Thursday, May 13, 2010

Where's Your Strike Zone?

Fellow Umpires: Have you ever had a game where you just couldn't get comfortable with your own strike zone? I know we all admit to missing a pitch here and there, but for some reason yesterday, I just couldn't get in my own zone.

I usually don't hear much about my behind-the-plate calls. I must have developed a zone where it was agreeable enough for the pitcher, the batter, the coaches and the fans. I'm smart enough to know not to get too pleased with a good inning or a good game. You can build up some credibility but it only lasts so long if you're not paying attention.

During this game yesterday I just started second guessing. There was a pitch that I called a ball that I could have gotten away with calling a strike. The defense team “wanted” it but they were not very disappointed. I had a tough time seeing the outside corner of the plate so I started questioning my consistency – maybe I wasn’t inconsistent but it just felt that way. I even got a “don’t start squeezing us now” comment from a fan which I can optimistically translate into meaning that up until then I’d been OK. I didn’t buy that one, honestly.

All-in-all there weren’t many walks and I only had two called strike outs – one for each team. That wasn’t by design, it just happened. The game ended 5-2 so it wasn’t notable in any way.

Throw in some errors, passed balls and well-timed hits and I probably went unnoticed. Like someone who knows what’s going on behind the scenes, though, some things are not what they appear.

How to get back on track? More games, work "slower" and don’t beat myself up.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Circus Arrives

There are three things that come to mind whenever someone asks me about the strangest thing I’ve ever seen while umpiring. I was reminded of one during a game just last weekend so here you go:

A pop-up where we invoke the Infield Fly Rule AND THEN the ball isn’t caught: There have to be at least two runners on for this so when the ball goes up, you have to be very aware. The runners, even though you yell that the batter is out, look for the ball to be caught. When it’s not, they always seem to stutter-step there way off the base and when coaches and parents start screaming instructions (some correct, some not so), it can become a bit of a circus. Since I officiate games with players as young as eleven, the Infield Fly Rule isn’t usually understood. What really kills you here is that when the kids start running, the defense starts throwing and sometimes they don’t do much catching.

When the play is over and the dust clears, it always seems to get very quiet. You can feel the eyes on you, as if to say, “Are we OK? Do they need to go back? Can they stay where they are? What just happened?”

I like the Infield Fly Rule because when we call it correctly, it indicates to everyone that we know what we’re doing. It’s not something that is seen during every game and when it works, it’s good baseball.

Dropped third strike when the batter does not have the opportunity to acquire first base: I’m the home plate umpire with bases loaded with one out when the batter swings and misses as the pitch hits the ground before the catcher grabs it. I give the out sign and say, with some authority, “Batter is out!” With that, the batter takes off running as his coach is imploring him (quite loudly) to do so. Why? Who knows?

Two coaches are hollering instructions at the catcher – one telling him to throw to first base, the other telling him to hold the ball. He holds the ball as he stands just to the left of me, a foot up the third base line. Why is that important? Because the runner from third is in a light jog heading home. This runner knows the batter struck out so even I’m a bit perplexed at his casualness. I say again, “Batter is out” and provide the mechanic. The runner from third walks right up to the catcher and stops. The catcher simply tags him. “He’s out!”

Inning over, three outs, right? Wrong. A defensive coach begins yelling again for his catcher to throw to second base. Why? Who knows? I yell “That’s three!” and the lone defensive coach who knew what was going on yells out to me, “Thank you!”

A rundown, any rundown: The guideline in baseball regarding rundowns is that the defense should throw the ball twice before retiring the runner. That’s the goal, I guess, but it never seems to work that way with younger players. In fact, as the rundown progresses, the throws seem to get longer and the runner doesn’t move very much.

At this age, the defensive players seem to know a few things. They should all yell, “Pickle!” (and they all do), and they run to either side of the rundown. If the runner can keep himself from being tagged, it takes about seven seconds before the field umpire finds himself and ten players (!) between one base and another. You’re looking for interference and obstruction, who is in the baseline, where your partner may be, all the while listening to coaches and fans get very loud. If the play continues too long, everyone actually begins to laugh, including the players. Oh, that’s just with one runner.

