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

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

Under the water tower….

“Under the water tower…” that’s where I was told to park, prior to the games, by the athletic director of the host school of the doubleheader baseball games that I was going to umpire that night.

"Park under the water tower"...I did and this silent giant stood sentinel before, during and after my games.

“Park under the water tower”…I did and this silent giant stood sentinel before, during and after my games.

Easy enough to find in small town Iowa, water towers can usually be seen miles away…and it would seem that the AD liked to put his umpires there because it was away from the fans. Before, in-between and after games finds umpires at the rear of their vehicles putting on or taking off equipment. The weather lately in Iowa has been wet, windy and wacky. July 1st temperatures were only in the low sixties. That night’s games brought a steady and stiff breeze, a ten minute rain delay, cool temperatures then….a pleasant moonlit night. Looking back into the bleachers folks were wrapped up in blankets and hoodies…more football game apparel than July 1st gear. Hang around long enough…you’ll see it all.

It seems that we go from drought to flood in the matter of weeks in Iowa

It seems that we go from drought to flood in the matter of weeks in Iowa

This isn't supposed to be a "lake"...its a bean field west of Iowa City along Hwy 1.

This isn’t supposed to be a “lake”…its a bean field west of Iowa City along Hwy 1.

With many of my mid -June games rained out I was anxious to get back out onto the field before the season ended. I enjoy being out there for whatever reason, maybe it’s the unique experience of seeing the game up close, or being a part of the game. Maybe it’s the journey to and from, taking me to places that I either haven’t been to in a long time or would have no business going there on my own.

You just never know what you'll see on the way to a baseball game.

You just never know what you’ll see on the way to a baseball game.

Who knew Wellman Iowa had a skating rink...?  Not this guy!!  Thankfully closed for the night, I wasn't tempted to go in and attempt a "couples skate" with a stranger.

Who knew Wellman Iowa had a skating rink…? Not this guy!! Thankfully closed for the night, I wasn’t tempted to go in and attempt a “couples skate” with a stranger.

Maybe it’s the athletes and people that I meet along the way. Maybe it’s the challenge of “doing it right”. Have you ever called a batter out on a beautifully delivered curve call that dipped as it reached the plate and froze the batter? I have…it’s a great moment, unless you’re the batter or his third base coach. Or watching the littlest guy on the team come up to bat as the last guy in the batting order against a giant of a pitcher who’s throwing fire and then working the count to 3-2 then watching him take a tentative swing, just putting his bat over the plate and sending a rocket line drive over the centerfielders head and the little guy ending up with a double…from the reaction of his teammates and family members in the crowd…he’s earned a special moment. As he stands alone on second base his body language and look on his face are “how on earth did I hit that and what do I do now?!” The body language of the pitcher is that of “who knew the little guy had it in him…?” Never a dull moment….it’s fun, interesting and rewarding.

Small town Iowa.  The sign says it all, maybe we should post these at the games too?

Small town Iowa. The sign says it all, maybe we should post these at the games too?

