Honorable Mentions

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

this bruise is typical for umpires…

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

Thank you for coming along,

God bless…

R

Six bruises later…

Alas…three weeks into my baseball umpiring season and these stories are the notables of what’s transpired thus far:

I belong to several officiating forums from all over the country.  I don’t participate in the forums so much as read anything that might pertain to me and be of use in my officiating.  Without question there are usually several reports of coaches, parents and even athletes behaving poorly, even threatening the umpire.  Truth to told…I’ve had a couple of instances where the coaches have crossed the line and deserved to be booted from the game.  These happened early in my career so I didn’t handle them as appropriately as I could have.  Lessons learned the hard way I suppose.  With that in mind I approach each game with an open mind and only address the coaches when I need information from them.  It keeps it professional, in my opinion.

In one of the first games of my season I was the plate umpire.  I wear $95 MLB shin guards, a $100 plastic & foam chest protector, a $30 Shock Doctor protective cup and a  $150 hockey-style mask with $4.95 detachable throat protector.  I do whatever I can to protect myself and still do a good job.  Second batter of the game swings at a pitch and sends a screaming foul ball directly into my throat.  In an instant I’m spun around and doubled over clutching my throat.  In the milliseconds it replays in my mind I see my throat protector fly off into the air.  Both coaching staffs and my base umpire rush to my side to make sure that I’m okay…which I am…thank God.  The ball hit above my chest protector, below my helmet and directly onto the cheapest part of my equipment…bending one of the two snaps that hold it onto the mask.  One coach stood with me while a coach from the other coaching staff worked on my helmet…manhandling it until the throat protector was reattached,  A few days later a couple of bruises appeared on my collar-bone where the energy of that foul ball was expended.  My point is…these coaches didn’t have to come out and help me.  I’d like to think that they came out of their dugouts out of compassion and concern for another human being.  I believe that the vast majority of coaches are good people with good intentions. #thatsbaseball

In the same game a batter swung at a pitch and fouled it off of his face.  This was a big kid for his age.  Literally six feet, two inches tall and only fourteen years old.  He started yelling immediately.  The pain he was experiencing was completely obvious to anyone within earshot.  His coaches took him into their dugout as mothers for the team hurried about getting Advil and ice for the injured young man, while one wiped blood from his mouth.  I felt that he’d lose a tooth or two, maybe even fracture his jaw.   Baseball can be a brutal game.  #brutal

 

In the second game of that day I stopped into the dugout of the team of that injured young man.  “How’s #23 doing?” I asked to no one in particular.  One kid looked at me and replied “He’s right there….”.  Number twenty-three leaned forward, looked at me and in mid-bite of a Snickers bar answered “ahh…okay…”.  No lost teeth.  No broken bones…just a resilient, hungry teenager getting ready for the second game of a doubleheader.  #dangkids

In the second game of the same day, I was behind the plate again…none the worse for wear.  My collarbone ached from the earlier hit, but that’s part of the job.  The first batter got up, swung at a pitch and sent it back into my face mask, knocking it askew with its force.  Its been my experience that one foul ball to the mask doesn’t hurt, though it definitely gets my attention.  Some are so fast that they’ll make my jaw ache.  This particular batter looked back at me and asked if I was okay.  I adjusted my helmet and replied “I’m good.  Let’s go.”  The batter smiled and countered “Wow…that’s twice in one day that I’ve nailed you!”  It was the same kid that got to me in the first game with a foul ball to the throat.  #ouch

In a more recent game a pitcher was throwing heat, and had a curve ball that would occasionally curve, which is about right for 13U baseball.  While up to bat the oppositions coaches would yell to their batters “stand as far back in the box as you can!!”  Over and over the coaches pleaded with their team to “STAND BACK IN THE BOX” thus giving their hitters more time (albeit milliseconds) to see and attempt a swing at the incoming fastball.  One such batter glanced at me, rolled his eyes and slowly shook his head at his coaches exultations.  He stayed put in the box.  Struck out swinging.  #goodforyouson

And lastly….as a plate umpire I introduce myself to the catcher of each team prior to the first batter.  It goes like this:

  • Dust off the plate
  • Ask the batter if they’re ready
  • Extend my hand to the catcher and say “I’m Rich”

The catcher returns my handshake (some begrudgingly…) and usually replies with his name.  If not I won’t let his hand free from the handshake and reply …and you are?”  I don’t do this to intimidate the kid….I do it to get them into the habit of practicing this for when, and if, they move up to high school baseball.  I finish this little ritual with a pat on the catchers shoulder and tell them “if you have any questions just ask me, we’ll sort it out together…okay?  Let’s have some fun.”  