As always, let me know about your strangest plays!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Cast of Characters, Version 2.0

There was an umpire at our park that showed up a few years ago. I was coaching my son, maybe we were in the 10U age group. This guy began umpiring many of our games and he would even come up to the park when he wasn’t working, just to see how our team and a few others were doing. He didn’t have any kids of his own playing ball at the time and he really enjoyed the baseball atmosphere. His name was Tom Hutton and we all called him “Hutt”. I had never considered becoming a youth baseball umpire before I met Hutt.

That first season ends and my son moves on to play football. I’m on the sidelines as a coach and who do I see running down the sidelines after a play, wearing the “zebra” outfit (shorts and all) but Hutt. “You referee football, huh?” “Got to keep busy,” he told me. I came to find out that he also dabbled in a little basketball as well.

A season or two later, Hutt was asked to accompany a local team to Cooperstown and serve as their official umpire. Sometimes a team is simply looking to fill the responsibility but in this case, the players really wanted Hutt to travel with them. He could not have enjoyed the trip more, being among fellow umpires and youth baseball, and the parents from the team made him feel like one of them.

It came as a shock to everyone when one day Hutt, who was 47, died unexpectedly from cardiac arrest. He was a guy that, when he was gone, left a void. For a long time umpires would scratch out his name in the dirt before they began a game and coaches, after lining the field, would use the white chalk to write “Hutt” near an on-deck circle.

A few folks at the local youth athletic association decided to do something about the void. Field #2 at our local park, the field where Hutt worked most often, was dedicated this year to Tom Hutton and renamed “Hutton Field”. Those that were able to get this done would tell you that it was a small token of appreciation but it’s a lasting tribute to a guy that really loved being at that park.

Just yesterday a 12U player noticed that I was wearing my green “Hutt” rubber bracelet on my wrist. “You still have yours, huh?” he asked. I told him I did and that I had another just in case I lost this one. “You know that field over there?” he asked me, “that’s named after him.” I nodded and smiled, thinking of my friend Hutt.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Toughest Call -- Your Phobia

Among my umpire group, each of us has admitted to having a “toughest call” -- the calls that are difficult for each of us, for whatever reason. Think of it like a phobia where I’m not scared of snakes (and you are) but I can’t be anywhere near a clown but you aren’t bothered at all by them.  By the way, clowns and I are A-OK.

One of my colleagues fights with the low inside pitch. Another really dislikes making the catch/no-catch call on shoe-string attempts. Mine is a tricky one: In “B” or “C” position, with the throw to 1st from SS or 3B. It may be something about the runner going from my right-to-left while the ball is coming from behind me, over my shoulder.  That seems to be one of the times where I get most of the grief from players, coaches and fans.

I find myself hoping to get more of my “phobia” situations because that’s the only way I’m going to get comfortable – and more confident. In one recent game it seemed as though I got banger after banger after banger. Another game, nothing was close at all. You take what the game gives you.

Let me know about your toughest call…

UPDATE: After a game this weekend, I've now tried to change the angle of this call.  Rather than simply hold my position and allow the throw to come from behind me, I was able, on a few plays, to shift to my left, almost taking me back to the "B" position.  This gave me a better look.  I find it to be a tough call but that helps.

Monday, April 19, 2010


One of my favorite aspects of umpiring is the camaraderie. During my son’s high school game the other day, four umpires (just us dads sitting in the stands as fans) began a “what would you do” discussion that continued into the week, creating a very long email string. It really helps keep you sharp.

For those that are not umpires at the youth level, I’ll let you in on a secret: We’re not all experts when it comes to the rulebook. Have you ever read the real, unabridged baseball rulebook? It’s packed with information, written in an odd type of legalese and it sometimes contradicts itself. We read it, we know it but we don’t know it all, completely.

I believe that since we know so much about the rulebook, we understand how much we don’t know – if that makes sense. In my experience I can tell you that we know it better than many of the coaches out there. I say that with a bit of humility because when I coached, I thought I knew the rulebook. That’s why we talk to one another...often.

We do more than our fair share of research. We peruse websites, take online tests and read the rulebook for fun…for fun! In our small group, we actually have access to a MLB umpire who has encouraged us to email him with questions. He’s a great guy that instructs at an annual camp we attend and loves the game.

