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

 

Two moments defined…

I’ve posted twice in the past year, which is pretty paltry.  I used to crank out blogs with regularity.  Now…unless I’ve got something to say I’ll just take a pass on blogging.    That being said I’ll let you know what’s been going on here at RIPLEY INDUSTRIES.

let me fill  you in.  I’m a fifty-two year old guy.  I’m middle-management at a small grocery store, have been for almost thirty years (THAT…ladies and gentlemen is a Cal Ripken-like streak).  I referee basketball games in the fall and winter, baseball in the spring and summer.  As for the present moment I’m just cooling my heels waiting for the weather to turn warm enough not to snow.  I was supposed to umpire five games last weekend until it snowed seven inches.  I’m supposed to umpire a double-header this Saturday.  I drove past the ball field this morning and its still 40% covered in snow….so yeah.  Not feeling real good about getting out there.

Consequently, though, I spend my days off from work lining up baseball games to work this season.  There’s USSSA.  American Legion, Perfect Game, high school games  and an adult wood bat league all of which will keep me busy each night of the week if I’d like.  Its just a matter of not double-scheduling oneself on the same night in two different places.  I had it happen to me twice last season where a partner didn’t show up to help out.  Ever try umpiring a game by yourself…?  Not easy.  Anyway, here are my favorite two stories about basketball refereeing.  One is from personal experience.  The other is one that I heard second hand.

I enjoy refereeing basketball more than baseball.  Here’s one reason.  Those “feel-good” stories.  It was Senior Night at a local school.  While our crew waited in the shadows of the bleachers each Senior basketball player (it happened to be a girls game that night) would get her photo taken with her parents, one on each side of the player.  This particular team had a special needs girl on their team.  I looked up just in time to see her and her parents photo being taken.  OMG…she beamed, people.  She absolutely radiated light, hope, joy and LOVE with her smile.  Her parents were drunk with happiness…them…sharing a moment together before their name was announced and the three of them walked arm in arm to center court, roses in hand, for the crowd to acknowledge with applause.  I choked upDead serious.  A beautiful, tender moment got to me.     Fast forward to us referees speaking with the head coaches and the school athletic director.  They’d hashed out a plan for this special girl.  She would start the game.  The home team would let their opponents win the tip, go down and score…then they’d let the special girl score, followed with a quick time out to sub in for her (it was a conference game late in the season).    Everything goes as planned, almost.  The visiting team won the tip and brought the ball down court when the home team didn’t let them score.  In fact…they played great defense and got the rebound.  The home team threw a long pass down court to their special teammate who immediately knocked down a tough eighteen foot jump shot from the wing.  The gym…EXPLODED!!  I mean it.  Absolutely ape-shit crazy.  I looked at her coach, who was wildly calling for a timeout, and granted it.  Her teammates poured onto the court hugging and high-fiving this special girl…the full gym rocking with cheering.  Again…I swallowed hard.  Dang kids making me sentimental.  #lovethissport

The next story is second hand.

During Christmas break a local high school teenager drowned.  The referee crew who was to work at the deceased students school right after the break ended wanted to donate their game checks to the young man’s memorial….on one condition…that their donation of their game checks not be announced, it was to be confidential.   The schools athletic director was floored, absolutely floored by the officials offer.  He thanked the officials, literally begging for their permission to announce their good deed.  The officials wanted no attention, nor recognition and that was that….until the officials started their way back to the gym after halftime of the varsity game.  It started with kids intermittently shaking the crews hands outside of the locker room.  As the officials made their way into the gym they heard a smattering of clapping that grew into applause from the whole of the bleachers.  Then players from both teams stopped warming up, turned towards the officials and joined everyone else by clapping.  Apparently the athletic director announced during halftime that the referees of that nights contest had generously donated their game checks to the young mans memorial.

