Umpiring a Fall of American Family Baseball, It was often an Honor to Participate

Taking a foul tip in the collarbone is the worst. My equipment being a little loose almost cost me.

The shortage of certain people in many areas extended to umpiring, and when an ex-umpire mentioned at our monthly meeting about possibilities for anyone with experience, I started doing Little League games in Dilworth the next Wednesday.

I’ve done arc-pitch softball in FL and NY years ago, working with youth baseball has been super interesting because of the intense family aspect.

One recent assignment involved a second Blue, who I’d done my first game ever with. He reminded me about trying to get changed into shinpads in my car without undressing – I finally gave up, and did the game with the plastic over the pants. (Not a good look, not repeated)

I’ve put in some 14 hour days since, worked two weekends with blast furnace 96! temperatures, and taken my share of ‘meat shots,’ and umpiring is more than just a welcome cash cow. With about 20 hours game time, $40-50 per game averages $20/hr. with a much more exciting office. It’s fun, not a gripe.

Getting the mask relocated by a foul tip, my standard line is, “I don’t get up for breakfast if I don’t know I’m gonna get hit a couple times.”

Me, a couple times a day while umpiring.
Everybody has a back pack, usually with a pair of antenna-bats.

7 Innings of a Blue’s ‘tudes, Calling it as I See It

Chatting with people near the fence about the difference in early sunshine and cool Fall temperatures this past weekend, compared to the blast furnace 96 I’d done one of their teams games in early June, one Dad’s immediate response was, “Yessir, I remember you – you gave my son some great advice. Thank you,”

That advice involved him twiddling with the grip on his pitch – which all the younger pitchers with small hands do – even while he was going into his delivery. My point was, when you work to get a certain grip, that’s usually a signal – especially if other team has seen the results before – your ‘something different’ pitch is coming.

When you throw it for strikes, the question is, can they actually HIT it while knowing? If not, take your time, set yourself and grip, *then* throw the pitch was my sage counsel.

The umpire schedule organizers tried to tell me early not to chat with the crowd “because one bad call and they’ll turn on you,” but I’ve always been a yakker, so…

My attitude is I’m contributing a little something to the American lifestyle, not just judging balls-strikes-outs. Telling that pitcher, or a first base person to make sure they keep heel in contact with the bag, it seems to make a difference.

Yes, I’ve been surprised at overall support on a regular basis. That so many coaches swear they tell young charges not to question the umpires (You’re right, Hayden, that was too good a pitch not to call a strike, but…), is affirming a rule of order.

2nd Inning

Pregame, I regularly mention players asking for time out and stepping out of the batters box with coaches and dugouts. It’s often coaches trying to break a pitcher’s rhythm, and my sense of sportmanship extends to fact if he’s ready to go, you better be ready to hit. I am not going to grant time very often, and have called three balks resulting in two runs scoring from third.

While batters stepped out without permission, seeing them do so caused the pitcher to stop his motion, and if they don’t release the pitch, its a balk. Its unfair to the pitcher, and letting young minds know how I enforce it (and the high strike) is a good piece of info to put out there. Armpits to knees, yes, use that bat.

I’m willing to listen to a coach appeal a play, say, where several runners wind up after an infield fly pop-up gets dropped (they can run at their own risk). Do NOT keep going on an individual call, coach. Catcher, do NOT pose with a ball that’s over the other batters box line wanting a strike – nothing good will come from you trying to show me up like that. I’ll tell you that, once.

3rd Inning

I was only threatened one time by a spectator, and only once did I get fed up enough to have coaches confined to the dugout. That I could say, “Zip it, or see the game from further away,” and enforce it was a great tool to know was in my bag. That I restored the previous freedoms in the next (title) game was still about fairness.

Having a catcher ask why I’d called a recent pitch a ball, 10 year olds wouldn’t have the stones to ask that if they hadn’t seen coaches question every situation for three full games. https://cdtalententerprises.com/2021/06/29/america-and-family-baseball-joyful-4th-is-umpires-call/ I’ve told that story numerous times, and that *specifically* wasn’t happening on MY watch. Adults need some telling where the lines are too.

4th Inning

The single best thing an umpire can have is consistency, and high-low is easier for others to see than any distance off the plate. That’s why catchers are taught from earliest exposure about framing pitches, making them look closer to the strike zone. “How could that not be a strike?” is the crowd question, what I tell catchers regularly is “I saw where you caught it, and I saw where you put it.”

Doing a 9 year old tournament, where many were doing kid-pitch for the first time, my off the plate (17″) calls of two balls wider wound up taking 2:30 hours to have a victor. Calling it unhittably further outside was unfair, but walk-athons are deadly.

It was the single most brutal five games I umped all year. I had 8-9 bottles of water, a couple Gatorades, and still didn’t need to relieve myself until 9:00 at night. I told a nurse about it the next day, she said I was lucky she didn’t meet me in an ER.

5th Inning

Except for that one bitchy team (plus two other yellers), I was uniformly impressed with how dedicated coaches are to keeping kids in the game. Arriving early and having time to jaw with them is personally satisfying. That Dad and Coach sometimes have to deal with situations around a pouty son is reality. Listen to the constant barrage about hitting the next pitch, or what to do about a passed ball (“You should be here!”) at a game – coaches keep it going even in a rout.

When there was a question of not having enough time left to start another inning and get the home team last at bats, you’ve gotta love the answer: “So we get to practice our defense another half inning? Its our first game of the season, its okay if we don’t get to bat.”

That’s taking every opportunity to help kids get better. If I can help with an observation – “Your catcher is setting up on the outside third of plate, and if your pitcher misses at all, its going to be a ball” – I can be a difference maker too.

6th Inning

After taking two foul tips on the exact same spot on top of forearm one weekend, I changed how I positioned myself from hands on knees to always having the batter side arm tucked behind myself. Plastic only covers so much, then there’s meat shots. Making necessary changes to protect myself (I was also a hockey goalie in college…) was a no brainer.

There’s usually an Oooo! and “You okay Blue?” from the crowd and coaches when they hear the crack! of a chest protector or see the face mask get rearranged. Its more the blast in the bicep or maybe a hand that changes your machismo for a while.

As a physical challenge at 64, I feel good about an occasional thwack! I’m certainly not too good to think ringing the register with a $350 weekend, while talking baseball and peoples kids, is a bad thing in any way. The hard core travel teams are miles from the rec league supporters, most of whom recognize their kids might get pummeled for a season before age and experience kicks in.

7th inning

Yes, its seeing athletics as part of their young lives, getting to relate to some of that bonding and what’s happening between the ears I knew was important when I played Pop Warner football. Doing 10-under games, then 12-13s, the physical difference of two-three years is amazing.

The chunky 10 y/old who just learned a curve ball that week thought, “Maybe we should have a go, Ump.” I said, “Learned a curve ball this week and you want some of this? You must be a confident guy.” “Yep!”

The best way for an umpire to avoid 95% of any coach or crowd BS is to be right on top of the play versus calling it from across the diamond. The kid sliding into third and his coach yells he’s safe, my “Coach, he’s got the glove pinned against the base, he’s out!” means I just turn and walk away.

On a bottom line, “Don’t reward stupid” is legitimate. The slow-footed kid who tries going first to third when there’s a confusing play at the plate almost always deservedly, gets nailed at third, and if its close, he really shouldn’t have been going… Their coach will talk to them about a bad decision.

Congratulations to the Atlanta Braves for winning the World Series so convincingly. Everyone in Charlotte was rooting for them, all the young players for sure, and they epitomize the idea of sportsmanship and the bonding that makes a bunch of young people a team. See everyone again in the Spring.

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