On this hallowed eve…

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

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

Failing...?

Failing…?

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

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

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

Rooms next to the river.  Nuff said

Rooms next to the river. Nuff said

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

It could be a long offseason....

It could be a long offseason….

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

Ooo...touch tone phones?!  Why didn't you SAY so?

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

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

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

R

 

 

Why I’m loved the most…the letter

Five years ago this weekend, in the early morning hours of Sunday, my father passed from his life of pain into Heaven.  It was expected.  He’d been under Hospice care for a week, at a nursing home.  He couldn’t communicate very well, if at all.  Struggling to be comfortable.  Struggling to breath.  Struggling to live.  The call came in around 2 in the morning.  “Your Dad is dying”.  I didn’t make it there in time to say good-bye.  At peace…finally.

By the time I came along in 1966 (I was an “oops baby”) he and Mom had two sons ahead of me.  The closest in age is Brian, seven years my senior while Dan’s at the top of the batting order being eleven years older than me.  By the summer of 1977 I was pretty much an only child.  Just me, Dad and Mom.  I got spoiled. (if you couldn’t tell that already…)  I didn’t wear my brothers hand-me-downs like my next closest brother did.  It was Dad who told me repeatedly “You should be a comedian!!”  He was always telling us boys how proud he was of us, our wives, our children and how much he loved us and Mom.

Dad was ahead of his time.  He communicated really well.  Part Archie Bunker, part Mister Rogers, Dad could let you know exactly how he felt.  Sometimes bluntly (that guy is as worthless as tits on a boar) or softly when I was old enough to drive myself to parties where prior to leaving for the night he’d square up with me, look me in the eyes and tell me “If you need a ride home tonight…call us.  WE LOVE YOU.”  I took that seriously.  I had a reputation as being a “mama’s boy” in high school.  When you’ve got parents as cool as mine…YOU’RE DAMN RIGHT. 

Sometime in the late 1980’s or early 1990’s all of us were at Mom and Dad’s for Christmas.  All three sons and their families at the same time.  Dad and Mom were loving this day.  In the tree there were three envelopes.  One for each son, a letter in each.  I started to read mine, but really didn’t READ it until a day or two later.  It was nice.  I filed it away in my dresser drawer.  I might want it someday.

As we approached the day leading up to Dad’s visitation and funeral I had a strong feeling that I should share the letter that he had given me many Christmas’ ago.   I put a copy of it in my pocket and went off to his visitation.  I ran into his Pastor, a lady who farmed with her husband in a nearby community.  “They’re good people” Dad used to say of them.  I gave her the letter and said something along the lines of “if you think this will apply to tomorrows sermon…feel free to use it.”  She took it without looking at it, or commenting.

At Dad’s funeral the next day things were progressing along as well as could be expected when the Pastor pulled out Dad’s letter and read it aloud.  While I’m glad that I shared it, it was extremely hard to hear it being read and not become emotional.  Here it is:

THOUGHTS AND MEMORYS OF THE THREE

GUYS THAT MEAN THE MOST TO ME

Dear Daniel…I’ve loved you the most because you were our first born.  You were the beginning of a marriage, a fulfillment of our Love for each other.  You held us together through our first years, the first apartment in Furth Germany, our first mode of transportation, FEET.  You were new, BOY, we were too.  You were the prototype model.  You are one of a kind, and you are OURS.

Dear Brian…I’ve loved you the most because you were the center of our family, a tough position.  I believe you’re stronger because of it.  Your clothes were someone else’s, as were most things.  You were the one we started to realize that you were not made of eggs and had a personality of your own.  You came at a time of life style change and marriage routine.  You were the love of our ambitious years.  Our Love for you is SPECIAL.

Dear Richard…I’ve loved you the most because while your Mother and I have grown more experienced we’ve found that things in the beginning thought to be important aren’t necessarily so.  Generally endings are sad, but we are not sad, you give us much happiness.  You are our link with the past; dates, girls, ballgames, cars, beer, and troubles, and our hope of the future.  You’ve quickened our step, lightened our heart and straightened our shoulders and given us a humor that maturity doesn’t provide.  You are our Love of Life.