I asked one of the officials why they did it.  His answer…”We’re all parents.  We all love our kids.  Isn’t that what we should all do…?”   I know of several stories like this….where the game fees are turned back to the school or towards the fund-raising efforts of a student who’s fighting cancer, or whatever.  It happens…you probably just don’t hear about it because we don’t shout about the good things nearly as often as we do about perceived slights.  Change that in your life.  Yell about the good.   #positivechange

Well kids…that wraps up today’s edition of RICH RIPLEY.  Take care of yourselves until next time.  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

 

 

Its in the books….2016-17

Unless the folks in charge of officials suddenly realize that they’ve left me out of sub-state or state action, my high school season of officiating basketball is over until November.  Its kind of a melancholy moment, realizing that you’re not thought highly enough of to get the “great games” but honestly….I’m sore and tired.  My whole body hurt by the time the season ended.  Oh….by the way…yours truly got three post-season games.  My season ended with a flurry of six games in six nights, with the furthest being an hour and a half away on a Monday night.  Regardless…here are bullet points of my season:

  • Last season I assigned five technical fouls.  This season only one.  I could have had three more very easily but chose instead to talk to the coaches, to calm them down.  In hind-sight…I should’ve whacked ’em.  All three were sub-varsity coaches behaving poorly.  I did the game no favors by letting them pace the sideline, holler like they were coaching the Bulls and question every call.  I applaud their passion, though want the game to be the show…not the coach.
  • I had a (wait for it….) good season.  Only one regrettable moment where I put the ball into play without my partners being ready.  Sounds innocent enough….right?  WRONG.  DEAD WRONG.  I lost sleep over that brain fart.  Lesson learned.  It won’t happen again.
  • I worked a game with the flu.  I thought that I was going to die on the way home.  Didn’t. 
  • I worked a weeks worth of games with a cold.  It felt like my legs were tree stumps. When I work games with a cold I don’t take cold medicine….I gotta keep my focus,  even if I feel like a baby treats a diaper.
  • We have a new partner on our three-man crew for next season.  His name is Jon.  Jon works out and eats right.  Jon’s built like a brick ****house.  Our other partner is fifteen years younger than me and works out too.  I think that I’m in for some serious body-shaming this upcoming season if I don’t lose ten pounds and get into the gym soon…and stay there.  (dammit!!)
  • No sooner does my high school season end for 2017 when…eleven games for 2017-2018 show up in my email.  Eleven!!  (This is how nerdy I am…) I’m looking forward to them already.  Most are teams that I’ve done before though there are a few new ones there.  Good road trips type of games.  I.  Can’tWait!!

Photos gallery of this past season:

Post game meal waiting for us in the locker room. Hot dogs, pretzels, Gatorades, Snicker bars and Doritos. This school takes great care of officials. Others give you a bottle of water and that's it.

Post game meal waiting for us in the locker room. Hot dogs, pretzels, Gatorades, Snicker bars and Doritos. This school takes great care of officials. Others give you a bottle of water and that’s it.

After the game. Do you see all of our groupies waiting for us...at center court? I didn't think so

After the game. Do you see all of our groupies waiting for us…at center court? I didn’t think so

Pregame....just waiting for the sophomore game to finish. Joel stretching out and Dan reviewing the rule book.

Pregame….just waiting for the sophomore game to finish. Joel stretching out and Dan reviewing the rule book.

This night we're in the coaches office. Not too glamorous but at least its warm and roomy.

This night we’re in the coaches office. Not too glamorous but at least its warm and roomy.

Never leave a music teacher alone in your back seat with frosted windows. Never....

Never leave a music teacher alone in your back seat with frosted windows. Never….

On our way to Cedar Falls

On our way to Cedar Falls

At our first tournament game.

At our first tournament game.

An hour and a half drive. Great sunset...again.

An hour and a half drive. Great sunset…again.

Did I tell you that leaving a music teacher alone is a bad idea?

Did I tell you that leaving a music teacher alone is a bad idea?

An hour + drive started out with Joel playing C.W. McCall's Convey three times in a row. Loved. IT.

An hour + drive started out with Joel playing C.W. McCall’s Convoy three times in a row. Loved. IT.

Baseball starts in two and a half months.  Time to get into the rule book.  Sadly…my real love really begins on December 5th….for now.  More games should be assigned soon.  Thanks for coming along.  God bless!

