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 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" 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.


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,

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 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,

The Fabulous Friday 5

#1…With Springtime temperatures supposedly in the fifties this weekend most folks will be going hog-wild opening their windows, cleaning their garages and grilling out after a long and bitterly cold Midwestern winter. As for me…I’ll be working inside a store hoping that the hundreds of hamburger and hot dog buns that I ordered sell briskly to those wishing to grill out (some play the ponies, some play Keno…I play the weather forecast verses bread sales, which I’m paid to do). When I was a kid growing up on a farm I could always tell when my Mom got “spring-fever.” I’d get home from school and all of the windows of our house would be open (they’d be washed too), and amongst other things…our bed sheets went from flannel to cotton sheets. I really enjoyed this since the spring/summer sheets had been stored all fall and winter in our cedar chest. There was just something about getting into bed those first few times with everything so new, crisp and good smelling.

#2…I made a pan of brownies the other day to soothe my aching soul from a head cold, and promptly ate three “man-sized” pieces. My wife made her usual remark “you just ATE THREE BROWNIES?!” while I finished off an ice cold glass of milk. “Growin’ boys gotta eat” I replied as I patted my stomach and put the empty glass into the dishwasher. My wife, a four year college graduate & present grade school teacher, doesn’t know simple “MAN MATH”. Three brownies equal ONE piece of cake, two regular pieces of pie for her equal one for me (I always assume that there’s a decent sized air pocket between the top crust and the filling unless, of course, you’re serving pumpkin or sour cream raisin…then you’d better scale back a little but add some Cool Whip. The same goes for cookies. Its not the amount that you eat…its how big the cookies are and how filling they are. Don’t even get me started on OREO’s. It’s quite simple but she simply doesn’t wish to learn anything more at this point in her life…which is sad since I have a lot to teach her.

#3…Do you know how you can tell if your wife’s best friends are coming over for dinner tonight? All of the bathrooms (except the one that I use) all have new delicious smelling pump hand soaps in them. Dead serious. We seem to have found some new good smelling candles too (where were they when someone decided to steam some broccoli the other day…heh?). As you can guess…I’ve been asked to keep a low profile this evening even though her friends love my witty off-the-cuff remarks.

#4…Since February 25th 2012 the top countries of my avid RICH RIPLEY readers are as follows: United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia (G’day mate!), Brazil, Indonesia?, Germany, France, India and (drum roll please…) Chile (which is one of my favorite foods…so yeah…good job everybody). Take Monday off.

#5…With one daughter in Japan attending college and another accepting a position with a worldwide airline company we only have one little girl left in our house…and at the tender age of almost 18, she’s all ready to fly the coop to college. Soon enough we’ll be “empty-nesters”. I’m not quite sure how I feel about that. In one sense…its the natural progression of what we wanted our girls to do, but it seemed to happen so fast. Photo albums show me that they didn’t age from 8 to 18 overnight, but my throat gets tight when I think of how fast the last ten years have gone and my eyes have a little trouble seeing those photos…it must be the light or allergies making me mist up. I guess that I’ll just have to wait around and see what the next ten years bring. God-willing…more wonderful memories. Take care and God bless.


So tired….so thankful…

It’s been a long, cold winter. I’m tired. My body aches for rest. It’s been a basketball season of goals set and goals met. A season of realized satisfaction in so many ways, some expected, some unexpected and in some heartwarmingly wonderful ways. I grew as a basketball official and am the better for it.

Throughout the season I’d have something happen during the course of a game and while interesting it wasn’t something that I’d have the time to write about at that moment or maybe it was just something notable and not “whole blog-worthy.” The following are some of those “notables” and experiences.

