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!