R

On this hallowed eve…

Ahhh….turning 51 tomorrow.  What can I say?  My celebrity pals have been all over it.   Brad Pitt sent me a pair of mittens that he knitted himself (or so he says…).  Beyoncé dedicated a song to me at her last concert (or so she says…I wasn’t there.  Her concerts are past my bedtime) and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said that the first touchdown pass that he throws in tonight’s Super Bowl will be for me (he always says crap like that…).   Anyway…celebrity notables aside, here’s what’s on my mind as I turn 51:

  • You know that you’re getting older when the gifts that you receive become more and more about comfort and “socks” are mentioned as your number one item.  Instead my beloved bride bought me a really nice chair to sit my dainty derriere into whilst I sit in front of the computer, making funny for you folks.  Nicely played Connie Sue.
  • Failure isn’t fatal.  If I had come to this realization forty years earlier I can’t help but think just how different this life would be.  In high school I would have danced my ass off at homecoming and prom.  Ass….OFF.  I would have shot the ball constantly in basketball.  You can’t score if you don’t shoot.  I probably would have started down a different career path.  It’s not that I don’t like what I do now, it’s just maybe these talents would have been better suited elsewhere.  At the age of 51…its probably too late to try something different.  Everyday I’m around many young people. I encourage them. I let them know that while I am their boss and hold them accountable for their actions that they are valuable and there’s no such thing as a “perfect life”.  That todays culture doesn’t put enough importance on being: honest, trustworthy, friendly, moral, having a good work ethic and playing nice with others.  That you don’t have to agree with everyone. That life is oftentimes a grind of the boring and mundane.  That it’s up to you to make it happen for you.  And while I’m at it…making work fun and stable for those under my watch.  I really appreciate those tried and true stalwarts of my work day.
Failing...?

Failing…?

  • Are you like me?  Old enough to remember the days when you had to buy a rock groups whole album just to get the ONE song that you really liked?  Albums were like ten bucks or more, and unless the group was really good you had just paid ten dollars for one song.  That’s why I think ITunes is the bees knees.  $1.29 for one song.  Just a couplea clicks and its downloaded into your computer.  A few more clicks and its burned onto a blank DVD-R for the CD player in my old Chevy truck.  Quick survey…who has AC/DC AND the Statler Brothers in their ITunes library?  Anyone…?  Anyone…?  Just…me?  Figures.  The Class of 57 is GOLD people.  GOLD.
  • Yes, I will be getting back into the gym.  Officiating basketball doesn’t really keep a guy fit or build the upper body.  Goals set.  Failure looms.  Let’s see what happens.
  • At this age I’m probably more apt to call a spade a spade, a drama queen a drama queen and walk away from idiots rather than waste my time and energy.
  • I traveled to four different countries this past year.  Headed to Europe this year.  I’m pumped.  I’m also pumped to take a two-day road trip, camera in tow,  of the back roads of my beloved home state…Iowa.  I might even make it a three-day trip.
Hanging Lake is stunningly beautiful....but when your daughter asks you to do a pano selfie you jump ALL OVER IT!!

Hanging Lake is stunningly beautiful….but when your daughter asks you to do a pano selfie you jump ALL OVER IT!!

Rooms next to the river.  Nuff said

Rooms next to the river. Nuff said

  • I haven’t gotten any post-season officiating assignments.  There’s still time, I suppose, but I’m skeptical.  It’s a bitter pill to swallow when you do your best, get a glowing evaluation from a state clinician at a big time game, love the sport and work on it daily to get better only to be on the outside looking in…left out of the tournament.  I had a great season, nothing can diminish that.  I’m a good official, and so are the guys on our crew…but it wasn’t meant to be this season.  Failure isn’t fatal, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lesson to learn from it.  I just don’t know what that lesson is, yet.  I’ll have all off-season to mull it over.  All.  EightMonths. 
It could be a long offseason....

It could be a long offseason….

