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Starting with a Story

It is not often that one gets the chance to share what they have learned during their life that has helped to make them who they are. My journey through life has offered some incredible moments and connected me with people who have made this journey a constant growth opportunity filled with smiles, laughs, tears, pain, suffering and the discovery of what makes me strong.

My story begins in the city of Pittsburgh, PA on a Saturday night in June of 1966. The location of my birth has played a significant role in defining me and the principles that I live my life by. It has also brought me to a place in my life that sees nature through the eyes of someone who enjoys all 4 seasons and respects all that nature has to offer. Western Pennsylvania presents a pure part of the U.S. that offers up opportunities to marvel at the beauty of nature as well as the entertainment aspects of city life. It is where I spent the first 18 years of my life and where I can proudly say that I will forever have my roots.

Now that the foundation has been laid out for this first blog post, let me move on to the first lesson of this blog: life lessons sometimes happen in the oddest ways! As the second child and only son in a family of five, I felt as though I was dealt a bad hand from the get go. I seemed to feel as though I didn’t have someone there to guide me when I needed guidance. Lesson number 1 for me was: you are able to find what you need, when you need it, if you are willing to do the work to seek it out! I am going to be honest about this one as it took me a long time to figure out that help is not only found by turning towards your family, it is also found by seeking it in your community of friends and mentors/coaches.

Playing football in Western PA was something that every able bodied male in nearly every family did during the time that I grew up and as far as I know, remains so today. Loving sports as a child, I decided to play football at the ripe old age of 8! I strapped on my helmet, walked to practice and worked with as little effort as possible to play the game of football. I was not aggressive and I was not talented in the skills that were needed to play football well, i.e. strength, speed, and agility. That was 2 strikes against me and the third was that I loved the game of baseball and was only playing football because all of my friends were. I didn’t play much and watched closely as the other boys played and I paid particularly close attention to how the coaches were talking with the players and with each other. What I realized years after I was done playing football was that I learned how to teach the players how to play together. I learned how to be a coach during my playing days! I understood that I wasn’t so much interested in playing the game as I was about communicating with the players and planning for what the offense and defense were going to do during each play.

Reflecting back on that experience, I realize that my coaches probably knew that I would not be playing football beyond the youth league and they wanted me to have a positive experience. They helped to make my experience memorable and after more than 30 years of coaching that is what I try to bring to the players that I coach. I still feel a desire inside of me to see the players make progress and grow as individuals while learning about teamwork. I have been told that I still have passion in my eyes when I am on the sideline of a game that I am coaching in and while I don’t get to see that passion, I feel it!

Ask for what it is that you need to learn or experience because the worst thing that can happen if you ask, someone says “No!”


“Ask for help not because you are weak, but because you want to remain strong.”

Les Brown

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!

Experience and Control

Spring tickles my senses:

When I was younger and still in school, my favorite season was definitely Summer! After all, I had really no responsibilities because there was no school. My number 1 priority was finding a way to get to the baseball field in order to watch, play or umpire a baseball game. My mother never really worried about me because if she needed to find me, all she needed to do was to go to the nearest baseball field and I was almost assuredly to be there. Since those childhood days have passed and since I have grown into the person that I am today, no season is more appealing to me than Spring! There is so much that comes with springtime and some of things that are most prevalent in my mind are the smells and sounds associated with the season. One of the most distinguishable smells of spring is the unmistakable aroma of a leather glove. To me, there is something about that smell that takes me back to a time in my life when things were pure and I was stress-free. Along with that smell was the unique sound of a cow or horse hide covered baseball finding its way into the pocket of that glove. The pure and unequaled smack of the leather popping as the ball comes to a sudden stop as it is enveloped into the surrounding light brown colored and beautifully woven hand made piece of art! Hmm, the sound resonates in my head as I write this! Smelling that leather and hearing that popping of ball meeting glove says that spring is here and that a full day for me will end in some way with a baseball game.