• I had recently worked a varsity girl’s game. Their coach was a short, heavyset, bellicose man. He was a nice guy prior to the game but once the game was going he barked constantly about the game and our efforts (some coaches are like this…always barking…literally, barking). His team won and moved up into the rankings of the “elite” teams of our state. The following week we were working a game in which his team played against another team. His ranked team was so much better than the overmatched squad that they were playing against it wasn’t a close game, at all. There was a forty point spread at halftime. Our crew chief, Fred, approached the fiery coach at halftime in the hallway outside of our respective locker rooms. Fred explained that the losing team only had one good player and that she had four fouls (the player is disqualified upon earning their fifth foul) and that we (as an officiating crew) wouldn’t call the losing team for minor infractions in the second half since they were (God bless them) so bad at basketball. The normally argumentative coach replied “I understand. Don’t let that girl foul out.” Now some would argue that the coach didn’t have anything to gain by arguing with our decision and that he was winning by forty points but I thought that he showed mercy towards an opponent who didn’t ask for it nor was he going to gain any good publicity out of it. Well played coach. Well played.

• Early in December I had a chance to fill-in with a varsity crew at a school that was very close to the area of Iowa that I grew up in. As happens with most of my assignments there is a freshman game being played as I arrive. I head to the locker room to get my uniform on and pre-game with my crew of that night. After the freshman ended those officials came into our locker room to change and head home. Introductions and handshakes were exchanged (as well as a few quick jokes and stories). I recognized one of the officials last names and asked if he was related to the “Deerberg’s of Bennett” (where I grew up and went to school). His face brightened and over the course of the next couple of minutes we figured out that his second cousin is a girl (Lonna) that I had graduated from high school with and that he and she work for that school district. Small world…kind of. Forty-five minutes later I’m out on the basketball court working a game when, during a time out, I hear my name being called from the bleachers. I usually don’t get called out by name from the bleachers (it’s usually something a little more ‘colorful’) but I looked over and saw that earlier basketball referee from my hometown, standing up and pointing to his cell phone and yelling to me “…it’s Lonna! She says “HI!!” I find that story funny when I wonder how that conversation went when Rob called Lonna. “Hey…Lonna. Rob here…you’re not gonna believe this….but do you remember a kid from your class…” Small town Iowa.

• I was working a different game in which, for whatever reason, the defender decided to guard his opponent…backwards. Perfect guarding stance…though his butt-faced his opponent and he looked over his shoulder. BUTT-ASS FACING, BACKWARDS. The fact that he was doing a really, really good job of blocking the path of the dribbler had the home team bench explode with “HE CAN’T DO THAT!! THAT’S ILLEGAL!!” Of course I was the closest official and I witnessed this weird action happening right in front of me. (Honestly, my mind was racing through the 300 plus pages of basketball rules and case plays that I had read through twice every fall prior to the season…in my head as Mister Backwards inhibited the home team’s guard’s progress to the frontcourt.) Eventually the defender turned himself around. After reviewing the play with my crew at halftime, I approached the home teams coach and said this “coach…I know that you had a concern with the legality of the defender guarding your point guard backwards. As a crew we’ve discussed it and found that as long as there’s no contact there is NO foul and that it’s not illegal. In fact we think that you should encourage their entire team to guard your team this way in the second half and see what happens.” The coach smiled and kind of acknowledged that it was a weird play, of which we’ll probably never see again.

• Honesty…usually the best policy. Late in a blow-out game I was running beside a fast break. The defender had set up to take a charge and the dribbler crashed into him. They both went to the floor in a heap and the ball went back to the defenders team in a heartbeat. I missed calling a charging foul. It’s one of the quickest fast action fouls with a set of requirements for the defender to abide by. Fast action, rigid set of rules, not many kids have the ability to “take them” and I TOTALLY MISSED CALLING THAT ONE. I felt bad for the defender. During the next dead ball as I was walking past his coach I bent down low so that I could talk to him. “Coach…your player took a great charge down there and I missed it. I’m sorry. He really did take a good charge.” The coach looked up, smiled and replied “I wondered why he didn’t get that call.” I said “because I blew it.” After the game, after the players went through the line and shook each other’s hands I found number 35 and told him that he did, in fact, take a good charge. He laughed and said that he thought that he did too. I’ll know better next time.