  • I’ll be published!!  A magazine contacted me about writing an article for them.  Dead serious!  I signed a contract and am getting paid to write.  I had my right-brained wife (who’s real anal about being smart…cause she is…) proof-read the article prior to submission.  She had me add a couple dozen comma’s and apostrophes.  Nuff said.
  • It’s a time of transition.  My old classmates are becoming grandparents.  Those big-haired, sexy vixens from the early nineteen eighties are now grannies…and are totally rocking it!!  I love seeing them with their grandkids on Facebook.  It’s also a time when some of my older friends are retiring.  What.  The.  Hell?!  I can’t have friends that old…can I?  Good for them.  AARP has been blowing up my phone trying to get me into their stable of older celebrities.  I’m not buying…for now.
Ooo...touch tone phones?!  Why didn't you SAY so?

Ooo…touch tone phones?! Why didn’t you SAY so?

  • This next year I’ll try to shore up some long time friendships that have gotten on the cool side of luke-warm.  You may never know what kind of journey someone’s on until you park their ass on a bar stool and buy them a beer, or three.

Thanks to all of you for your friendship, for reading along and commenting.  I count myself truly blessed to have each of you in my life.  God bless.

R

 

 

Thank you for commenting. Yes…I am a wiseass

Its that time of the season when my body is constantly aching.  My legs, calves, ankles, feet and lower back are all requesting a steady diet of Advil.  All of the games that looked great last May and June when they were assigned to me have lost some of their shine in the present.  Don’t get me wrong, I still want to work them and love officiating its just the price that’s paid to work them.  The road trip there, up to an hour or more.  The boredom prior to the game, we’re there an hour before tip off and there’s only so much the same three crew mates can talk about.  The drive home and subsequent short night of rest before going back into work at 5:30 AM.  I love it…though it takes a toll.  Its that toll that prompted me to write a short Facebook post about what I’d like the fans, coaches and players to know about the games that I work.  I wrote it for family and friends to read.  Maybe a hundred people.  I wrote it in my usual witty wiseass way making a few valid points along the way.  It started getting shared immediately.  I changed my privacy settings to Public so that others might be able to read it. As of this morning its had almost three thousand likes and shares EACH.  That’s INSANE.  I’ve blogged seriously for several years and have never had a reaction like this.  Its been shared over-seas.  Its been written about in the Des Register.  I’ve had officials from all over contact me and thank me for writing and posting it.  There’s a movie deal in the works….(I’m lying now).  Seriously though, it’s perplexing to me how its resonated with folks.  Over five hundred comments, ninety-nine percent of them extremely positive.  A small fraction of the comments were negative.  I only deleted one, he was abusive. I kept the other negative comments to show readers what referees are up against.  Idiocy.  We’re up against idiocy.  A few folks wrote that I needed to “get out of the kitchen if you can’t stand the heat” or that I was being “thin-skinned”.  A long time coach questioned my motives.  Most readers of that post understood that I was being funny with a thread of truth that ran throughout.  For a  few others I commented that I had originally written this as a humorous post only for family and friends to read…not for the old ball coach at Cornstalk Community High to take as the Gospel.  Relax folks…if its on Facebook it’s not necessarily meant to be taken seriously…especially if its from yours truly.

Its been a good season.  Post-season officiating assignments are being released tomorrow with more games released later this month.  Its a honor to be assigned post-season games.  Fingers crossed I’ll get the call.

One sad note, our crew chief Joel is stepping aside.  Arthritis in his knees is making the games that we officiate together a painful burden.  He’ll still sub in for games when he can, but his departure is leaving a big hole.  He’s a big reason that I’ve gotten as far as I have in such a short time.  While we’ve gotten a replacement for him, and Jon will fit in just fine, we’ll miss our friend.

Dan, Joel and I

Dan, Joel and I

Until later please keep in mind that I am:

#1..a wise ass.

#2…see #1.

#3…don’t believe everything that you read on Facebook.

Fortunately for me I was asked to referee for the Special Olympics basketball tournament again this year.  Its one of the highlights of my season.  True story.

God bless.