Umpires are humans:

As the fans begin to fill the stands at any baseball game, there seems to be an excitement in the air. People who may not know each other engage in conversations about who is pitching on that day or what their team needs to do to win. Some even have a little fun with visiting fans. Many times I have been in the stands at a ball game and have noticed several “boos” rain down when the umpires take the field or are being announced as part of the pregame introductions. Umpires are a part of the game and are definitely needed so, when I hear those boos I think to myself, those men and women have one of the toughest jobs out there. The umpires are not the ones who throw, hit and catch the ball. The umpires are humans who have to be in the right position, at the right time, to see a play that happens in a fraction of a second and then, immediately process what they just saw and deliver a definitive call! Think about those times in your life when you had to do something immediately after seeing or hearing something. What went through your mind? I can tell you from experience that what goes through my mind on any pitch or play is, I saw what happened and now need to make a call. That brings me to my first point in this post; no matter what that person just saw and regardless of the call that they make, there are going to be some who vocally display their displeasure with the call. Another thing to think about when watching the home plate umpire is that he/she is equipped from head to toe with hot gear and they do not get to take a half inning off and sit in the dugout. Additionally, the home plate umpire sees 200 plus pitches during any single baseball game. The best hitters in baseball get a hit once every 3 times at bat. Some of the best home plate umpires get the balls’ and strikes’ calls right over 90% of the time. What does that mean for the umpires? Well, to me it means that they are damn good at their job! It also means that out of those 200 pitches during the game they are going to get about 20 calls incorrect. If our kids get a 90% on a test, we are very proud of them! If we take into account that these men and women are doing their job at better than 90%, then we need to also appreciate them for the incredible job that they are doing.

Experience and Control:

Over the years, I have experienced several disagreements with coaches, fans and players while I have been an umpire. Not all of those experiences have ended the way in which I would have liked to see them end. I have grown to understand that the best way to avoid any argument regarding calls made during a baseball game is to: 1) Hustle, 2) Be in position to see the play, 3) Make the call, 4) Have fun, 5) Know the rules, 6) Communicate openly with the coaches and 7) Admit when you make a mistake and work with your partners to get the call right, when you are able to. Number 7 is probably one of the toughest ones to do because it is difficult to admit when we are wrong. Let’s go back to the above section where I stated that “umpires are human”. Humans make mistakes and that is how they learn and grow. One specific example that I can give regarding how my experience as an official and understanding what I was able to control happened to me recently while I was umpiring in tournament for 10 year olds. I was behind the plate and was working with one other umpire who was responsible for making the calls on the bases. There was a lot of chatter from the fans who were sitting behind home plate and adamantly opposed to some of the calls that I was making and were making their feelings well known to me and to everyone else who was in attendance. Experience told me to ignore what I was hearing and to control what I was able to control which was 2 things. 1, continue to make the calls as I saw them, emphatically and immediately and 2, communicate with the coaches in between innings. What did I say to the coaches in between innings? Easy! I said to them that I was still in search of making zero mistakes during a game. When I communicated this to the coaches, their reactions were pretty good. One coach said to me that he was still trying to coach the perfect game and the other coach said that I was doing a great job. Control! It is an interesting word and an even tougher concept especially, when you have some people who feel that they are in a better position to see a play and make the correct call than you are. Control over decisions that you make and over how you react to situations is something that I believe that we all have the capability to do and over the years as a human in blue, I have been able to learn and use control.

Preventive Officiating – Part II

Someone once asked me:

When I first started officiating football games in the early 1990’s, I was once asked by a player, “do you like to officiate?” I took the opportunity to have a short conversation with the athlete who asked this question. I started out by saying that I enjoyed officiating because it made me feel like I was a part of the game even though, officials would like to remain invisible during the game. I then went on to explain that I was officiating mainly because I wanted to be a witness to the game and to help others see the many facets of the game of American football. American football in my mind is akin to many things in culture and relates to history very well. I talked to this athlete about how players at the highest levels have worked hard, displaying discipline and a work ethic that rivals very few. I also mentioned that the moves and play making abilities of many of the skill position players on the field reminds me of professionals in other arenas such as ballet. When I mentioned ballet to the athlete, he stared at me with a weird smile on his face and I knew right then that he was lost in my comparison. “Think of this”, I said. “When a forward pass is thrown in football and the pass seems to be too high for any “normal” human being to have a chance to catch it, the grace with which a football player is able to leap and haul in the pass seems to me to contain the grace of a ballerina as she leaps from her toes into the air with her arms outstretched as if attempting to grab an overthrown pass!” I could see the athlete start to relate the 2 in his mind and he said to me, “I get it now.”