• One player was talking to me throughout the game about how the other team was doing illegal things, and so on and so forth. Finally I told him “Yeah…that might be happening but I haven’t seen it yet. What I have seen is you and your teammates grab your opponent’s jerseys as they cut through the lane.” The kid, towering over me, paused then a sly smile crossed his face as he replied “yeah…we do that.” I love talking to the kids, they make it fun. (and their jersey pulling was so infrequent that I didn’t call it…but I might next time)

• Sometimes during the team warm ups I’ll see some little kids sitting with their parents. Occasionally I’ll ask them “Why aren’t you playing? Where’s your uniform?” One little guy (all of five or six years old) looked up at me, pointed to the court and replied “I’ll be out there in ten years.” I laughed and told him “I don’t think that I’ll be here to keep up with you then.” That kid has at least one goal in mind, besides the Laffy Taffy and popcorn that he was eating at the time.

• My beltless britches. Once a concern of mine, aren’t any longer. My wife says that I “totally rock in them”.

• Late night after late night of getting home from a doubleheader at 10:30 or 11 then packing my ref bag again, eating supper, getting into bed at 11:30 then getting up at 5 AM for a ten hour work day before going to another game has me drinking Mountain Dew before games. I don’t normally drink that “high sugar, high caffeine” stuff but its effect on me is like spinach is for Popeye. I gotta be sharp for the game, at its beginning…though I know of nothing better than eight hours of uninterrupted of sleep. I need to find a happy medium on my game assignments. Working four and five nights a week at games and one night at the store makes me tired.

As I drove home recently, through the subzero darkness of yet another pitch black winter night I sat in chilly silence of a forty-five minute drive…thankful that the games went well and that no one was injured. Later on I crawled into bed, it cold on my side, making my tired legs, sore knees and feet ache even more. I slid up and spooned Connie…her warmth making my aches…ache less and warm my soul. Hazy warm slumber drifts over and envelopes me. I won’t be awake much longer. I thank God that I’m home. Thank God that I only have three more games. It’s been a long, cold winter. I’m tired….


Birthday eve…not what it used to be…

Remember as a kid the excitement that would surround your birthday? The presents that could be something really cool? Selecting birthday treats to share with your classmates? The birthday cake? The special meal? I was really blessed to have a family that made my birthday, or anyone’s for that matter, an event. Now, as an adult, it’s less of a “big deal” for me and more of “let’s find some time to set aside for a meal out and by the way…what kind of cake do you want me to order for you this year?” sort of deal. Still special. I still enjoy it…but in a less “anticipation-filled” way. I guess that’s part of growing up aye? My “birthday eve” this year will be working the 2 to 11 shift (the guy that writes my schedule is a real piece of ‘work’, so full of himself….its me).

This past year was great, it’ll be tough to top. A 25th wedding anniversary trip to Hawaii with Connie. Dropping some of the fat and adding some brawn. Lowering my chlorestrel and blood pressure. Accomplishing my goals in officiating basketball and completing my first year of umpiring baseball. Not too shabby for a guy who barely got a community college associates degree of applied science in retail marketing (is that really a degree? It must be….took me five years to pay it off).

I don’t have very many goals for this coming year. I was hoping to make it onto a “crew” for basketball for next season by dazzling someone into taking me in, but alas…its not to be, yet. I did do well enough this season to already be assigned varsity games for the 2014-2015 season, but as a “lone ranger” sort of ref…filling in where needed. My goals for my upcoming year are as such: umpire high school baseball in addition to USAAA Little League; officiate volleyball games (I don’t know a thing about the game…so its a leap of faith in my ability to learn new things, I suppose); and the biggest goal….to be assigned a post season basketball game to officiate as a third year ref. That’s the one that I really want, and work towards every time that I step onto the court.

For my birthday tomorrow I’ll celebrate with my co-workers with some cake that I’m having dropped off, then will officiate a girls game at a nearby school, then I’m taking a three-day weekend. A boys doubleheader game Friday night. Coffee with my best friend, Dave, on Saturday morning. Dinner and a movie with Connie Sue Saturday night, then just letting Sunday fall into place.

I'll be "this many years old".   (Times five, minus 2)  Kudos to my bride for catching my lightning quick mechanics on a "push" foul.

I’ll be “this many years old”. (Times five, minus 2) Kudos to my bride for catching my lightning quick mechanics on a “push” foul.

Take care friends. I appreciate you reading and wish you a happy, healthy and safe week.