My umpiring relationships remind me of something I learned in college. You can study all you want but study groups can really help. It’s such a benefit for a fellow umpire to arrive and say, “I had a situation yesterday…”

Monday, April 12, 2010

All About Attitude

Someone commented to me last week that I looked angry while I was behind the plate.  This was a friend that said it and I explained that I was "working" and trying to convey a certain amount of seriousness.  I really do enjoy being out on the field and it was surprising to hear that i was giving off some sport of non-fun aura.

I remember that last year Manny Ramirez was ejected from a game for a bit of arguing and some helmet/bat tossing. I didn’t see it live but rather on ESPN’s SportCenter, where the host mentioned that Joe Torre thought the umpire had a “quick trigger.” Mr. Torre has to protect his players but let’s all acknowledge that there are things that happen in and around home plate that only the umpire, catcher and batter know.

I talk to catchers some and also give the batter a “Ready to do some hitting?” if there’s an opportunity. I’m not taking sides but if a 12-year old backstop throws a bullet to second base and gets a would-be base stealer, I’m going to give him a quick “Nice toss.” All this helps with some familiarity, as does the “Your shortstop can really pick it” comment I might mention to a 3B coach as he makes his way across the diamond.

My approach works for me – so far. I’m not the type to engage the crowd much and I’m not comfortable with my colleagues that take this too far. I’ll answer questions about how much time is remaining in the game or comment back when someone asks how many games I’ll be here for. I generally don’t initiate that conversation or try to make them laugh or like me. Once the game is over I disappear into the parking lot. I would rather them appreciate the hustle and the game management since that’s why I’m there.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Cap

For the first time since I began officiating, two different fans over the same weekend asked me about my navy field cap. I have two, one bearing the initials FDNY and the other BFD. FDNY obviously stands for Fire Department of New York while BFD represents my hometown fire department, Bayonne, NJ.

I don’t belong to a local umpire association (although I am an ABUA member) so I’m free to wear the blank, blue standard cap or something else appropriate. I chose to go with the fire department after seeing a few of my instructors do the same during a camp. The FDNY cap was easy to order and I had the BFD model made since there’s not a shop for such items in my hometown.

Not to get all serious here but I have had relatives and friends serve in various fire departments and to bring attention to the commitment of these men and women is a simple act on my part. The folks that I know are a special breed who take their responsibilities seriously and their day can move from the camaraderie of the firehouse into an emergency situation in a matter of moments. The fact of the matter is, when you and I are trying to get out or move from harm’s way, they are the ones trying to get in and take care of the situation. I'm proud to know these folks!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Adios, Jones!

Second game of a 12U doubleheader, top of the 4th inning, a 3-3 score. Leadoff batter rips a line drive that splits the outfielders and skips to the wall in left centerfield. On his way to second base, the batter/runner steps over first base. No reaction from me as I carry the runner to an apparent stand-up double. All four defensive coaches realize the runner missed the bag, defensive players acknowledge such and, while the ball is still in play, toss said ball to the first baseman. “He’s out!” Offensive team then becomes offensive.

That, ladies and gentleman, is how, after 100+ games, I ejected my first manager.

A few points for coaches to consider here. First, an umpire doesn’t want to make that call. The player did a good job of hitting and no one wants to see him penalized. He won the battle with the pitcher and to take him off the field for such a silly mistake is uncomfortable.

Second, umpires know to look for runners touching bases. In fact, a leadoff double is one of the easiest situations in which to recognize a missed base. Ball hit to the gap, umpire runs toward infield and, as he pivots, he watches for the runner to touch first base -- and check for possible obstruction. That’s textbook. It’s actually unusual for a runner to miss a base but it’s even more uncommon for the defense to realize it. In youth baseball they never notice. Not only did the opposing team see it, the home plate umpire got it as well.

Anyway, first base coach jumps up and down, points to a corner of the bag and screams that his guy touched it. “Sorry coach, he didn’t” is my reply. I head back to my “A” position and the manager, coaching third base, is now screaming. “Horrrrible call! That’s horrrrible! I cannot believe you made that call! What are you thinking?!”

