the instructor was pacing around a volleyball court, telling us to watch for illegal “this” and illegal “that” and “you’d better not do it this way or you’ll never get to the state tournament.”  I looked nervously at the guy who assigns me volleyball games and whispered “This doesn’t make any sense to me!  Its like he’s speaking Latin!”  He smiled and said “Relax…you’ll be fine” which made my stomach hurt even more (I’m like Charlie Brown that way…when I’m worried my stomach hurts”.  I left that volleyball clinic very concerned as to my ability to properly officiate a volleyball match…it wasn’t a good feeling.

Since that day I’ve worked several freshman volleyball matches, and they’ve gone smoothly, but I’m not sure that I’ll stick with it next season.  Its hard enough to officiate a game when you’re competent and qualified, I feel neither for volleyball.  It doesn’t help that the game management is totally opposite of my beloved basketball.  In volleyball you have to keep track of the players and where they’re supposed to be at all times (they don’t stand still, they’re usually moving).  Some players can’t do certain things at certain times (I say “certain players” because I still don’t understand it).  The coaches that we’ve had have been outstanding and honest…calling their own players out for violations…which I appreciate but I should be catching that not them.

I worked two basketball games last night. It was like slipping into something comfortable and familiar.  I knew what to do and when to do it, and I’m good at it.  Its the first time that I’ve run in a couple of months and I’m sore as hell today…but its a “good kind of sore”.  With volleyball you just stand there, in baseball and basketball you’re moving with the game…getting an angle.

The sport of volleyball is growing yet the sport has lost 400 officials in three years.  The state is recruiting new officials at 20% of what’s leaving, but only retaining 10% of that group.  I feel that I might be in that 90% of new officials leaving the sport after one season.  While the sport of basketball is what I’m passionate about, and baseball is fun to work, volleyball perplexes me much in the same way that plumbing does.  Its nothing against the players, I just don’t understand the “way and the why” of the rules and of the game even though I’m trying.  Maybe that will change…time will tell.  Until then…peace to you and yours.

R

YOU’RE AS BLIND AS MISTER MAGOO!!!

My buddy Rich (I’m not speaking in third person, honestly) was umping a sub-state baseball game the other night. The stakes were pretty high for the two teams involved, win and your season continues onto the State Tournament. Lose and your season ends, you go home. I wanted to see Rich work and maybe pick up a few tips along the way (they pick the best umpires to work the tournament games). I chose a spot in the bleachers behind home plate next to an elderly woman. She asked who I was rooting for, I replied…”I’m here to watch my friend umpire along first base.” She gave me a blank stare, turned to her husband and said “Fred…this man’s an umpire. Ask him about that weird play the other night when you were watching the Cubs.” Dead serious. Fred told me about the play, it was a weird scenario to be sure. My short answer is that it sounds like the umpires in that game got it right, but without seeing it…who knows. (Fred…by the way, is the kind of grandfatherly, potbellied-man who wears his suspenders UNDER the tee-shirt of his favorite team) I told Fred that the first problem with his story is that he was watching the Cubs try to play ball. He laughed and the rest of the night went well, though the little old lady that I chose to sit next to would introduce me to anyone who sat close to us as “…watch what you say tonight…this guys an umpire…” It was all in jest. She asked me early on “how can you take all of the things that people yell at you?” I replied “I’m paid to be impartial, and honestly…I don’t hear nearly as much as you might think…I’m focused on the game and players. Understand that we’re not perfect.”

One thing that I’ve found out over the past year is that all of these officials (baseball, basketball, softball, football, volleyball, soccer, etc.) have their favorite sport to officiate. For Rich, its baseball…that’s his passion. Rich works at least five nights a week during the baseball season. That’s leaving work early, driving at least an hour to the game, dressing in slacks (and half the time with hot protective equipment on) in hot and humid Iowa weather, then driving home at least an hour, getting home around 11, going to bed then getting up six hours later and starting all over again. That’s passion. He LOVES BASEBALL. For that dedication, hard work and being an exceptional umpire he’s been awarded games to work at the State Tournament, a well-deserved honor.

Before Rich's sub-state game.  Rich is far right, Jeff is at the center.  Sharing a light moment before the game.

Before Rich’s sub-state game. Rich is far right, Jeff is at the center. Sharing a light moment before the game.