Five to reflect on…

#1…I’ve changed the look of my blog, adding the image of “I’m kind of a big deal” as my theme. It’s a long-standing joke with me and those close to me that whenever someone acts or tells you that “they’re a big deal”….they aren’t really that big of a deal at all….which is why I sometimes introduce myself to others as “I’m kind of a big deal around here”. Its funny in a self-deprecating way and puts others at ease. “Big deals” such as myself commonly get told “Rich…someone just got sick to their stomach, aisle five needs a mop as soon as possible” so you know that I’m “way up there” on the proverbial totem pole of hierarchy.

#2…As I was driving home from work Christmas Eve night I frantically searched the radio dial for something other than Christmas music. Truth be told…I love Christmas music for about two days…then I can’t stand it as I hear it ten hours a day for a month. So while at a stop sign I searched the arm rest of my truck and found….a cassette tape that I had recorded….wait for it…on September 2nd 1984. This cassette was from back in the day when me and my buddies would get together and record music from RECORD ALBUMS to cassette tapes. It didn’t take seconds…it took the length of the time it took to play the song on the album. On this particular tape I had Prince (from his Purple Rain soundtrack), The Human League, Naked Eyes, Saga, Hall and Oates and Billy Idol. I smiled slyly as Prince belted out “Let’s Go Crazy” as I drove through the blackness of a snowy winters eve. If you had told an 18-year-old Rich Ripley back in 1984 that he’d be listening to this very cassette on Christmas Eve in 2013 he’d have probably said…”Where’s the John Denver cassette? He’s a really good singer too!” (Dead serious…I like John Denver and I ain’t apologizing…since I’m a big deal and all) After hearing that cassette I’m adding Ozzy, Night Ranger, Prince and some ELO to my iPhone music library. One thing that I did find out about myself in 2013…I like a little Lady Gaga. Somehow she ended up on my phone since my family and I share one account…so whatever they buy…ends up on my phone too. Pa Pa Pa Poker face…poker face. (Lady Gaga reference)

#3…Is it just me or does anyone else get a little tired of “new technology”? I just get used to using something and then an upgrade comes along and all hell breaks loose since the new and improved upgrade doesn’t “do” something that I really enjoyed using and it’ll take a couplea days for the kinks to get worked out….if at all. I’m not complaining about the change so much as the process of really thinking this thing through from the folks who initiate the change to begin with. Being told to just “play with it and you’ll figure it out” isn’t a viable option many days. “Playtime” for me doesn’t include computers.

#4…My best read blog of 2013…was about Hawaii, Pearl Harbor in fact, and not about me in my swimsuit. (apparently I’m not that BIG a deal in a swimsuit)

#5…2013 was a great year for me. I accomplished several goals that I had set for myself. Kept the weight off, dropped 20 points on my cholesterol and enjoyed myself. I have big goals for 2014 that I might be setting too high but for now…I’ll divulge one. To live the Matthew 25 ministry more often. It’s the one where the Lord told us that whenever you clothe the poor, feed the hungry or visit the lonely that you’re clothing Him, feeding Him and visiting Him. I fail in that mission more often than not, and am convicted. I commit myself to work on that as a priority this year, big deals are supposed to do that kind of stuff ya know?

Peace and hope to you and yours this 2014.

Opinions are like belly buttons…

…everyone has one.

Such was my thinking after my first varsity basketball game on December 10th. The two other officials that I worked with that night literally nailed me with their well-intentioned “pointers” on how to do things more like they did. During time-outs they’d saunter over to me and whisper something like “on that last call of yours, your hand was ‘fisted’ for a foul when it should have been an open hand for a violation…just letting you know..” (this makes absolutely no sense to the avid readers of RICH RIPLEY, but to basketball referees…there is a difference). Long story short, I started doubting my abilities during the game. I thought “Holy crap!! I’ve been around so many people telling me that I was doing well then these guys don’t know me and now I’m a regular idiot!!” I gave myself a quick pep talk and finished the game as I had started….doing it my way. Once in the locker room I apologized to the guys for messing up their system of doing things and they both apologized for being critical. One thing that I didn’t do was to point out their mistakes to them, which there were a few, but they brought them up themselves during our post game talk. It was a fairly uneventful night that left me thinking that I did “okay” but could do much better the next time out. I filed away my partners advice that night under “wait and see.”