“Coach, that’s enough!” This manager had to be spoken to during the previous game for his staff’s behavior and apologized to me before the start of this game.

Well, the manager continued his ranting.  I walked over to his side of the field to calm the situation but it didn’t take him long to get himself ejected. The game was quiet after that and the visiting team ended up winning comfortably. Manager missed a good effort.

As I’ve told numerous coaches and parents, these kids will play many, many games and they are going to forget individual opponents and even entire games -- and tournaments. Get ejected or tossed from a park? The player will most certainly remember THAT one.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

A Few Things You Might Not Know (Part 1)

Many of us are former coaches…

At the three parks where I officiate, almost all of us have been former managers and assistant coaches, in many cases at the travel ball level. Some of my colleagues are still coaching. We understand the expectations of the coaches, what they are looking for and how they might react in certain situations. We also know the little tricks managers employ so there’s not much that will surprise us from the dugout.

Most of us are serious about umpiring…

We go to instructional classes, take tests and attend camps. Each year a few of us head to the Southern Umpires Camp for four days. It’s an investment in time and in money (our own) and the return makes it well worth it.

Not only are we usually closer to the play than any coach or fan, we almost always have the best angle...

If you’re a fan sitting in chair, 120 feet away from the play and behind a chain-link fence, do you really think you saw the play better than the umpire? Even if you are a coach on the field, as umpires we’re looking to have the best angle on the play. Many times that is more important than being closer to the play. Which leads us to…

We don’t care…

We don’t care if a player is out or safe, if a pitch is a ball or strike, or which teams wins. Each team and their fans want every call and every pitch -- they’re invested in each play but the umpires are not. We just call what we see and our objectivity helps us get it right.

If you don’t like the call, yelling isn’t going to help…

We understand that not everyone is going to agree with every call and we realize that fans and coaches are going to complain. That will not, though, help you get the next call. We call what we see regardless of who will agree and regardless of what we called on the last close play. If we started trading calls, that will lead to even more complaining.

Familiarity and friendships mean little…

We might know a player or coach or parent on the home team but when the game starts all that goes out the door. The game moves too quickly, even down at the 11-year-old level, to try and give a team a break or two. If we miss a call, there’s nothing else going on, we just missed a call. Which leads us to…

We miss calls...

We hate it but we do. We’re not perfect and we try to get every call right, but it happens. We don’t give make-up calls and we move on. There’s never been a game where I’ve thought I had a perfect outing, got every call and every pitch correct. There’s always room for improvement.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Is Image Everything?

Image isn’t everything but it counts, especially with umpires. Show up looking professional and you gain a bit of respect right off the bat. If you arrive looking sloppy or otherwise unprofessional, you lose credibility before the first pitch.

Earlier this week, at my son’s high school game, the field umpire was wearing sneakers -- dirty, white sneakers. I must have had ten fans ask me about it or comment. It was immediately noticeable and a number of his calls were deemed questionable by the spectators and coaches. Were they good calls or calls that were just presented in a bad light?

Before each game my shoes get wiped down -- polished when necessary. My pants always have sharp creases, my shirts are ironed and my cap is clean. Why? First, I want that advantage, the benefit of the doubt from coaches, players and fans. I want them to believe that when I arrive, I do so with the proper attitude. I also feel better about myself when I look good – who doesn’t? Even if you’re just going to work, dressing well makes a statement.

This particular umpire may have gotten a call at the last minute or simply forgot his shoes. Things like that happen. Unfortunately, that put him at a disadvantage before the firsat pitch.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Don't Allow Rain to Stop Your Game

When one or more of my games are rained out, I curb my disappointment by trying to make the most of the down time. I’ve gotten into the habit of heading to an interesting web site – even if I only have a few minutes -- to test my rules knowledge.
The Interactive Baseball Rule Quiz Generator has a few set quizzes and a feature which randomizes questions in sets up to fifteen. They’ll score your quiz and when you answer incorrectly, there’s an explanation provided. All questions answered come with the rule reference.

Remember, you never know what situation will come up the next time you hit the field!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


UMPS CARE is a non-profit established by Major League Baseball (MLB) umpires that provides financial, in-kind and emotional support for America’s youth and families in need.  It's one of the best baseball-related organizations and the leadership is terrific.