That understanding builds trust:

Over the years, I have had many conversations with athletes, coaches and other officials while I was on the field and during each conversation, I tried to embrace the teaching and learning moments. Those moments came mostly from short 30 – 60 second conversations which eventually built a trust and mutual respect with those with whom I was conversing. I learned that short conversations on the field of play could help me to understand an athlete, coach or another official and it provided an opportunity to bond with them during the game on something that was meaningful to both of us. Officiating to me goes beyond understanding the rules, it needs to embrace the true meaning of competition and respect. Engaging in conversation on the field, built that camaraderie and understanding that everyone on the field of play has a job to do and understands what the job is of the players, officials and coaches.

The conversations that matter and keep the game moving:

Being in the middle of the defense as an official, gives me the advantage of having the most preventative conversations with the players. Early on in a game, I try to walk up to players who are on the fringe of having a penalty called on them and let them know what I am seeing them do. I would say that walking up to a single player after a play has ended and saying to them that I am seeing them grabbing another play in an illegal manner usually ends the behavior and for that, I am grateful. More penalties means the game moves more slowly. In case you have not been to a sporting event where there are a lot of penalties, it usually means that the crowd starts to get impatient with the officials and the flow of the game slows to the pace of a snail’s crawl. The more short conversations that I can have during the 30 seconds between plays lets the players, coaches and other officials know that I have my eyes on the game and that I am doing my best to keep the game moving along. During one game, there was a play where a pass was thrown to the right side of the field and there were 2 players, 1 from each team closer to the left side of the field that were grappling with each other as the play was taking place. The contact between these players reminded me of a scene from the movies where 2 fighters are shoving and grabbing each other in an attempt to throw the opponent to the ground. This type of intense combat also took me back to the days when my sons were competing in Judo, as these 2 athletes were really going at it. I had my eyes on this confrontation and I turned toward the action where the play was taking place to make sure that the play ended without incident and that the other officials had things covered and then, I immediately turned my attention to the grappling opponents. “Gentlemen”, I started with. “Play the game hard and play it fair and when you hear that whistle, stop!” The players were in each other’s space and were staring at each other. I stepped in and said only 2 words, “I’m watching!” The 2 players tapped each other on the shoulder pads and walked to their respective huddles. When the players broke from their huddles I heard the defensive player say to me “it’s all good ref, thanks!” From that point forward there was not another incident involving those 2 players. It would have been easy for me to throw a flag on both of those players for unsportsmanlike conduct and some officials may have. Here was my thinking, if I throw a flag on them in this game, it meant that if either one of them received another unsportsmanlike conduct foul during that game by rule, they would have been ejected from the game. Neither player threw a punch or slammed their opponent to the ground. Finally, I felt like an understanding from the players that I was involved in the game and had my eyes open would lead them to police themselves and I was right, in this situation. Lessons like this can be transferred into nearly all facets of life. Knowing the situation, having the confidence to speak up and understanding what the outcome could be if no action is taken are 3 things that I try to remember when I walk into a conference room at work or onto a field of play.

My Sister and Her Love of the Game

A Bicentennial Birth:

In 1976, I was about to turn 10 years old my Mom informed me and my sisters that she was going to have another baby. I was pretty excited about having another sibling and since I had 3 sisters already, I was really hoping for a brother. My 3 sisters at the time wanted another girl and I think that they teased me a bit about Mom having another girl. I use to get pretty upset and would lash out at my sisters from time to time and when they teased me about having another sister, my response was no different. The pregnancy for my Mom was a difficult one and I remember that she was sick a lot and it turned out that she was not only pregnant, she was also dealing with a failing gallbladder. I cannot imagine how much pain my Mother was in and since she was pregnant throughout the summer months, I believe that she was suffering even more. I do remember how excited we all were when my Mom went into labor and was taken to the hospital. I also clearly remember praying “really hard” to have Mom come home from the hospital with a boy. Well, I now realize that praying in that way did not work as my Mom and Dad came home from the hospital in early November with a baby girl and my 4th sister. It didn’t matter to me when I saw her!