My next time out was two days later and I was working with a couplea guys that I had worked with this past summer, and we did good together. The following night we worked together again and did great…working like a well oiled machine. It struck me then that many of my games this year will be like this as most nights I’ll be with two total strangers trying to work together as a unit of three officials applying the rules of basketball to a group of ten players running up and down a court with several hundred people watching and cheering them on and jeering our calls. Opinions…like belly buttons….

Here’s some quick notes that I took these past few weeks from the games that I did:
1…Most officials are meticulous packers. They’ll pack not only their uniform but a back up uniform “just in case”. I know one guy who packs two of everything…shoes, sox, etc, but four shirts. Go figure.
2…Officials wear more black spandex under their uniforms than you’d ever guess.
3…My pregame meal usually consists of a McDonald’s hamburger, medium fry and Coke. Hasn’t. Failed. Me. Yet.
4…We change into our uniforms wherever there’s room. Coaches office. Officials locker room. History classroom.
5…Sometimes we get to shower after the games, sometimes not. When I do get to shower after the game there’s a good chance that there’s no hot water. Maybe the pipe that leads to the shower head passes somewhere within ten feet of a hot water heater…but providing hot water to the officials is low priority stuff is what I’m finding out.
6…High school kids crack me up. To the cheerleader in the pep band thumping out on her bass guitar Bachman Turner Overdrives “Takin’ Care of business” to the players being introduced and doing their individual performances as their names are announced.
7…The playing of the National Anthem gives me a lump in my throat, as we stand beside one another with our hands over our hearts.
8…One crew will pregame methodically, going over probable scenarios whereas another crew will tell me “Rich…we don’t call stupid stuff…so don’t call stupid stuff.” Other guys will end with “remember…have fun.” I like them both.
9…Some schools treat you well…others barely acknowledge that you’re there.
10…We’re rarely reimbursed for mileage. I drove 80 miles round trip. Nada. My partners that night who drove an hour and a half one way…zilch.

I’ll finish with this. It was during my first week of officiating varsity basketball. Things were going well, my two partners and I were working well together and the Athletic Director came into our locker room prior to the boys game and told us that he’d have pulled pork sandwiches and bottles of water waiting for us after the game. Well…the visiting team, who had been down by thirteen points at halftime, came back and took the lead with two minutes left to go in the game. Rival student sections belted out chants across the court at each other, cheerleaders got the crowd to its feet during a time out. Tim, our referee that night, gathered us at half court and said “don’t fear the call, want to make the call” which put us all on the same page mentally (as if we weren’t there already). We were ready to call anything if it came our way. What came my way in that final two minutes was a tipped pass that went off of the offensive players finger tip and I blew it dead and with some authority bellowed “blue” and pointed down court. The place erupted (I couldn’t tell you if it was a good or bad reaction….I just make the call and we go with it…but it was a good call). The game ended with the visitors winning a close game and us running off the court. Once in the locker room we did our post game, showered and departed….our pulled pork sandwiches and water never materialized. We walked together to our trucks in the parking lot…we always walk together…bad things can happen to lone officials in parking lots.

After half an hour of driving my stomach growls and the thought of the once promised but never delivered pull pork sandwich weighs upon my empty stomach. Fifteen minutes later I’m pulling away from a McDonald’s after inhaling a McRib sandwich which calms the riot act that was coming from my gut. I go over in my mind what, if anything, I could have done differently during tonight’s games to be a better official. It’s a very short list, barely worth thinking, but self-analysis is a good thing, done with a goal in mind. I’m getting closer to where I want to be. My mind begins to drift abit as I calm down from the game…the headlights illuminate the blacktop, white with crushed road salt, as it shoots under me. I look out at the rolling Iowa countryside covered in snow as the moon and stars fill the sky and make a beautiful nightscape. The defroster in my truck works in vain as the frost creeps along the top edge of the passenger window, reminding me of the single digit temperatures outside. Its quiet. Its beautiful. I’m happy….but that’s just my opinion.

