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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In a nutshell I attempt the impossible

A few thoughts from this past season of officiating basketball…

  • The season had just started when I had a bad night, it came out of nowhere.  Nothing was out of the ordinary in the game, but I made a bad call and got totally reamed by the coach.  I doubled my nights problems by making a second bad call early in the second half.  “Holy sh*t!!” is what I was thinking…TWO BAD calls in one game?!  I rarely have any, much less two.  I was having the worst night in my career and couldn’t wait to get off of the court, and it was only two calls.  Let me preface that by saying that the calls weren’t game-changing per say…every call affects the game but for me….it was a devastating bad night.  How did I make those calls?  Why did I make those calls?  What was going through my head?  I’ve worked hundreds and hundreds of games…why was this happening?! What was different on this night that I’d kick two calls when I rarely, rarely have any calls that I truly regret putting a whistle on?  It was a Tuesday night and I didn’t sleep but a few hours that night…like maybe three or four.  The next night wasn’t much better.  By Thursday I was so pissed off at myself that I couldn’t wait to get back out there on the court and prove to myself and my crew that Tuesday nights game was just a fluke, an anomaly…a minor blip on the radar of my young career.  An athlete can have an off night and its exactly that…an off-night that their shots don’t fall, they can’t dribble the ball nor rebound, their passes sail into the bleachers.  They catch a break from the crowd and coaches.  The coaches can have bad nights with the way that they prepared their teams for the game, and when the other team blows them out by thirty points it was because the other team was better that night…but when a referee has a bad nightdear God help him/her….they’re going to hear it from the student section, the parents, the fans, the coaches and their bench and last but not least…his/her crew in the locker room and the following days.  Officials are to be perfect.  As a crew we thoroughly went through that game the next day, spending almost twenty-four hours critiquing what went wrong.  As a crew…it was our worst night…ever.  After beating ourselves up for a day we put it aside and went out and had a great game our next night out.  I doubt that anyone else knows just how seriously that we take the game, except for other officials.  It keeps us awake at night wondering if we did our best.  I thank God that Joel and Dan were so patient with me during that week.  I was a basket-case.

Bringin' in the subs...

Bringin’ in the subs…

  • There are such light moments in sports that if you just stop and look around its beautiful. I worked over seventy school games this season.  From middle school seventh-graders to varsity boys 4A games where the kids dunk and are Division I recruits.  Each game has its challenges and rewards.  I was sitting in the bleachers putting on my shoes during a C game for eighth grade girls.  C games are the least athletic kids playing and hence…they get the gym teacher to officiate the game.  During warm ups there were toddlers walking on the floor as their big sisters took turns shooting free throws.  Gangly-legged, awkward girls trying to practice lay-ups without traveling with the ball and not having much luck but totally having a blast.  Players looking up into the bleachers expectantly, then upon seeing “Mom” or “Grandpa” breaking into a big smile and waving at them before returning to warming up.  Its seeing someone who isn’t a ball-hog throw the ball to their opponent because they didn’t know what else to do with it and the crowd roaring with laughter at the folly.  It’s kids who apologize and help the other player up after they knock them down.  Its the subs sitting deep on the end of the bench…eating tortillas slathered in nacho cheese sauce when the coach calls them to play and they tell their teammates to “make sure Dakota doesn’t eat these..” as she jogs straight onto the court without reporting to the scorers table.  Light moments, warm thoughts…I chuckle through my whistle.
  • Technical fouls…I rarely give any, I just don’t.  The game is about the game and players, not me and the coach.  Issuing a technical to a coach stops the game and makes it about something that he/she did that I now have to stop and address.  I was having a great season only issuing one technical foul to a kid who dropped the F-bomb fairly loud.  It was an easy call.  Then last week I issued three T’s in less than twenty-four hours, tossing one coach (I whacked him twice within about fifteen seconds…something that I regret doing).  Don’t get me wrong…he earned them and the suspension that’s required, but for me to let him get under my skin when he bellowed “DON’T PENALIZE ME FOR YOUR SCREW UP!!” was enough to really make me angry.  I take this vocation very seriously, always have…and he got to me.  I can’t let that happen again.
  • Last season I earned a post-season tournament game, which doesn’t happen very often for a third year official.  I was honored and hoped that I’d earn that honor again this season, and maybe get TWO (hey…a guy can dream…).  Well…I was lucky enough to earn….(wait for it….)…three post-season tournament games.  One girls semi-final regional and two boys quarter-final district games.  It’s validation of me doing well in this thing that I love.  Blessed to be on a great crew and blessed to get recognition.  My mentors taught me very well.