Their youth-based programs allow professional baseball umpires to enrich the lives of at-risk youth and children coping with serious illness.  The group provides memorable baseball experiences, supports pediatric medical care, and raises awareness for foster care children waiting to be adopted.

UMPS CARE is currently holding an online auction with a wide variety of items up for bid.  With more than 100 items available, here's just a sample:

President Obama Signed Jersey

2010 All-Star Game Tickets

Assist the Phillie Phanatic at an UMPS CARE Event

Batting Practice with Game Ticket Experiences

Signed Memorabilia from Rod Carew, Goose Gossage and Nolan Ryan!

If you're interested, head to UMPS CARE Auction.  The auction is live through March 22nd. It's a great cause and the items and experiences offered are right in our wheelhouse!

For mor information on UMPS CARE, check out their website: UMPS CARE

Monday, March 15, 2010

A Bucket Full

I didn’t realize it until my partner had a problem but I should have seen it earlier.

I was in the field this weekend for the second game of two, the only day this week that the rain allowed us. The pre-game meeting progressed nicely until I heard those ominous words. “You won’t have any trouble with us,” one head coach. That’s an attention-getter, a phrase that should go un-said. Hmmm….

The third inning score was 12-6 in this Major Rec (11-12 year-olds) game when the team that was behind scored a few quick runs. The pitcher was struggling with control and a 2-2 pitch his coach “wanted” was a ball – and the “oohing” and “ahhing” began. “Where was that pitch?” the coach asked. My partner signaled both high and outside. The coach shook his head and waved his hand in disgust. The batter ultimately walked and the end of the inning saw the score stand at 12-9.

Between innings this assistant coach stood from his bucket seat and said, loud enough for parents to hear, “You’re squeezing our pitcher.” To my partner’s credit, he stood firm and responded that he’d tell him where a pitch was but there will not be a discussion of balls and strikes. That’s when I realized our mistake.

The coach returned to his seat on his bucket, on the home plate side of the on-deck circle, much too close to the action. We should have noticed earlier and moved him further away but he had been quiet up until then. After this mini-confrontation it was obvious that we could have prevented some of this bench jockey stuff.

There’s a saying among umpires – don’t pick up the dirty end of the stick. It reminds me to think ahead, to not put myself or my partner in a position that could develop into something more. We should have noticed earlier and taken care of it. This wasn’t much of an issue but it could have developed into something. Maybe it was that his team continued to hold the lead that saved us from the hassle of something more but you can’t plan on being that fortunate.

I don’t mind allowing a bucket for one coach. I’ve coached long enough to know it’s a comfortable way to see the game and it can help you be a better coach. What I don’t like is someone taking advantage and this coach seemed to be doing just that. The onus was on us and we allowed him the benefit -- but it won’t happen again.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Opening Day!

There’s no day quite like Opening Day. Everyone is excited and everything seems possible. I headed to the park early and when there were no umpires to be found at the lower-level fields, I drove to the upper field umpire area in search of my brothers (and one sister) in blue. Alas, my enthusiasm was too much and I must have been really early – no fellow umpires.

The field was buzzing when my partner and I arrived. As an umpire, you’re taught to slow down the game, especially as everyone else was getting fired up. Control your timing, see the whole play, see the whole field, don’t make calls to quickly, etc. I remember a quote from a minor league umpire who said that when he was behind the plate during one game early in his career, there could have been a bonfire in the bullpen and he wouldn’t have seen it. I actually thought of that as I entered the gates of the field.

Well, it was almost as if the players knew what I was trying to do. 11-12 year-olds can be that way. Five minutes into the first inning of the first game of Opening Day and we had bases loaded and none out.

The visiting team was poised to start the season off with an offensive explosion. The pitcher was a little wild and a bit startled. As the cleanup batter stepped up, I recall thinking that a lot could happen here, slow it down. My partner was a friend, someone I had coached with for years, and new to umpiring. We had completed the four day Southern Umpires Camp a few weeks earlier so we both should have known where to go and what to do. Would we?