We miss Dad dearly.  If there’s a lesson, a take-a-way, from his letter its that you should let your loved ones know how you feel about them. Whether in spoken word, a letter that gets stashed away in a dresser drawer or some other means.  Say it.  Write it down.  Whatever.  Do it.  They’ll want to hear it.  If not today…eventually.

Dad and Mom Ripley

Dad and Mom Ripley

God bless.

R

 

I’m done

I’m done crying, or at least that’s what I’m telling myself.  I’m wired to live in life…not death.  I’m tired of hearing from others how sad I look.  I’m tired of folks pulling me in for a hug.  I’m tired of sadness and death.  I’m done. Instead of crying…I’ll celebrate your life.  Remembering your laugh, your energy and orneriness.  I’ll be kinder, maybe a little more attentive and better than ever.  My hugs will be happy hugs.  I’m going to start giving people some good-natured shit.  I’m going to start being me again because “sad me” ain’t me.

What’s my “take-a-way” from your death.  Life’s short.  Touch someone in a positive way like you did.  Be someone’s hero.  We all like hero’s…right?  Be one. 

  • Donate blood
  • Drop off food to a food bank
  • Take some clothing and toiletries to a mission or shelter
  • Bake someone cookies and drop them off just because you can
  • Buy someone a flower
  • Hug…nuff said
  • Share your time and attention
  • Be nice when everyone else isn’t
  • Text someone a nice note
  • Forgive a debt
  • Reach out to a friend who’s having a tough time and then reach out again
  • Call someone and leave the following message “WWWHHHHHAAAATTTTZZZZZUUUUPPPPPP?!” 
  • Encourage
  • Don’t be so critical of yourself
  • Teach
  • Coach
  • Volunteer
  • Tip well
  • Act like a bigshot and order hot fudge sundaes for the whole table
  • Encourage high fives when its so awkward that its funny “don’t leave me hangin’ homie!!”
  • Bring a dozen donuts when no one expects you to
  • Show up
  • Laugh
  • Do what it takes to show others your love for them

I think that our good and gracious Lord talks to us throughout our day.  On the way to your visitation I turned on the radio and Guns and Roses “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” was just beginning.  On my way to your funeral this song came on.  I had to smile, if even through the tears.  Its one of my favorites.  It rings so very, very true to me these days.

 

Crying won’t bring you back…celebrating your life keeps you alive in my mind…in my heart.  They buried a body…they didn’t bury my friend.  My friend lives on.  I’ll see my friend again.  I’m going to start living again.

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Rusty screws, new neighbors and a First Place Winner

Its been a dramatic and event-filled summer here at the Palatial Estates.  Here are some notables that didn’t get their own blog but warranted an honorable mention by yours truly.  We jump all around the spectrum today so I hope that you’re warmed up, ready to read and mentally fortified to take this all in.  YOU’RE WELCOME America.

  • This is my first vehicle.  A 1972 Chevy LUV pick-up truck that Dad and I bought together.  80% rust.  The only things that didn’t have rust on them were the brake peddle and steering wheel. Four cylinder engine.  Four on the floor which required the middle passenger to move their leg one way or the other when I shifted.  Crank windows.  Manual choke and steering.  The horn was a button on the dash beside the AM radio.  I installed a secondhand  8 track player and TWO 6X9 tri-axial speakers that rolled around behind the seat when I whipped kitties in the gravel.  IT.  WAS.  AWESOME!!  On a rare half-day from school me, Scott Carlson and Gary Kelting would squeeze into the cab and head off for Northpark Mall in the big city of Davenport.  Scott brought his boom box and a collection of cassettes.  Foreigner, The J. Geils Band, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts sprinkled in with some Back in Black by AC/DC.   Not good times…EPIC TIMES!!  I was 16…my buddies 15.  I didn’t know any better.  Remember that for later…

I found out quickly that I didn't like sanding and grinding rust off of metal. I must have had a grayish pale during my sophomore year since I was constantly applying primer to this heap.

Rusty but reliable I found out quickly that I didn’t like sanding or grinding rust off of metal. Dad taught me how to do light body work and basic mechanical things.  It was mine to fix up.  I must have had a grayish pallor during my sophomore year since I was constantly applying primer to this heap.