In my fifth and final game of the day I started this little ritual again.  My catcher was only about four feet tall and maybe sixty pounds.  He was his teams third-string catcher but made up for it with hustle and determination.  When I told him my name he replied “Demetrius”.  I replied “Nice to meet you Demetrius”.  The kid shook his head and tried saying his name again without me understanding it.  He lifted his tight-fitting hockey-style mask up just enough for the pads to clear his jaw and replied “GLAD TO MEET YOU.  I’m Cal.”  I chuckled and told him “I like Demetrius better.  Let’s see what happens and have some fun Cal.”  Good kid that Demetrius.  #smallbutmighty

Thanks for coming along and reading.

God bless..

R

 

My colon’s more popular than your colon

Who’s the worst?

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

Big Brothers/Big Sisters

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

Dieting…

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

My colon is famous!!

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

BASEBALL IS COMING!!

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

Thanks for coming along!

God bless!

R

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Upon further review….there’s more to say

As I ended my last blog (an award-worthy presentation) I was headed towards a small junior high school twenty minutes out of town in the country for an 8th grade boys game.  I was a little melancholy about it as it was my last school basketball game to officiate of this season.  I’ll miss officiating, period.  It gives me something to look forward to.  I meet great people.  I meet new people.  I make new friends. I see great athleticism up close. (there’s a lot of “I” in this…) Its a challenge to get it right, to manage situations and people in an emotionally charged atmosphere.  I love it.

That days “A” game featured two schools who have blossomed into conference rivals and their 8th grade teams really got after each other, throwing elbows and charging into other players.  I called two player control fouls and one team control foul in the FIRST HALF!! (the three other basketball officials reading this blog just said “THAT’S INCREDIABLE!!” while the rest of you just glossed over that part with a shrug of your shoulders).  Long story, short.  Great game that went down to the last second.  I couldn’t have asked for anything better.

Do you know what’ll make you feel old and very mortal?  The answer…falling down.  Flat, on your side from a running position.  I did exactly that…at that game, try THAT sometime.  Tripped on my own size 11 feet while turning towards the new front court as the players were headed towards me….tripped and fell to the floor…at half court…in front of a hundred or so people.  I won’t lie (like I normally do…). It hurtIt took my breath away.  As I laid there I wondered if my officiating partner that day would see me down on the floor and blow the play dead then rush over to inquire as to my good health and equilibrium.   Nope.  THAT, ladies and gentlemen, will make you feel old.  I should have just laid there at half-court until SOMEONE…SOME CARING INDIVIDUAL exclaimed “DEAR GOD IN HEAVEN!!  THAT WONDERFUL AND ADORABLE REFEREE HAS FALLEN!!  DOESN’T ANYONE CARE?!?!” but no one did…so I gamely got up and wobbled down court. One of the teams took a time-out shortly thereafter, thank God. I took the ball to half-court where we’d inbound it….right where I’d fallen.  As I walked to that area a lady looked at me, patted the video camera in her lap and told me “I got it all on video for you…”  The folks around her chuckled and I had to as well.  I replied “If you submit that to America’s Funniest Home Videos and win I want 25% off the top” and she topped that with “I thought that you might need it for insurance!”  Needless to say…I was sore for the next few days….hip and ribs.  Feeling old and venerable, but adorable…that’s the way that I ended the 2015-16 season.  (I knew that you’d want to know….)

I’ll jot a few notes during the season about the games that I’ve worked.  I don’t use many of them, though here are a couple of my favorites.

  • One Friday night, during a heated rivalry, we were officiating in a packed gym.  No one liked our calls.  Not the coaches.  Not the players.  Not the adults.  Not the kids.  We were getting an earful from all quadrants, and some of it pretty nasty stuff.  As I walked with the ball towards the far sideline (I rarely look up into the bleachers to make eye-contact) I neared and in the middle of a bunch of raucous adults voicing their displeasure I made eye contact with a older lady with bright red hair (probably somewhere in her sixties) who was sitting there…quietly…with a little smile on her face looking back at me as the folks around her protested.  She was so calm and pleasant in those surroundings. I gave her a quick wink and smirk.  She returned the wink and grinned.  I thank God for reasonable people in the midst of the foolhardy.  Play on.
  • At one of the junior high games that I worked I ran into two teams that were totally the opposite of each other.  One knew how to play the game very well, the other did not.  The first half ended with the score 38-5.  I didn’t call fouls (they didn’t foul…they were that bad) or traveling, or double-dribble and the opposing coach could see what I was doing and was very good about it.  They were awful and not having fun, you could tell by their body language and expressions.  Time drags during games like that.  Each whistle stops the clock.  Everyone in the gym is silently pulling for the bad team to do ANYTHING a little better.  Even the good team would steal the ball then cross over into the front court and would then back it out waiting for the defense to catch up with them.  Eventually one of the girls on the bad team launched a 1950’s style shot from behind the three-point line.  It hit the rim hard, bounced high then kissed the backboard before coming back down and rattling around the rim before settling into the net.  The gym explodedLiterally EXPLODED.  A three-point basket!!  On their next possession the same player launched another three-point attempt and….nothing but net!!  SWISH!!!  The gym was going bananas!!  Players were jumping up off their benches!!  The bleachers were filled with folks high-fiving each other while others laughed openly wondering “what got into her?!” types of looks.  I stole a glance at the opposing coach as I ran down court, she was doubled over laughing.  I’m not sure what the final score was, probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 60-15, but what will be remembered by practically everyone there were that players two back-to-back three-pointers, and the fun that they could now say that they had….playing in that game where sportsmanship prevailed. 

