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.
I've gotten into umpiring after years of playing and coaching baseball. I officiate at the youth league level (9U-15U) and I can tell you that it's different than what I thought it would be. If you're new to umpiring, take a look around this blog, read up on officiating, maybe attend a camp. It's a great way to stay involved with youth sports!