He’s Cute:

When my sister started to grow she began to take an interest in sports and it was nice to be around someone else in the family who knew some of the players and could talk about the game of baseball. As I grew into my high school years and was playing baseball as much as I could, I made the decision to join the Navy and knew that I would be leaving shortly after I graduated from high school in the summer of 1984. My youngest sister and I spent some time as she was growing up playing some baseball in our backyard and when I left for the Navy she continued to play softball. During the time when I was in the Navy our favorite baseball team the Pirates, were getting good and I was excited to see them playing so well. My sister was also enjoying the Pirates and for a completely different reason. She was following the team and in particular, one player. As it turns out, she really wasn’t interested in whether the team won or lost (at least no where as much as I was), she was interested in the center fielder because, “he was cute!” That was fine by me and I tried my best to listen to her and to feed her admiration of this player. I even went as far as buying her some items that were specific to the player that she thought was cute.

Watching her play:

When I joined the Navy and left home my sister was just turning 8 and when I moved away after I got out of the Navy, I stayed in touch with her and continued to talk with her about how she was doing in her sports and in school. One of the great joys that I was able to experience was watching her play. After settling in a different state and getting started on a family of my own, I returned back to the Pittsburgh area one summer and was able to watch my sister play some softball in a recreational league. She played catcher and was quite good at it and I saw a smile on her face which said to me that she was enjoying being on the field. I think that while I was watching her play in her game that I was reminiscing back to my youth and to the times that I was on the baseball field and enjoying myself. I also thought about the times when I invited my sisters to join me for a baseball game in the backyard or played catch with my youngest sister. Having 4 sisters was pretty awesome now that I reflect upon my youth and even now! I see how strong and filled with drive and passion they are and I marvel at how they are able to enjoy life and constantly work at being better each day and at teaching their kids about how to make good decisions and how to focus on what is right and just. The game of baseball helped me to get close to my youngest sister and as I grew older, I realized that she was not a “tom boy”, she was someone who enjoyed opportunities to stay active and learn about life through sports. To this day she follows athletes who she finds cute and we have a laugh about that! She has also raised an amazing young man whom I adore and miss tremendously!! I recently found out that she had kept some of the things that I gave to her when she was growing up. The center fielder who she thought was cute on my favorite baseball team, she still has memorabilia depicting him and some is even in its original packaging. I guess some things are preserved for nostalgia and some things are preserved because they have value and some things are saved because someone finds them “cute’!

Growth through Adversity

Note: Some material in this post may be sensitive. It deals with colorectal cancer and the treatment of it.

Summer of 2014:

The summer of 2014 seemed to be a pretty normal summer for me. I was playing baseball in a +45 age league and was enjoying it immensely since, baseball was my first love and playing the game kept me active and around others who had a passion for the sport like I did. I was even able to fulfill my dream of playing catcher in a baseball game which allows me to say that I have now played all 9 positions on the baseball diamond and even was a DH. I felt good for most of the summer and was looking forward to the football season and my 25th year of coaching. I was excited about coaching and was surprised at how fast 25 years had passed since I first walked onto a football field as a coach! Something else was going on during the late summer months in 2014. I found out that my younger sister’s health was failing and that the prognosis for her was not good. I had just turned 48 and my sister was going to be 47 in October of that year. Flying to another state to visit her was very tough to do and seeing her in her failing health was even worse! Coming back home late in the summer of 2014, I realized that I would probably not see my younger sister again and the plane ride home for me made me feel sad and as I remember now, all I could do was cry and sit in disbelief! Not 4 years earlier, I had taken a different plane ride home after spending a final few precious moments with my Father who soon afterwards passed away and I experienced those same emotions.

Fall came and fall I did:

While I wasn’t trying to lose weight, I was staying active and had lost a few pounds and attributed my being a little bit worn out at the end of the day to my “just getting older”. As it turned out, that was not the reason. I made it through the football season and had a regularly scheduled 6 month check up with my primary doctor soon after the season ended. I went in for my scheduled blood draw about 10 days prior to my appointment and then arrived for my doctor’s appointment ready to find out the results. “Everything looks good!” I heard her say. “Anything that you have concerns about?” she asked. I remember telling her that I had noticed some dark spots when I had a bowel movement. After an extensive exam, I heard her say that she thought that I probably had internal hemorrhoids and that since I was close to 50, she would be willing to order a “precautionary” colonoscopy. I also heard her say that since there was no history of colorectal cancer in my family and since my blood-work was “normal” and that I had no risky behavior (I do not smoke) that it was up to me. I remember saying “sure, let’s do it!” Little did I know that the conversation that had would save my life. On November 16, 2014 my sister passed away and on that day I was preparing for my colonoscopy which was scheduled for November 17th. I hardly had time to grieve prior to arriving at the hospital for my procedure. I sat with another one of my sisters in the waiting room and watched as patient after patient came out of their procedures and as nurses explained to those who were there with the patients about how the patient will be groggy for the remainder of the day and also talked to them about any medications. Then, a nurse came and called my name and I walked back and changed into the “backwards” robe and then the nurse started my IV and I was rolled into the room where the doctor would preform the colonoscopy. I do remember signing the consent form and then I remember the nurse calling my name as I was waking up from my short slumber. She asked me to get dressed and informed me that she would go and get my sister from the waiting room. I did as instructed and when my sister arrived and I was ready to go. I expected to hear the nurse talk to my sister about my being groggy. That is not what the nurse did. “The doctor would like to talk with you” is what I heard and then my sister and I were in a small room and the doctor was sitting in a chair. My sister and I sat down across from the doctor and he said the words that changed my life, “during the procedure we found a tumor and based on my experience, I believe that it is cancer.” I believe that I did not hear anything else after those words were spoken and I am thankful that my sister was there with me. The one thing that I do remember vividly when I returned home was thinking about how I was going to tell my Mom this news after she just had to say goodbye to her daughter.

What fighting cancer helped me with:

Bob Marley said“You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have” and I realize that now when I look back on what I went persevered through during that fall of 2014 and throughout 2015. The short part of this story is that I had what was known as a spontaneous non-remarkable carcinoma which was stage 3 emphasized by tissue penetration and lymph node involvement. What it meant for me was that I was going to be going through several procedures, surgeries and 6 months of chemotherapy (every other week for basically 72 hours). I will not tell you about that and instead will tell you about what I learned and how I have grown. First and I believe the most important thing is that I now value every minute that I have the ability to live. If I have the opportunity to travel somewhere or experience something new, I do not hesitate! Second, I give thanks every day for the little things in life like taking a walk or smelling freshly brewed coffee! I do my best to keep my mouth closed and my ears open. I read anything that I can to gain perspective from others on how they have experienced this life. I try my best to experiment with new things, i.e. skydiving, surfing, kayaking, cooking, playing guitar, writing, meditating, etc. It is these new experiences which have helped to gain a fuller life’s adventure and have led me to a happiness in this life. I do my best not to worry! Nothing can be more worrisome than being told that you have a cancer where the 5 year survival rate is less than 18%. Worry is only debt paid on events yet to happen and I try to remember that as I go through my day. I cherish conversation and learning new things from others. I have been able to reconnect with distant friends and family and do my best to stay in touch with them. I tell my friends and family that I love them and do my best to show them that I do. The love that I received from the doctors, nurses, pharmacists and therapists during my fight was unlike any love that I have ever received from people outside of my family and I cannot be more grateful for having them been in my life when I needed them the most and so, I will send their love out into the world! I have more importantly been able to empathize with others! I now have the ability to hear what someone is saying and not react immediately and rather take a second and ask myself, what are they dealing with in this moment and are they struggling with something that is changing their life in a profound way. Connection in this way has helped me to be a better father, son, brother, friend, co-worker, sports’ official and coach. I realize now that getting upset or angry is on me and not someone else. No one can make me feel angry or upset! Only I can do that. I would like to close out this post with one of the greatest gift that I have been given in my life through adversity and that gift is the willingness to show kindness towards all. Each day I remember the words of the Dalai Lama “I don’t practice Buddhism, I practice kindness” and I do my best when I am drifting away from this practice so that I can recenter myself, come back to my true being and practice kindness. This simple act has carried over into my coaching and has helped me to understand what teamwork and trust means on the field of play. It also brings me back to my battle with cancer and how the team that saved my life worked together and trusted each other to do what they could to help save my life! Teamwork and trust are essential in every aspect of life and I am grateful that I have learned this lesson. May you have the courage to go out into the world today and practice kindness!