Most officials will tell you that they’re either officiating the sport that they love, or waiting until that season begins. Until then they’re officiating another sport to kill time and make a little money. That’s the case with me. I love basketball. I like baseball. I’m trying volleyball this fall. The rules book just arrived, a bookworm I’m not. The exam is less than a month away. I know very little about the sport. Wish me luck.

Here are the last of this past seasons “amusing” stories from the baseball games and basketball games that I officiated.

Little League game between two 11-year-old teams that played each other regularly. As the batter stepped into the batters box he looked at the catcher and asked “Did you get a new chest protector?” The catcher replied “Yeah…I lost my old one so mom got me a new one.” The batter, still looking at the catchers chest protector “I like it…IT’S SHINEY.”

While I worked as base umpire during a sophomore game the shortstop ran to the outfield and made a remarkable diving catch, lying flat-out to catch it…he slide several feet on his belly after hitting the ground hard. I called the batter out on the catch, as the kid just laid there. His coach came out of the dugout, concerned that his player was injured. I looked at the kid, and his teammates around him. His teammates were laughing, the player curled up into the fetal position and I turned to his coach, who was requesting permission to come onto the field, and replied “where he’s hurt coach, you can’t help him” to which the coach stopped and said “oh…he got hurt there…oh…”. (His protective cup “bit” into the area that its intended to protect) The game resumed after a few moments.

During the 3 on 3 basketball league that I worked this summer, between two eight year old squads. These players are just getting onto the court for the first time to play competitive ball. They’re skinny little whips racing around the half-court. The games are usually half wrestling match, half track meet. Final scores are usually 6-4…that’s five made baskets in eighteen minutes. Its a mess to officiate but amusing to watch as these little ones try out the moves that they’ve been practicing at home in the driveway. One little guy got the ball (mind you he was about twenty-five feet from the basket, so he wasn’t a scoring threat…no one is at that level) and he proceeded to dribble the ball between his legs in a figure-eight as his hands and arms flailed about in dizzying fashion ala Harlem Globetrotters style. His defender could have reached in at any time and knocked the ball away but didn’t because he was either too mesmerized by this display of dribbling or just respectful of a “guy doing something cool” and didn’t want to interrupt it.

At the same summer league one parent, whom I know well, was teasing me before the game telling the players “Hey…watch out for this ref…he’s blind as Mister Magoo!!” The kid stopped and looked at us and asked “Who’s Mister Magoo?” I aged a little right then.

One of the last nights that I worked the 3 on 3 league I was assigned the “old gym”. Old gyms just have a smell to them. Musty thick air boxed in by bleachers that put the fans right on top of you. As I changed into my game shoes I spied a little girls game warming up, maybe nine-year olds. They were lined up at the free-throw line, taking turns shooting as someone’s little sister (decked out in a black and white stripped outfit and pink tutu) pranced and twirled around them in a circle, obvious that this was a basketball court and not a stage. A mother walked by carrying a cake for after the game, someone had a birthday that night. The kids chattered excitedly. I don’t know if they were more excited about the game, or the cake…either way…it was a good night to be on their team.

And lastly…the varsity crew that had asked me to join them this upcoming season has….elected to use the guy that had moved away. Instead of me working 21+ varsity dates with them…I’ll get half of that. Games that I looked forward to working are now his. Games that I told folks that I couldn’t work since I was now with this crew are….gone to other officials. I told folks that I was now on a varsity crew of three. Turns out they’re loyal to the guy that moved away and wish to keep him “in the fold” even though he’s moved away. Now I feel like a horse’s rear-end. Like the kid who gets picked last for the team. I don’t blame them for being loyal to him, good officials are hard to find. I blame myself for not being more thorough in asking questions of the crew chief and in what I should expect in the way of games prior to accepting. There are now gaps in my season where no games are assigned to me. I’ll get games, eventually, probably as a fill-in for someone who is sick, injured or has a work commitment come up, but this is what I wanted to avoid…and I failed at that. God’s always got a plan, if even for something as trivial as officiating games. It’ll work out. I’ll dazzle the crews that I’m subbing on and, God-willing, I’ll get asked to join a crew fulltime next summer. My goal of getting post-season games is still on the table…with or without that crew.

God’s got a plan, even in my failure, to lift me up to bigger and better things. I can’t wait to see what it is…

God bless and peace to you,
R