The game of baseball can actually lull you into a certain sense of security, and boredom if you let it. Nothing’s going on…no one’s doing anything for innings at a time…then all of the sudden something wacky happens in a split second and you’ve got to make an educated, impartial and (most of all) RIGHT CALL. Another thing can happen; especially when you’re the base ump…you can get hit with a batted ball. I crouch pretty low to the ground as base ump…to stay out of the way of the defense and in case the ball comes my way. These past two days I’ve actually hit the turf, laid out flat, to avoid line drives hit directly at me. Tuesday night while behind the plate I took a foul ball to my collar bone. It struck me where my chest protector doesn’t protect….at it’s very top. The force of the foul drove me back a couple of steps and put me to my knees. The game stopped for a couplea minutes while I caught my breath and the trainer checked me out. It hurt like nothing else that I’ve experienced and made my eyes water (but it wasn’t crying….since I only cry at sentimental things….not foul balls). Three pitches later I took another foul ball, this time to my mask. KKKKAAAIIINNNGGGG!!! It displaced my hockey-style mask and I walked up the first base foul line with it under my arm as I collected my wits, glancing at my partner who was laughing at my misfortune. I turned to the bleachers, whom had been fairly vocal at their displeasure of my strike zone all night, and said to them “I hope that someone over there is getting this on camera.” They laughed and someone called out “I’m sending it to America’s Funniest Home Videos”. No more cat-calls were heard the remainder of the night. As I got back behind the plate the catcher turned and looked up at me and said “I’ll take the next one for ya Blue.” I put the ball back into play and we continued without incident. Because of the collar bone hit, I inadvertently flinch and sometimes bail out on pitches that come in “high and inside” for the next two games. It bothered me that I did that…I chalk it up to “self-preservation” and make it a point of emphasis to “stay put” and watch those pitches without moving. I’m a work in progress.

Baseball is a game of mixed messages. For instance, when a batter sees a pitch coming in at their head they usually duck out of the way. After they pick themselves up it’s not uncommon for the third base coach (usually their head coach) to yell at the batter “WEAR IT NEXT TIME!!! OWN IT!!” The reason that this is said is that a batter hit by a pitch is awarded first base. Base runners can become runs scored, though I’ve always felt that it’s a heck of a way to get on base…being hit by a pitch. It hurts. Take one anywhere on your body and you’ll understand what that coach is asking from his players. As the kid got up, and the game continued, he hit the next pitch, sending it screaming down the third base line right at his coach. This thing was a heat-seeking missile. The coach, a portly man, saw it coming and did an amazing elusive move of timing and dexterity that only fans of Dancing With The Stars would appreciate. It was really something to see the old ball coach move so quickly, so precisely and rhythmically to the crack of the bat to the split second it took for said heat-seeking missile to miss him by inches. I called the ball “foul”, but everyone’s eyes were still glued to that coach who, after returning to his normal stance, wiped his brow with his wrist and returned to delivering instructions. I looked at the batter and asked “do you want me to ask the coach why he didn’t ‘wear it?” That kid flashed me a big grin and once again….we started playing again.

Some schools athletic complexes are so vast that you need a GPS just to find the correct field. Soccer, football, softball, freshman fields, practice fields and baseball fields all laid out willy-nilly. Honestly…before I leave for some schools that I’m unfamiliar with I’ll check out that area “satellite view” style. You just can’t hide a baseball field from a satellite. As I worked a game one morning I heard what sounded like a commercial jet warming up for take-off. As I glanced over to where the sound was coming from (on the varsity diamond) I saw a tractor pulling a small trailer with an industrial sized leaf blower on it…working its way from foul line to foul line in the outfield. Back and forth, for an hour. This blower was kick-ass big and LOUD. I asked the host coach what it was doing. He replied “it’s blowing the grass clippings off of the outfield.” I worked a doubleheader later on that day on that field…and not one player tripped on any grass clippings, or pebbles or candy wrappers or foul lines or anything else for that matter. Well done groundskeeper. Well done. Other schools have a much smaller athletic budget where players wear the same uniforms for several years…the stitching fraying on their jerseys numbers, their uniforms hanging from the skinny kids frames like those castaway clothes put on a scarecrow. It doesn’t diminish their skill, dedication or love of the game….just an economic difference that sticks out between schools that are growing and the schools that aren’t ….hanging on…putting those dollars somewhere else.