The #4 batter hit the first pitch he saw into centerfield, a line drive. Here we go. The runners take off and so does the CF, racing in. As the ball is about to drop, the CF lunges forward and snatches it, just below his knees. My partner, working the “C” position, had taken a few steps toward the ball and immediately raises his right fist and yells, “That’s a catch”. I’ve got the runner from third base already down the line so he’s in trouble. The real problem for the offense, though, are the two runners heading to second base.

The runner who was on second base ran on contact but looked back to see the catch. He was retreating as the CF tossed the ball to the SS covering the bag. ‘He’s out there!” my partner bellowed. The runner who had been on first (and was running at the aggressive command of his first base coach) stops three feet from second base. From where I’m standing, I can see the SS on the bag with the ball, the 2B standing to the right of second base and the runner standing next to him. The all froze for a moment, like time seems to freeze during a car accident.

The runner was the first to move and he took off back to first base. The SS tosses – lobs – the ball to the 1B and it seemed to hang there forever before the 1B grabbed it. “He’s out there!” yells my partner. My runner on third base was laying on the ground, arms stretched out, touching his base, not knowing what had happened.

The rest of the day was uneventful. I don’t even think that we saw even a double play over the next two games.

We’re in business!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Cast of Characters, Version 1.0

As an umpire, you meet some interesting folks. Your home park will reveal its own peculiar personalities and teams from other areas will certainly bring with them certain eccentrics and oddballs. The first subject in a feature I’ll call “Cast of Characters” is a long-time umpire who has established himself as “The Glove Doctor”, the go-to guy for all things related to baseball gloves.

Young players don’t understand how to properly care for a mitt. Gloves are not broken in correctly, they get wet, dry out, stay in equipment bags all winter, are left in the garage and are otherwise treated as an afterthought. The Glove Doctor is my park’s answer to protecting and caring for the second most important piece of defensive equipment.

The Glove Doctor knows how to break in your glove (no more dropping it in a bucket of water or using Vaseline), he can bring back to life something that looks like a dog’s chew toy and he’s the resident expert in all things leather and laces. This is the guy who has a preferred glove conditioner ointment that he buys direct from the manufacturer. When that manufacturer experienced a fire, The Glove Doctor contacted them, wanting to know when they’d be back in business – after offering his condolences.

True story: His doorbell rang one evening and when his wife answered, a visitor was standing there, glove in hand, asking, “Is this where The Glove Doctor lives?” It’s a steady hobby but he’s not quite sure he breaks even financially. His reputation has grown over the years and players at Georgia Tech and the University of Georgia sport gloves worked on by The Glove Doctor. His goal is to have one of his gloves appear in the College World Series.

If you’re in the North Atlanta area and need some glove work, or if you just want to “talk leather”, contact The Glove Doctor at

Monday, March 1, 2010

Timing Is Everything

I had lunch last fall with three MLB umpires. I won’t name them only because I didn’t tell them I would be writing about our get-together – this was before I started this blog.

Anyway, they were very forthcoming with information and answers to any and all questions. Their extensive knowledge of the game was obvious and they even quizzed me a bit. Each experienced a different path to the major league level and each official was very impressive.

The stories about different stadiums, players and coaches were superb but the one concept that came up a few times was timing. “If you find that you’ve made a mistake or think you missed a call,” one of them said, “it’s probably because your timing was off. You were probably going too quickly.”

Timing was drilled into us at the Southern Umpires Camp and it’s something I think about during every game – even the ones where I’m a spectator. “Slow down, slow down…where’s the timing?” instructors implored us at the camp, over and over again. Timing helps you call a good game and it also lends a bit of authority to your decisions. I think it tells the players, coaches and fans that, even in that little second or two that you wait, you’ve given the call proper attention and consideration.

So, when I hit the field this season, I’ll remember the stories of the best players, the managers that come with the best arguments, which stadiums these guys like to work and timing. Timing, as they say, is everything.

Friday, February 26, 2010

I Don't Care

That’s the one statement I wish I could get across to parents, coaches and players before, during and after each game. Not in those exact words but that’s the sentiment so many folks don’t understand.