Many folks don’t have any idea just how much spandex basketball officials wear during games.  The answer is…A LOT.  I’m literally covered from my neck down to my knees in spandex, then knee braces, then two pairs of socks, one of which is a thirty dollar pair of compression socks….all covering a body lathered in Ben-Gay.  True story…we were getting ready to work a game when an older referee walked into the locker room.  He walked in, started saying something then abruptly stopped and exclaimed “WOW!!  SOMEBODY SMELLS GREAT IN HERE!!”  That…ladies and gentlemen…gets you noticed.  Ben-Gay.  Good for me.  Good for you.

Here’s something that’s kind of awkward.  For instance, the home school pays for the officials of that evening game(s).  Its roughly $90.  Most send you a check within a few weeks. I track whom I’ve been paid by and who hasn’t paid me.  As of yesterday’s mail I’m still owed by two schools, so on Monday…unless the checks arrive today…I’ll call those schools and ask if the checks have been issued.  It’s awkward at one school since the coach is the athletic director and it was his team that lost a hotly contested game on a shot that fell with a few seconds left to play.  “Umm…hi coach…remember me?  You planning on paying our crew for that nights double-header…?  Coach…?  Hello…?”

In conclusion (I’m wrapping it up…pay close attention) I’m starting to pay special attention to my weight.  In the past my weight has gradually increased, with no notable affects as I was skinny to begin with.  With middle-age and officiating so much during the year I could continue to eat like a teenager without consequence.  Before this past year losing weight was as easy as pie (I love pie…that’s a poor choice of words…but it’ll stay).  Last off-season I gained fifteen pounds, and it doesn’t become me.  After 70+ games I still have ten of those fifteen pounds. I’m now counting calories.  I’m now using portion control. I made it to the gym this morning and begrudgingly rode an exercise bike and burned off only enough calories to cover the tablespoons worth of raspberry preserve that I had on my English muffin for breakfast this morning.  For lunch…an egg and hash browns, and not much of those.  No more candy, or the dish of peanut M&M’s on the coffee table.  I have fresh and dried fruit. I have whole grain English muffins….and I’ll have to exercise more than ever since I still love to eat.  I’m hungry. It’ll be okay.  I’ll be fine.  I’m not looking to lose weight so much as to maintain, and to firm up what’s there. We were recently at a really nice hotel for my 50th birthday…in case you missed it, it was February 6th….I was reaching for something by the sink when I saw something jiggle in the reflection of the hotel mirror.  My man-boobs…they now jiggle.  ICAN’THAVE THAT!!  So yeah…I’m hitting the weights again.  A sad but true story.

In two weeks I’ll get to officiate again, this time at the Special Olympics Tourney.  Its a blast.  I get more fun and pleasure from the games that day than a weeks worth of working good teams.  The atmosphere is electric for them and restoring for me.  Blessed in different ways we’ll have fun…you can be sure of that.

Until next time…thank you for reading, God bless and take care,

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

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

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

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

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

Now I’m gettin’ grumpy…

By this time of the basketball season most coaches know what kind of team they have.  A few have exceptional teams with many victories verses no losses.  A few more have good teams though it depends on the night that they’re playing.  Many have “Jekyll and Hyde” teams that are good in the first quarter but lose focus and things get ugly from there and then there’s the handful of teams that despite their best efforts are winless.  I’ve had the whole gamut this season.  Recently I had a game where the combined records of both teams were 1-19.  Now the upside of that kind of game is that it should be competitive….one team is looking to get their first win while the other team is looking to get win number two (for the record…the winless team won their first game in close to three years.  Talk about a postgame celebration!!

This season, my third, has been about proving that I belong out there.  60+ games, mostly varsity.  Lots of running.  Late nights.  Five hours of sleep.  Getting up at 5 AM and doing it all over again.  Its been physically draining, though thank God I had the foresight to schedule a few well placed vacation days after a stretch of games that would’ve been real difficult to recover from.  I’m getting old, I need time to rest.  My body aches from head to toe from the nearly “five nights a week” of officiating games.  I’m working through some minor injuries but it hasn’t slowed me down…much.  Its fun.  I love it.  Its probably keeping me more fit than killing me…but sometimes I wonder.

I told my wife that for Valentines Day she could get me a massage, a professional, work me over like I’m a ball of bread dough MASSAGE.  I think that it could possibly go like George Conzantas’, but maybe not.

 

Thanks for reading and God bless.

R