That...is a foul

That…is a foul

 

“Patience is the art of concealing your impatience”  Guy Kawasaki.

  • So yeah…mid-season we had a game where the intensity was very high.  The coaches were loud, the gym-full crowd was rudely opinionated (I seriously doubt that any one of them had read the 2015-16 NFHS basketball rule book nor its follow up case play book…either of which is a sure-fire page turner).  We heard several personal attacks on us as officials. Regardless, we had a game that as a crew…we walked away scratching our heads.  We didn’t feel that we had a good game as a crew, not nearly as bad as earlier…just not our normal kick-ass game.  My officiating boss e-mailed me later that same week, a friend of his who’s a college official was at the game and wanted to pass on some of his notes.  It went like this….”you’re good, but to be great and work deep into the post season you need to be more patient.  Wait half a second with your whistle and then get the call.”  My boss concurred.  I couldn’t disagree.  I’m as impatient as they come.  I have to work fast at my career, its required.  I eat fast, run fast, talk fast.  I’m fast, period….and now to get better and keep myself out of trouble on the court….I need to wait HALF A SECOND to blow my whistle (if needed) to make a call.  It’s been a struggle.  The average person thinks “half a second is nothing!!  Just wait.”  The game moves so fast. I’m a work in progress is all that I’ll say.  I want too, believe me.
  • My season ends quietly this afternoon at an 8th grade boys game held in a little town twenty minutes away.  Its an anti-climatic end to a wonderfully exciting and fun season.  Two nights ago I was working a game where there was a dunk on a steal in a big school gym that had several hundred vocal fans in it.  Today…I go back to where I came from…small town Iowa.  The game is important to the players, coaches, parents, relatives and now….me.  I want to end this season with a flourish.  I won’t be banging out calls like its the seventh game of the NBA Finals…but I’ll be ready….bet your ass I will.

During my drive to my tournament games Monday night it came to me that tonight...some boys playing careers will end.  They're Seniors in high school, and with a loss...their competitive playing days will be over.  The players and those Senior cheerleaders...its over tonight for them.  The squeak of sneakers on a basketball court, the smell of freshly popped popcorn, the ticket-takers letting you pass without paying since you're the player/cheerleader...it'll be over tonight.  I think of this as I drive towards the school, along blacktop highways on a raw and overcast late winter day as dead prairie grass and corn stalks reach up in vain....breaking the crust of a hard winter snow.  It'll be warm soon, time for baseball and the promise of new dreams...but for now...I'm sad.

During my drive to my tournament games Monday night it came to me that tonight…some boys playing careers will end. They’re Seniors in high school, and with a loss…their competitive playing days will be over. The players and those Senior cheerleaders…its over tonight for them. The squeak of sneakers on a basketball court, the smell of freshly popped popcorn, the ticket-takers letting you pass without paying since you’re the player/cheerleader…it’ll be over tonight. Your parents who brought you up, taught you to play the game and supported you through your playing career will either see that end, or have that career extended if for but one more tournament game.  I think of this as I drive towards the school, along blacktop highways on a raw and overcast late winter day as dead prairie grass and corn stalks reach up in vain….breaking the crust of a hard winter snow. It’ll be warm soon, time for baseball and the promise of new dreams…but for now…I’m sad that it’ll be over too soon for even me.

The hardest part of my basketball officiating season is…the off-season.  I’ll take a few days off then head into the gym for weights, stretching and running.  I’ll read the baseball rules, but its not the same.  My true love is waiting for me December 6th at center court.  Tip time 6PM.  Good seats still available.  I.  CAN’T.  WAIT!!

God bless,

R

Under the water tower….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace to you and yours,
R

Hold that thought….I’m not done yet.

Very few things “go as scheduled” in my life.

When my future wife and I decided that we’d get married a year after we first met…I proposed to her thirteen days after we had our first date….it’s a marriage that’s lasted over twenty-five years. I had decided that living apart from her for the next fifty weeks just wasn’t something that I wanted to do (and I’m glad that she felt the same way too!). Then three years ago when we decided to have new windows and siding installed on our home, what we ended up with was new windows, siding, shutters, gutters, new doors, new light fixtures and a new dishwasher, go figure. So yeah…very few things in my life are tied up in neat little gift wrapped packages…as is with most of you too I suppose.