Preventive Officiating – Part I

I am a football Umpire:

When the word “umpire” is mentioned, I would think that most sports’ fans would assume that baseball would be the sport. There is also a football official’s position called “umpire”. The umpire on a high school football field is the official whose primary position during scrimmage plays (plays where one team is on offense and the other team is on defense) is roughly 7 yards beyond the forward most point of the ball and in the middle of the defense. I have been an umpire for my high school officiating crew for the past 5 seasons and I will be the first to tell you that, the umpire needs to be very much aware of their surroundings and must ensure that they remain out of the way of players from the offense and defense as well as, the football. I say the football because many high school football coaches (including your’s truly) will design pass and run plays that will use the umpire as a natural barrier to the defensive players making a tackle or a play on a forward pass. It has happened to me many times over the years that a quarterback will intentionally throw a forward pass directly towards the location of the umpire with the hope that the defensive player will not be able to get to the ball without running into umpire. Additionally, when the offensive receiver makes a play for the forward pass the umpire becomes their “blocker” to any potential defensive player which allows the receiver to gain significant yardage after he catches the ball. If that is not enough of a danger, the umpire is standing in the middle of well over 1000 pounds of high school athletes in full football gear, on running plays which are designed to go up the middle of the field. I am not a small guy however, I would stand no chance against a single high school player in full pads and a helmet let alone 10 or 11 of them. One final note regarding the safety of the umpire, the college and professional ranks of football have moved the umpire from the defensive side of the football and re-positioned them in the offensive backfield on the opposite side from the referee partly due to the speed and size of the players and also, to ensure additional protection for the umpire.

Communication during the game:

The primary responsibility of the umpire during any down is to watch the players on the line of scrimmage (linemen) and make sure that any illegal activity such as holding, gets noticed and a flag is thrown. Umpires also have responsibility for the safety of the runners and receivers in some instances. When the offense runs a running play up the middle the umpire needs to ensure that once the play ends that all players exit the pile and that no one is injured in any way. On a pass play, the umpire has a few responsibilities including watching for illegal activity, making sure that only legal players go out for a pass (linemen are not allowed beyond the line of scrimmage on a pass play until the ball passes the line of scrimmage) and getting into a position to be able to see if a receiver makes a legal catch of a forward pass. There are other responsibilities that fall on the umpire like, making sure that the quarterback does not cross the line of scrimmage before he throws a forward pass and looking for any late hits or illegal hits from players going out for a pass. All of these responsibilities are made easier through communication with the players on the field. The umpire is in a perfect position to talk with every player on the offensive and defensive side of the football who are near the ball when they come up to the line of scrimmage. The umpire is also able to talk with the players on defense between downs. I have found that the communication that goes on between myself and the players on the field goes along way to remaining focused on the game, making the right calls and providing feedback. During nearly every snap of the football a defensive player and sometimes the coaches will be screaming about holding. Something to consider, if holding was called during every snap of a football game, games would last 4 hours. The umpire can help by listening to the defensive players complaints. This is a key for me to gain the respect of the players and to also let them know what I am seeing. Sometimes all a player needs to hear is “I am watching” or “I will keep my eyes on it”. When these words are communicated to a player on defense, it usually leads to less complaining. Communication with the players does not always involve a complaint. I had a friend of mine once ask me “don’t you wonder what the players and officials are smiling about?” I don’t need to wonder because, it is a joy to be able to listen to the players talk among themselves and ask questions of the officials during the game or when there is a timeout. I remember one game where a defensive player came onto the field early in the game and said something to the effect of watch out for the umpire, he looks like he has played this game. While that comment made me smile, it sparked some additional comments around why I am still involved in the game today and how much I wish that I could still put the pads on and play! These moments are worth every Friday night under the lights as are the moments when the players say thank you!