Before last night’s doubleheader I arrived an hour early, so I put the tailgate down on my truck, opened the cooler and had a little pregame picnic. As I sat there…reveling in the glory of a late afternoon, not a cloud in the sky, low-seventies early July day…I thought to myself “good God in Heaven…what a great season and what a wonderful place to end it!” The diamond was behind and BELOW the school buildings….like forty feet below, down a steep hill. The hill was terraced in such a way that forty foot long, six feet wide sidewalks extended parallel to the third base line…INTO THAT BIG HILL…where folks could bring their lawn chairs and have a birds-eye view of the game!! Before the game I turned around and saw that the hillside terraces, three of them, were filled with folks nestled into their lawn chairs, a “full-house” so to speak. The “event people” brought out a great set of speakers, hooked them up to a laptop computer and played classic rock from the 70’s and 80’s. It was announced that “we’d like to wish number 24, relief pitcher Colton Smith, a happy birthday today! He turned fourteen!” The starting line-ups announced, our National Anthem was played. Players lined the foul lines or took their positions on the field, caps on the ground facing our flag, me and my partner at home plate. As I looked beyond our flag at the wispy clouds now made orange-ish-pink set against a deep blue sky I couldn’t help but notice a lump in my throat and, again, a deep gratitude to our Creator for moments like these. I don’t deserve them…but thank goodness I’m given them by a grace-filled God.

Looking out over the sun-drenched baseball field from atop a four-story hill.

Looking out over the sun-drenched baseball field from atop a four-story hill.

The game progressed without incident; these are farm kids…not spoiled, just happy to play the game. The visiting team wins 8 to 0. I head to the concession stand to get a bottle of water and the AD stops me to tell me that I did a good job. We end up talking about comfortable shoes and the renovations going on at his school. As umpires we really aren’t supposed to talk to either schools officials for the sake of appearances of impartiality…but this is Iowa and you can go suck an egg if you think that I’m not going to be friendly to friendly people.

The second game is just like the first, played out efficiently, no problems. A kid takes over the music being played and a Beyoncé song comes on…and I hear the players in the visitors’ dugout singing along with it. I wonder if their choir instructor knows of their abilities. I doubt it…and those boys can sing! The home team wins its first game of the season, actually its their first win of the last TWO seasons. They’re happy and relieved to get the monkey off their back. I head to my truck, sweat-soaked, un-dinged and ready for the hour and fifteen minute drive home.

Completed.  Over.  Fini.  Done.  A picture perfect night to end my first year of working high school baseball in Iowa.

Completed. Over. Fini. Done. A picture perfect night to end my first year of working high school baseball in Iowa.

Its been a great first season of working high school baseball. While I learned a great deal…there’s so much more to learn and/or be better at. As I thought of the season (both baseball and basketball) during my picnic in the parking lot before my last game, I grabbed a piece of cardboard lying next to my truck and jotted down these thoughts:

Thank you to the concession stand volunteers. Cooking and feeding the fans, players and umpires while they themselves usually miss out watching the games. Arriving early and staying late, the proceeds benefitting the schools and teams, you’re always my friend when I need a bottle of water to refill what I just sweated out on the field. Case in point…the following peppy conversation during my last game with a lady working the concession stand “if ya need a bottle of water before the game ya come and see me and I’ll get ya one. If you run out during the game my sons the head coach…tell him that you’re thirsty and he’ll send one of the boys up here and get ya another…okie doke?!” “Yes Ma’am…okie doke”.

Thank you to the groundskeepers who mow, trim, weed, fertilize, water, drag and chalk the fields. In smaller schools the groundskeeper is often times the coach and his assistants, maybe some players and their parents. Grooming the diamond to pristine condition, it sparkles when its “show time”. Without you it’d be a tougher night for me and my partner.

Thank you to the parents of the athletes. While a handful of you are my biggest critics the majority of you are just absolutely top-notch folks. Thank you for paying for your kids to participate in the sports that I officiate. Driving them to and from practices and games, washing their practice and game jerseys, feeding them and showing up and paying for tickets to the games. We both have a vested interest in seeing that your kid gets a fairly called game, me so that I’ll get hired again at that school and conference. Without you and your kids….I wouldn’t have any games to officiate. I get it.

