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.