Stop it before you call it:

We call it ‘preventive officiating”. The basic idea is that any official is able to stop a situation or argument from escalating just by having a quick conversation regarding an incident that happened or even getting ahead of a potential incident by communicating with the players and coaches. This happens during the pregame conferences with head coaches from both teams. One such example is that nearly every game that I have ever been an official in, the referee has asked each coach (separately of course) if there was anything that the coaches had a concern about or anything special that they were planning on doing. This is done to gain input from the coaches and also to address any potential issues which may arise during the game. It also keeps the officials on their toes, knowing that something is going to be coming. Having the knowledge that a team is going to be running a hurry-up offense helps the officiating crew be prepared by getting the ball ready for play as soon as possible and it also sends a message to the coach that they were heard. When the coin toss is conducted the referee also reminds the captains from each team that they have the responsibility as captains to keep their teammates playing within the rules. Early in the season, I try to get situations to stop before I throw a penalty flag. The main reasons are that penalty flags slow the game down and since it is early in the season, players may need to adjust to players from other teams since, they have only been playing against their own teammates for weeks. One of the things that I try to stop is holding1. Holding in football occurs in many forms. Holding basically happens when one player restricts the advancement of another player from making his normal football play through the use of their hands or arms (I am not talking about defensive players trying to tackle). In the first quarter of early season games, I will approach a player who may have been a little bit “handsy” and say something to the effect of “keep your hands inside” or “keep your feet moving” and I always remind them that it is my job to be watching them. As the game moves along and if I see improvement from the player who has been spoken to, I let them know that they are doing a nice job. Another thing that I try to do is talk with the other officials on the field and ask them to relay to the head coach that “number so and so” is grabbing and not moving his feet. This is a great way to have the coach get involved and most of the time leads to less penalty flags. Communicating with the players, other officials and coaches before a situation gets out of hand or escalates to a point where tempers may flare is one of the best ways to conduct “preventive officiating” and I suspect, makes the game more enjoyable for the players, coaches, officials and fans!

1 – Holding – Wikipedia

The False Start

Mighty might league football:

After I had been officiating for 5 years, the youth organization that I was a part of decided to start a developmental league for players under the age of 8. They called the league the “mighty might league”. In the league the rules were very clear and were quite different from other league rules. Only 9 players would be on offense and defense. No score would kept during the game and coaches would be allowed on the field at all times to help position and teach the young players about the game of football. Other rules that were different about the mighty might league were that the clock would only stop for timeouts, scores and injuries. Also, each quarter was 10 minutes, there was free substitution, there were only 2 referees on the field and penalties were not walked off and were instead used as teaching moments. I felt like this was a great way to introduce young kids to sports and it also gave them a chance to have some fun. Additionally, with the running clock games usually lasted only about 1 hour which was just about the attention span for 5, 6 and 7 year olds. I had the pleasure to referee some of the games in this league and below is one of the best memories that I have from being around these young athletes.

How plays happen:

During one of the first games that I was assigned to referee, I had 2 teams comprised with mostly 5 and 6 year old players. The coaches appeared very young and for the most part when I talked to them they were there to coach their family member. Many of the parents that were in attendance were doing their best to treat this game like a big production which included playing music during the introduction of the players and wearing their team’s colors. Some of the parents even had signs and pom-poms that they were waving! It was such a wonderful atmosphere and as the game progressed, it was incredible to see how the coaches were instructing their players on where to stand and what to do. The coaches on both sides were very patient with the players and for most of the game took the time to help all of the players up from the ground when a tackle was made or when a player just fell. During most of the games that I had the pleasure of officiating at this level plays went something like this. The coach for the offense stands with his players in their huddle and tells the team what to do then, the players break out of the huddle with a very loud clap and the word “break” being screamed from their mouths. It was great to see the competition on the scream and the clap between the 2 teams as each time they broke out of the huddle, they tried to scream louder than their opponent did. After the break from the huddle the coach followed his players up to the ball and helped to get each of them into the correct position and stance. The player who is going to snap the ball spreads his little legs apart as far as he can without falling down and then places both hands on the football. The quarterback bends his back at the waist and then dips his head way down close to the ground to look at the ball between the center’s legs. I assumed that he did this to make sure that he can see that the ball is really there and then, while refusing to place his hands anywhere near the center’s behind starts to yell as loud as he can, “READY, SET, HIKE!” The center snaps the ball which takes about 5 seconds to get to the quarterback more than likely because he has no idea where the quarterback’s hands are and he may feel as though if he snaps the ball too fast he will fall on his face. After the ball finally reaches the quarterback, he turns around and waits for a running back to come to him and grab the football all the while, holding the ball away from his body as an offering for anyone who would like to take it from him! Once the ball finds its way into the hands of the running back, a pile of 18 players moves in unison to a spot on the field for a big pile up and sometimes leads to one or more players getting hurt in some way. Sometimes the screams coming from the bottom of the pile sound like it may be the end for one or more of the players. Regardless, I never saw any player get seriously injured in this league and most of the time after the player went to the sideline they were greeted with a hug from a loved one and were back on the field in a few plays.