• Thank you to the coaches and athletic directors. Compared to me, coaches have an incredibly tough job, balancing playing times, practices, games, personalities and the like. After a game I get to go home and put the game behind me. After a game a coach may have to read text messages and e-mails from angry parents. Players sulk. Players get injured. Players get into trouble. Parents pull their kids who “don’t get enough playing time.” I don’t have to contend with that….coaches do. Without coaches coaching those kids…again…I’d have no games to officiate. Thank you, I appreciate your efforts. I get it.

• Janitors. You rock. You’re the unsung heroes of our schools. You deserve a potluck dinner served up by the players of each sport. You keep our gyms, locker rooms, school grounds and schools clean. Show me a janitor and I’ll show you someone who’s earning their keep….year-round.

Thank you to the guys that I’ve worked with…my fellow officials. I’ve enjoyed working with you and meeting those challenges of game management, while a handful of you have become close, personal friends.

And last but not least…Thank you to the athletes. Without you participating I wouldn’t get opportunities for moments like these. I work hard to give you my best effort. I quietly root for you all, hoping that you’ll have your best game ever. From the starting varsity kids to the last kid off of the bench….you matter. I can tell when you’re not sure of what to do next. I know that all of those “instructions” shouted at you by your coaches, teammates and fans are tough to digest, but quite honestly…I’m your biggest fan…just try hard, hustle and play fair is all that I can ask…all without saying a word. You’re not perfect and neither am I…lets have some fun in this moment.

I leave the school, it’s a quarter to ten. The last light of the day is peeking over the tops of thousands of acres of corn. Fireflies hang lazily over the fields as I pass, windows rolled down as cool air pours in. Frogs croaking as I speed through hollows, the smell of a hog confinement operation coming closer. I wonder why I enjoy these drives on old highways and county blacktops. Is it the ditches lined with orange and black tiger lilies. The flat as a pancake fields of corn and soybeans? The glistening grain operations that can be seen for miles around? Is it the universal “hey” nod of the head or two fingers coming off the steering wheel as you meet another truck coming at you on the road? It doesn’t matter I suppose…it just “is” and that’s fine with me.

My season’s over. It’s time to put away my equipment . I won’t miss it for a while. I’m sore. I’m bruised. I’m tired. A cool shower and bed is an hour away. Thank you Lord Jesus for Iowa.

Almost ten at night at the crossroads of one season ending and another just about to start.

Almost ten at night at the crossroads of one season ending and another just about to start.

Peace to you and yours,
R

Five thoughts from midseason

#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

What lies under that snow? Dreams.

The basketball season is….done.
Over.
Fini.
I bid it a fond farewell.

I’ve officiated games of Comets, Clippers, Trojans, Vikings, Knights, Roughriders, Rebels, Raiders, Buccaneers, Warriors, Sailors, Saints, Indians, Mohawks, Mustangs, Rams, Hawks, J-Hawks, Prairie Hawks, Loins, Cougars, Wildcats, Bobcats, Tigers, Panthers and Huskies. (judging from these names I would’ve been more zookeeper than referee)

Its time to rest. I’m ending my season with a head cold that’s lasted three weeks. Time to re-read the rules for the upcoming seasons sport. Time for clinics and rules discussion. I’ve seen some coaches around town, their teams have been taking indoor batting practice since January. Its 10 degrees outside….its “Baseball Season Eve”.

Fross Park in Center Point Iowa.  One of my favorite places to work.  Friendly folks.  Beautiful setting.  Small town Iowa baseball.  February 14th 2014...dreams of baseball lie under that snow.

Fross Park in Center Point Iowa. One of my favorite places to work. Friendly folks. Beautiful setting. Small town Iowa baseball. February 14th 2014…dreams of baseball lie under that snow.

Fross Park in May of 2013, just before one of my games.  I can't wait!

Fross Park in May of 2013, just before one of my games. I can’t wait!

Stay warm friends.
peace,
R