My Partner’s Shoe

2 Man Crew:

Most youth and high school baseball games that I have had the pleasure to umpire in have used 2 umpires. One who stands behind home plate in full protective gear, calls balls and strikes and keeps the game flowing relatively smoothly. This umpire is called the “plate” umpire. The second umpire is referred to as the “base” umpire and they’re main duty is to make calls related to base running. There are several responsibilities that each umpire has during the play of the game and depending on the situation, responsibilities can change for each of the umpires. These responsibilities can include things like: watching the base runner to make sure that they touch all of the bases, ensuring that a fielder makes a legal catch of a fly ball or line drive, watching for and making proper calls when a fielder prevents a runner from having access to a base and when a runner interferes with a fielder’s ability to make a play on a batted ball. I am going to explain one set of responsibilities for each umpire based on this scenario: there are no runners on base. “Plate” umpire begins the play positioned behind home plate and is responsible for calling balls and strikes. Additionally, when a ball is batted fair the “plate” umpire follows the ball to make sure that a legal catch is made on any fly ball or line drive for all fielders on the field with the exception of the first baseman and the right fielder, most of the time. If a legal catch is made, they are responsible for indicating an out by raising their right hand. If a batted fair ball is hit on the ground, the “plate” umpire follows the ground ball and then turns their attention to the player who just hit the ball and is running towards first base. Following the runner puts the “plate” umpire into position to ensure that the runner does indeed touch first base and as they follow the runner down to first base staring at the base, the “plate” umpire should be able to see the foot of the first baseman as they attempt to put out the runner. The “base” umpire begins the play standing about 10 – 15 feet behind first base and with both of their feet in foul territory. From this position, the “base” umpire can easily avoid any fair batted ball by moving into foul territory more and they can also more easily track any foul ball that is in the air near or behind first base to ensure that any fielder makes a clean and legal catch. The “base” umpire also would have the responsibility for moving out into right field along the foul line on any possible ball which may take extreme measures by the fielder to catch like, a diving catch or a catch of a ball close to the home run fence. The “base” umpire is also responsible for making the out or safe call for any batter who becomes a runner attempting to make it safely to first base after hitting a fair ball.

My Partner:

I happened to meet Sam one day at a local pub. Sam was there with family and I noticed that Sam had on Pittsburgh black and gold colors and was wearing my favorite football team from the “Burgh’s”, baseball cap. I made my way over to introduce myself and as I engaged in conversation with Sam, he shared with me that he was raised in Pittsburgh just like I was and that he loved all of the pro sports’ teams from that city, just as I did! Sam and I continued to chat over the weeks and I learned from him that he loved the game of baseball and had coached locally in Wisconsin for years since moving from Pittsburgh. We got to talking about still wanting to be involved in baseball and I mentioned to him that I had been an umpire since I was a sophmore in high school and that with us both loving the game, I would very much enjoy it if, he would get certified to umpire and then, join me on the field as my partner. He was “all in!” Sam got certified as quickly as he could and bought the equipment needed to protect himself while he was the “plate” umpire. Now, equipment needed to protect “plate” umpires includes: chest protector, helmet or mask, shin guards, throat protector, and steel toed or what they call “plate” shoes. Plate shoes have a large flap that covers nearly the entire top of the foot and from my experience, have guarded the tops of my feet many times against errant throws and fouled balls. Sam and I were ready to take the field together and continue our love for the game of baseball. Sam and I worked numerous games together over several seasons and one summer he and I decided to work a tournament together for an entire weekend. Here is where our love of baseball and the understanding of how a 2 man umpiring crew should work, leads me to story that follows.

What just happened?

Sam and I were on day 3 of the 3 day weekend tournament and I was working the plate and he was working the bases during the championship game of the 12 and under tournament bracket. Sam and I really did our best to stick to what we had learned from our training in order to be in the best positions that we could be in order to make an accurate call. There were no runners on base and we were in our proper positions, him behind first base and me behind home plate. There was a line drive hit into the outfield in between the center fielder and the right fielder and I raced out from behind home plate when I saw that the ball was going to be difficult to catch if, it was to be caught at all. Sam was meticulous and exact in his positioning in order to be able to follow the runner as he began to run down to first base. I jogged out to where the pitching mound was in order to be able to see the center fielder make a play on the ball. The runner reached first base and was turning to head towards second base and Sam was out in front of him and moving into position in order to be able see a potential play at second base. I witnessed the center fielder dive into the air to make an attempt to catch the ball. The ball hit the center fielder’s glove and bounced away, still floating in the air and it had yet to touch the ground. The right fielder was sprinting as fast as he could and at the last second leapt into the air and as his body floated above and parallel to the ground, the ball landed in his glove and he squeezed. The crowd for the team in the field was cheering and screaming and the crowd for the team that was batting was clapping also. Sam, who was watching the runner and second base at the time, came over to me after the runner started to jog back to his dugout and said, “Vinny, what just happened?” After the tournament ended and Sam and I walked back to our cars, we talked about the amazing catch that I and everyone else in attendance, except for Sam, witnessed on that day. I remember Sam saying to me, “damn, I wish that I would have been able to see it!”

*Note: A little over a week after Sam and I umpired that tournament, Sam’s spirit was freed from the confines of his body and I no longer have opportunities to spend the joys of baseball in this physical world with my partner. To this day, I can see his face so vividly after that catch was made and he approached me to ask what had happened. I want that memory to be with me and I want to recall those precious and valuable moments that I spent with Sam on and off the baseball diamond! His sons understood that and offered me the opportunity to keep his plate shoes! I took that opportunity and today, I wear one of Sam’s shoes and one of my own every time that I umpire a baseball game as the “plate” umpire! It is like my partner helps me to make every call good and not so good, and he continues to show me his love for the game! Thank you to Sam, Casey and Brett!


6 thoughts on “My Partner’s Shoe

  1. Sam was an awesome person. I miss him dearly. It is so like him to be focused on doing his job right that he missed that catch. It wasn’t his call to see.

    I knew you got his shoes. I knew that few could even come close to filling them. I also know you don’t try. What I didn’t know is the way you honor his memory. Sam would be humbled by this expression of respect and love. I am.


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