  • We tore off our old sunroom and put in its place a brand spanking new one.  We love it!  I christened it with a nap shortly after its completion.  Its also good for drinking coffee in during the morning and beer in the evenings.  Who knew?!
  • We tore down our old tool shed, displacing hundreds of crickets and spiders, and had a new one put up.  As a result I had to get a tetanus shot after being assaulted by a piece of plywood with a rusty screw protruding from it.  The nurse commented several times that she’d never heard a scream as shrill as mine.  True story.
  • We’re getting new neighbors for only the second time in fourteen years.  Our neighborhood doesn’t turn over that much.   When you live next to eye-candy like me you won’t want to leave.  Just sayin’.
  • I have just about everything ready for my Halloween costume.  On Monday October 31st you’ll see it on Facebook and remark “he apparently has too much time on his hands…” or you’ll high-five the nearest person shouting “THAT’S WHAT I’M FREAKIN’ TALKIN’ ABOUT!!”  I play to win.  Everyone else is dressing for first runner-up.

Here's that same 1972 Chevy LUV after A LOT of sanding, Bondo and a $99 Earl Scheib paint job. Firecracker Red.

Here’s that same 1972 Chevy LUV after A LOT of sanding, Bondo and a $99 Earl Scheib paint job. Firecracker Red.

  • I kept a 1972 Eisenhower silver dollar in my pocket for the last two baseball seasons.  For most of my Little League and 3 on 3 basketball league games the initial possession is decided by a coin flip.  Hundreds of games have been started with the flip of that coin.  Hundreds of hours spent in my pocket during the last two summers.  I gave it to a young girl on the final night of my season who had volunteered to keep score at her brothers games that night.  I’m guessing that she was around the sixth grade.  Her brother and his teammates gave her crap all game.  She took it like a pro and didn’t let them get to her. As I gave it to her I told her how many games I had started with it and that I wanted her to have it for helping out all night long. Her face lit up as she whispered “wow”.  I hope that she keeps it.

My second car. A 1977 Ford Maverick. Did you know that Mavericks OUTSOLD Ford Mustangs for a few years? True story.

This is my second ride, a 1977 Ford Maverick. Automatic transmission, power steering and two more cylinders but still no good radio to blast ZZ Top or Billy Idol until $240 later and a trip to Radio Shack.  Did you know that Mavericks OUT SOLD Ford Mustangs for a few years? True story.

  • After the 2015 high school baseball season I made a decision to take a season away from working varsity baseball games.  I was getting home at 11:30 at night, getting up at 5 the next morning and repeating the process.  It also seemed like every night one of the coaches chose to act like a prick.  I decided to step away and only work USSSA kids baseball games and local sub-varsity games.  It went so well that I’m getting away from varsity baseball altogether.  The money is about the same while the time away from home is much less.  A final note about that high school season in which the coaches were edgy…I received two post-season recomendations…which is a nice acknowledgement that I was, in fact, doing a good job.  Go suck an egg Coach!

$40 of pinstripes and blue spray paint, along with some free wire hubcaps and the old Mav is looking slightly less "Church Lady-ish". That's Scott Carlson in the background being Scott Carlson. The Maverick got me through high school and college.

$40 worth of pinstripes and blue spray paint, along with some free wire hubcaps and the old Mav is looking slightly less “Church Lady-ish”. That’s Scott Carlson in the background being Scott Carlson. The Maverick got me through high school and college.

  • I realized that I sound great singing any Dwight Yoakam, Trace Adkins, George Strait or Diamond Rio song while driving my truck.  I’m quite talented that way.
  • I’m part of the Big Brothers/Big Sisters organization, pairing men and women with at risk kids. (I’m a “Brother” in case you’re scoring at home).  My little brother comes from a love-filled, single parent home.  Dad’s not in the picture, hasn’t been for quite a while.  My Brother is quiet.  We’ve been together almost two years. He doesn’t know some of the basic “guy” stuff so I’ve set some goals that instead of just going to movies and such we’d work on some of those things…basic “dude” stuff.   Today we washed and waxed my truck but not before turning on some classic rock on the garage radio (its a rule…you gotta have the tunes rockin‘)  then grilled some burgers with him setting up the briquettes, doing the seasoning and grilling.  He’s almost fourteen, stands close to six feet tall.  Too old to be a child.  Too young to be a man.   I made him work.  I made him learn.  He had fun.  Summers drawing to a close very soon.  I hope to get in some more stuff with him before its gone, though today…today was a good day.