R

 

803.5 hours…not that I’m counting

I’m like a caged animal.  A middle-aged, drowsy, impatient, bored out of his mind, tensed-up caged animal.  My officiating season starts in just 803.5 hours, give or take ten minutes.  Oh sure…I’ll “warm-up” with some middle-school games, those are always nice to start a season with, but the meat and potatoes of my season, the serious stuff, the stuff that really matters will start on Tuesday November 22nd.  I read the rules book in August. (it hasn’t changed).  The new rule book arrived Monday.  One major change from last year…e-cigarettes are banned from the bench now.  Who has two thumbs and never thought that he’d see THAT in the rule book?  THIS GUY!!   I’ve been watching training videos of games, gone to a clinic and daily read through more training books.  Honestly…it’s pretty boring stuff.  I can’t wait to get out there on the court.

I worked a preseason girls basketball league this fall, for the fourth year.  That’s always fun.  Informal yet serious.  It gets me some court time and a little spending money to boot.  When I first started officiating five years ago I’d work any basketball tournament that I could.  In the first two years of officiating I worked around 340 games…mostly AAU type of games where the parents and coaches scream and everyone has aspirations of “little Madison” or “little Dakota” getting a full-ride athletic scholarship to a D-I college.  I worked them to gain experience and money.  For the past two seasons I’ve avoided the majority of those tournaments.  The play is usually marginal.  The parents and coaches can be overbearing and it can be a crapshoot on who you’re working with as a partner.  Don’t get me wrong…there’s many good coaches and caring parents but I usually shy away from that environment.  Instead I’ve decided to work a few little kid tournaments where they’re just starting out.  Double-dribbling, traveling and three-seconds are usually overlooked in place of helping them learn and making the game fun for them.  For me…the reward, get new players into the game that I love and having them learn and have fun too.  The other reason that I don’t work as many weekend tournaments is…at the tender age of fifty, I just can’t work five or six games a day and be my best.  Honestly…I usually don’t get yelled at much when I do those games, even if they’re bigger kids games. It probably has more to do with me being a much better official now than when I started out.

I put these photos together on a meme generator.  It’s how I think folks around me view my officiating.

what-i-do

My two goals for this season are being patient with my calls and being a better communicator with coaches.  Sounds easy enough, yet it was a struggle last season and drove me crazy.  To be honest, those two are connected I suppose.

Dan "Double D" Dyrland. Joel "DuffMan" Duffy and me...the Rookie

Dan “Double D” Dyrland. Joel “DuffMan” Duffy and me…the Rookie

So…long story short.  I can’t wait for this season.  The games.  The road trips.  The camaraderie.   The stories told and re-told.  The laughter.  The pregame in the locker room. The athletes.  The echo of bouncing basketballs in an empty gym as we arrive. The excited chatter of fans before the game.  The great plays.  The blocked shots.  The three-pointers.  The drive to the lane where the defense is set up to take a charge and the dribbler dishes to a cutter who lays it in uncontested.  The three-quarter court press with ten seconds left.  The pep-band belting out BTO’s “Takin’ care of business”.  Checking the scorebook.  Working with the table. The explosion of sound from the bleachers on a block-charge.  The rowdy student section.  The smell of popcorn and the squeak of sneakers.  Its constantly learning.  Its being blessed to be on this crew and getting games from our assigners. It’s talking to players when no ones looking, asking them to clean up their game or they could pick up their third foul of the half.  Grandpa and Grandma sitting in the second row.  The starting line-ups.  Our national anthem.  Witnessing good sportsmanship close up. The non-verbals from Lead to Center to Trail.  The post-game break down on the drive home.  The satisfaction of knowing that we got it “right” even if the crowd/coaches/players beg to differ.  It’s knowing that my crew has my back, and I have theirs.  Its seeing the conference standings shaping up in late January and knowing that we have a possible “clash of the Titans”  type of game for first place in the conference on a Friday night.  (the gym will be packed!!)  The anticipation of receiving a post-season assignment.  Game management.  Seeing a third-stringer hit a three-pointer during garbage time and hearing their bench and the gym erupt.  Watching a team come back, the time out to stem the tide and letting the game play out as we watch for fouls, violations and another time out. Its mentoring new officials how I was taught. Its months later when a person sees me in public and tells me that they saw us work a close, hard-fought game at their school and letting me know that our crew did a really good job. Its the anticipation of working a game that adds excitement and possibilities to my work day.  It’s all good.  Its in my veins.  I’m addicted. 

closely-guarded-001

I can’t wait.

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