A week ago I wrote of having ended my basketball season. It was over. Fini. Done. What I didn’t know was that my good friend Joel, who also officiates basketball, had hurt his knee and couldn’t finish his games that he had committed to….so I took them. I worked on his crew. They’re great guys and really good officials. Dan’s younger, annoyingly physically fit and a top notch middle school music teacher/music director at his church. Rich Matzen works at a bank. He could own the bank for all I know, he’s so down to earth and fun to be around that his career rarely comes up. When Rich enters the room the energy level enters another, higher, more positive level. Joel…my mentor, is a great guy and official with a killer R-rated sense of humor. I’ve had the chance to work on this crew a couple of different times this year and they’ve been a good deal of fun. So long story short….my school season ends this afternoon around 6…ESPN won’t be there so I thought that I’d just tell you that so that you’d know.

Here are some of the photos that I’ve taken this past season so that you’d have an idea of the fun that I’ve had and a couplea odd things too.

Rich, Dan and I...posing for a selfie before a game with our "game faces" on.

Rich, Dan and I…posing for a selfie before a game with our “game faces” on.

What you hope that your "officials locker room" looks like.  Toilet, sink, shower and a place to sit.  Well lit, warm and clean.

What you hope that your “officials locker room” looks like. Toilet, sink, shower and a place to sit. Well lit, warm and clean.

One of my locker rooms this season.  Creepy clown next to the toilet in a "locker room" that doubled as a storage closet.

One of my locker rooms this season. Creepy clown next to the toilet in a “locker room” that doubled as a storage closet.

Again...this "locker room" was the worst...with a sombrero for a shower cap...if I wanted it....which I didn't.

Again…this “locker room” was the worst…with a sombrero for a shower cap…if I wanted it….which I didn’t.

This is the typical gym that I'd work in.  Not too shabby.

This is the typical gym that I’d work in. Not too shabby.

While Dan judged a show choir contest I filled in and worked with Rich and Joel.

While Dan judged a show choir contest I filled in and worked with Rich and Joel.

The Top Ten Reason’s That
I Enjoy Working With
Joel, Matzen & Dan

1. The pregame center court “group-hug” initiated by Matzen, he smells like a combination of cinnamon, vanilla and freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. Honestly…I don’t want to let go of him since he smells so good.

2. The cool-ass way Dan finds a volleyball in the locker room then repeatedly dunks it during the halftimes of our games. “Dangerous Dan’s Dunkathon” is what I presently refer to it now. It’s a surefire crowd pleaser!!

3. The way Joel calls a “charge” on an offensive player. It’s a cross between the official NFHS mechanic and someone attempting a Pete Rose head-first slide into a base. He’s the most horizontal dude in the county at that time.

4. The unabashed way Dan flirts with the cheerleaders, the table, the fans…the elderly. It’s funny and awkward at the same time.

5. The “bottomless jar” of pickled eggs that’s always written into every contract that Duffy signs. “We’ll never go hungry if I have anything to do with it!!” is Joel’s favorite saying.

6. The “Kingdom Heirs” CD’s that Matzen’s always humming to…even during live-ball situations. Listen closely and you’ll hear Rich softly singing (to no one in particular) to the soulful Southern Gospel music of Jeff Chapman, Dennis Murphy, Arthur Rice, Jerry Martin, newbie Andy Stringfield & the French brothers. “Oh Lord my God…when I in awesome won…der….STRAIGHT UP WHITE!!…consider all the worlds thy Hands have made…OUTTA THE LANE RED!!”

7. The funny way Dan uses “jazz hands” when signaling to the table. Entertaining and confusing at the same time!!

8. The uncanny way that either Joel or Matzen know someone at every school that we go to. Southeastern Podunk Community High School in Nowheresville? Of course!! Joel’s second cousin (three times removed) on his mother’s side is the science teacher there!! Hayseed High School in the northeastern most county in Iowa? Matzen has family up that way. “Jeez guys! I was just up there for a funeral last month. They got a new water tower put up right next to the VFW!!”

9. The funny way during a 35 point blowout with 2 seconds left in the fourth quarter Joel will approach us and say “…remember guys…we can still screw this up if we don’t officiate to the end.”

10. You don’t need a radio in the car as long as you’ve got Dan Dyrland riding shotgun. The dudes full of Broadway show tunes that he’s just achin’ to belt out!! “Oklahoma” anyone? How ‘bout some “Cats”? HOW ABOUT BOTH!?! YES THANK YOU!!

Have a great week and thanks for reading.
Peace,
R

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.
Peace,
R