May you and yours have a happy, healthy and hope filled Christmas.

All clowning aside….I’m ready

I’m ready for the season. I’m registered, certified, confident and ready to hit the court. I’ve been assigned a steady diet of large school freshman and sophomore games with older, more experienced officials, and numerous smaller school varsity games. 32 nights. 53 different games. I’m staying sharp by officiating rec leagues and helping out with first year guys. I’ve been blessed with an understanding wife and family, great mentors, understanding employer and good health. One thing that struck me this morning was the “what if” factor. What if I hadn’t run into the great teachers that I’ve come to know as friends, who have answered my questions, redirected me when wrong and supported my growth? Would I still be in the position that I find myself in now? Not likely. Our good and gracious Lord put them there, and for that I’m thankful as well.

I recently ran into an experienced baseball umpire, younger than me, full of passion for the game, whom I had met last March at an umpiring clinic. I’ve run into him a couplea times throughout the summer but something about him always struck me as “off”. It wasn’t his knowledge of the game, rules or game management (though he is a little gungho)….it’s that he sounds like the cartoon character Daffy Duck. I’m dead serious. I’m sure that by the third or fourth inning everyone within earshot is tired of hearing “TTTTHHHHHHHRRRRIIIKKKKKEEEE THREEEE!!” or “TTTHHHHHAAFFFFEEEE!!” So maybe I won’t be as passionate about baseball as I am about basketball…I can live with that for now. I have a seasons worth of games with the knowledge that more will hopefully spring up.

Until then…peace,

All things considered….I intend to dazzle ’em with gold glitter.

I’ve been blessed this week. My efforts at work have been recognized by my new boss, I’ve been assigned a couplea more varsity basketball games for the upcoming season, I’ve gotten back out onto the court and worked a few games and had a chance to unwind and just things in general have gone my way (except for winning the Lotto…that never goes my way. Ever.)

I had just completed a stretch of working thirteen of the past fourteen days and was flat-out dog tired. My first day off in what seemed like months started with breakfast, a productive workout at the gym, second breakfast with Connie at the downtown farmer’s market (who can say “no” to a fresh and delicious cinnamon roll with my favorite girl?) then lunch with my best buddy whom I’ve known for twenty-nine years (after three hours of howling at each others jokes, life-stories, trials and tribulations and some good chow and some ice-cold barley-pop we said “good-bye”) then some football on TV, then a nap then finishing off leftovers (fried chicken, baked beans and party potatoes) from the night before I parked myself on the couch and watched the movie “The Green Mile”…one of my favorites. (Sigh). Oh…I forgot…Connie bought an apple pie at the farmers market so there was pie throughout yesterday as well…and some chocolate cake that I had purchased Friday night (when you’re on a roll….you’re on a roll).

My new beltless basketball officiating slacks came back from the seamstress (they come to me un-hemmed) and I tried them out at a kids game that I worked Thursday night. Now let me state this…I like wearing belts and I am somewhat skeptical of beltless britches…so I bought a size smaller than what I typically wear so they wouldn’t slide over my vivacious hips as I run up and down the court. Let’s just say that they have a “death-grip” on my hips, but I can breathe and (I’m not making this up) I look AMAZING in them. The gold glitter strips that I had stitched onto the length of the outer legs really “dazzle-up” the whole outfit. I’m not lying…they really do.

I also ran into a coach, who by officiating standards, is a nut-job. He played locally at a big-time college and a little in the NBA…so he’s the “be all, end all” authority when it comes to basketball (not so much). He’s also over seven feet tall. He intimidated me last season. This season he’s just another coach who talks too much (he coaches little kids but treats each game like it’s the Finals of the NBA). To his credit he doesn’t turn kids away from his program, and he’s their biggest advocate…but at a price.

A buddy of mine who suffered a broken foot while working a basketball game this summer, is well on his way to recovery so I’m happy with that, and with that in mind I’ve been increasing my work-outs so that I won’t get hurt (I really don’t know if it’ll help prevent the type of injury that he has but it shouldn’t hurt and with my love of pie the extra calories burned certainly won’t hurt me sliding into those size 33’s).

Until later…peace and hope,