This is Logan. He's my Little Brother. Today he waxed my truck (loved it). Grilled us burgers (loved it) and made my nine year old Silverado a lot shiner.

This is Logan. He’s my Little Brother. Today he waxed my truck (loved it). Grilled us burgers (loved it) and made my nine year old Silverado a lot shiner (which I love…)

I'd imagine that there's some coy way of using waxing old trucks and manual labor towards helping a young person become a better person...but I'm not the guy to figure that one out.

Old Red’s lookin’ sharp

I like shiny. Shiny is good.

I like shiny. Shiny is good.

  • Did I mention that I taught him how to clean up chrome rims?  If not…here’s proof that I did.  I figured that since I enjoyed cleaning up my parents car and truck when I was Logan’s age that he might just like it too if someone taught him.  He did.

I’d imagine that a better writer would find some coy and thoughtful way to wrap up todays blog, using an analogy to mirror the similarities between working, learning, having fun and maturing from kid to adult….but I’m not that guy.  I only wanted to help out a kid like the many  folks that have helped me out somewhere along my way, getting me to where I am today. Blessed I am.  A blessing I try to be.

Until next time, God bless you and yours.

R

 

Big Sid’s is where its at!!

We tried something different on this vacation. We hired someone to drive us around in a Jeep, up in the mountains, above the tree line and I thoroughly enjoyed it…the girls…maybe not so much.  The drive took us on roads (if you can call them that…) up steep inclines, through creeks and on plenty of paths that I wouldn’t have had the courage to try to navigate.  The reward was breathtaking views and time with family.  Our drivers name was John, though he reminded me a lot of my buddy Joel.  His voice, his demeanor, his knowledge of wildlife and the history of Aspen and Colorado (maybe not Joel so much in that regard) and his easy going segues into being a smart-ass and laughing at his own jokes.  Good times.

We passed maybe two or three vehicles all day on these paths.

We passed maybe two or three vehicles all day on these paths.

YIKES!!!  I thought for a second that Bigfoot had jumped in the Jeep with us.  Turns out its just Connie Sue's hair went bat-sh*t crazy.

YIKES!!! I thought for a second that Bigfoot had jumped in the Jeep with us. Turns out its just Connie Sue’s hair went bat-sh*t crazy.

We were lucky enough to see this young bear along the way.  I coaxed him into the Jeep, scratched his ears and sung him a little Rocky Mountain High before turning him back into the wild.  I think...he cried a little as we drove off.

We were lucky enough to see this young bear along the way. I coaxed him into the Jeep, scratched his ears and sung him a little Rocky Mountain High before turning him back into the wild. I think…he cried a little as we drove off.

Even above the tree-line my legs are sexy.  True story

Even above the tree-line my legs are sexy. True story

We had a picnic in an old ghost town near Aspen

We had a picnic in an old ghost town near Aspen

The wonderful views were plentiful.  Just awe inspiring.  The camera doesn't do it justice

The wonderful views were plentiful. Just awe inspiring. The camera doesn’t do it justice

Group "jump" photo.  First attempt....fail

Group “jump” photo. First attempt….fail

second attempt....NAILED IT!!

second attempt….NAILED IT!!

...and sisters being sisters

…and sisters being sisters

Hurricane Pass

Hurricane Pass

No trip to Glenwood Springs is complete without stopping by my buddy Big Sid's Bottles and gettin' a little medicine.

No trip to Glenwood Springs is complete without stopping by my buddy Big Sid’s Bottles and gettin’ a little medicine.

...and not having anything to do with Big Sid's Bottles is that all of that fresh air required a nap in the afternoon.

…and not having anything to do with Big Sid’s Bottles is that all of that fresh air required a nap in the afternoon.

So far….a great vacation.  Thanks for coming along.

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