I don’t care if a player is safe or out or if the next pitch is a ball or a strike. I don’t care if a ball is fair or foul or if one of the teams is undefeated or if the other is plowing through a winless season. I guess the more appropriate expression should be, “It doesn’t matter to me.”

What does matter? The safety of the players (doesn’t this go without saying?), sportsmanship and that we all follow the rules and procedures of the game. What else is there? The weather, I guess.

Late into last year’s spring season I was behind the plate for a 14U travel game. The son of a fellow umpire played for one of the teams. This player is a friend of my two children and is considered to be an all-around great kid. The father is also a superb individual. I rang the kid up on a called third strike. Why? It was a strike. His dad is still a friend. Why can’t all parents be umpires?

Here’s something else that, based on past experience, I expect to happen this season. A 2-2 pitch comes in, just off the outside corner of the plate. It’s not a strike but the defensive team “wants” it. The pitch is called a ball. The pitcher cocks his head, the defensive coach twitches a bit as he anticipates the strike declaration that doesn’t come, and mom and dad in the stands moan and maybe even utter a “C’mon, Blue!” The offensive coach may even whistle as he believes his batter caught a break. What’s a guy to do? I don’t…it doesn’t matter to me.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Go Camping

When I decided to get into officiating, I understood right away that being an umpire required a new set of skills. From years as a player and a coach, I knew how the game was played but if I wanted to be "Blue" or "Mr. Umpire", I was going to need more schooling. Where did I go? The Southern Umpires Camp.

The camp "is designed for the amateur experienced or beginning umpire". After each time I've attended, I could not wait to get back on the field. There are five professional instructors -- two from MLB, one from the MLB minor leagues and two Division 1 collegiate umpires. They also have an experienced support staff. The schooling was intense with classroom sessions combined with video instruction and on-field drilling. Sixty or so of us graduate with tremendous knowledge and confidence.

My classmates are always a mix of beginners and experienced guys, some with a rec league background and others that had already officiated at the small college level. Most wanted to get into the high school mix. Held outside of Atlanta, the class draws from from all over Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio and Alabama.

The focus at this camp is the two-man system, properly calling balls & strikes, managing the game and some of the more common rules. The same organization also offers a three-man focused camp. I encourage you to check it out: 

Monday, February 22, 2010

Pre-Season: We're In It!

Our organization sent out the e-mail last week telling us to prepare for the upcoming season. I feel some excitement but also a sense of urgency. Being in shape to coach is one thing -- I can toss batting practice with the best of them and working up a sweat in the cage is a great way to get some cardio in. I also run and bike a bit so I’m certainly not starting from scratch. Officiating, though, is a bit different.

Being behind the plate for a six or seven inning game, with twenty pitches per half inning, I could be looking at 280 or so squats. Even in the field there’s standing, bending and sudden sprinting that can impact the back. A hobbling official isn’t setting himself up for success.

My first order of business in pre-season conditioning is to keep up, as long as I can, the occasional biking and running which tail off once the season starts. I’ve also added wind sprints a few days a week, with grass being the preferred running surface. Sit-ups and pushups help since your core plays an important role no matter what you are doing out in the field.

In season my biggest ally, in addition to good form behind the plate, is stretching. I haven’t gotten to the point of yoga (although I’ve heard good things) but I try to be diligent with stretches for the back, neck, shoulders and legs, particularly before and after games.

I know some fellow officials "ice up" after a game but it seems like the pre-season work and the stretching pay off.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Here We Go

I began umpiring in 2008 after years of playing and coaching. My son was off to high school so my coaching "career" was at a crossroads. Some of the umpires I knew encouraged me to give officiating a try. They looked like they were having fun, I knew the rules of baseball and I wanted to stay involved at our local park with the rec ball and youth travel leagues. Why not?

Well, my first year didn't go exactly as I expected but there were also some pleasant surprises. I'll post about that first year but I'll focus on documenting the upcoming season.

I've got the bug. Being on the field is one of the best places to spend an afternoon or an evening. I'll share the funny, the scary, the crazy and the zany. If you are a player, coach, parent or fellow umpire (I've been them all), then I think you'll enjoy this blog.

Bookmark this blog and c'mon backa few times a week -- and don;t be shy about posting a comment!