False start to music:

During the first half of this particular game, the Bengals came up to the line of scrimmage on offense and the coach spent about 30 seconds getting his players into position and asking them if they knew what to do. For the most part the players on both sides of the ball gave a nod of their head or a thumbs up and the play was ready to be run. Then for some reason music began to play from the sideline of the Bengals and a player on the offensive line for the Bengals stood up and began to dance. In any ordinary football game this action would result in a 5 yard penalty for a false start as no players on offense are allowed to move once they are set unless they are running parallel to the line of scrimmage (going in motion) or they get reset for a full second prior to the ball being snapped. Well, these were 5 and 6 years olds and the “showmanship” came out on both sides of the ball. As I was watching the events unfold, I realized that I was witnessing one great dance-off between players, parents and coaches on both sidelines and a smile came to my face. Now, I would think that for any spectator of this game, it would be tough to abstain from joining in after seeing the smiles on the faces of all of the participants and while I am not a very good dancer, I just had to leave the penalty flag in my pocket, put my hands up in the air and shake what I had!

The Reach, The Controversy and The Handcuffs!

The game is for kids:

As I continued to gain experience as an official for youth athletics, it was becoming apparent to me that some of the focus of the fundamental principles of sports were being distorted and the most important of these fundamentals was that the game was about and for the kids! It is an eye-opening job to be an official for a youth sport’s contest because as an official, one is able to witness incredible talent, happiness, sorrow, hurt and conflict in just 1 hour’s time. I have had the agony of being a part of games where the coaches and the fans were treating the on field contest as a personal reflection of who they were and how their life was going to change if “their team” won the game. The interesting thing in this thinking is that at one time, I was part of that group who used to think about myself rather than what the game or contest was really suppose to help us realize. The realization for me was that being a part of such an amazing component of our youths’ lives was a joyous occasion where, we were able to witness growth, maturity, development of friendships and the learning of lessons that tend to play a major part in who they will become as they progress into their teenage years and beyond. Once I realized that the game is for the kids, I became a better coach, official and most importantly, Father!

The playoff game:

In the organization that I was coaching and officiating in, the format for the playoffs was started with teams playing in the 8 – 9 year old league. I had officiated many games for this age group and had also coached teams in this group. During most of the time that I was coaching and officiating my experiences were very pleasant and often, playoff games became lop-sided simply because one team just had a faster player than the other team did. During a mid-October afternoon, I had the privilege of being the referee for a game that, based on the records of the 2 teams playing, appeared as though the game would not be a close contest. The game pitted the Titans who were 6-0 against the Irish who were 3-3. This particular playoff game would determine which of these 2 teams would represent their conference in the league’s championship game. As an official in this organization, I did my best to meet with my crew about 45 minutes prior to the game and discuss anything that needs to be discussed about the teams, coaches and rules in order to be prepared for what might happen during the game and to make sure that I have an understanding of how well prepared my crew mates are. It is also important to note that the head coaches in this organization are all volunteers and are responsible for their team, themselves and their fans. All of this would come into play on this specific Saturday afternoon. As I met with my officiating crew (there were 3 of us which was normal for games at this age group), we all got on the same page as far as our responsibilities and what I was expecting from them during the game. Onto the field we walked, talked with both coaches and conducted the coin toss and we were ready for action.

I rely on my wings:

From the outset of the game, it became apparent that the Titans were a team that was faster and bigger than the Irish and at halftime, they were winning 21-8. The second half started with the Titans returning the kickoff for a touchdown and after failing to succeed on the extra point try, they were winning 27-8 and then, the game became interesting. While the Irish were returning the ensuing kickoff the starting running back for the Titans who to this point had scored 3 of their 4 touchdowns went down and grabbed his ankle and started to cry. Keep in mind that these are 8 and 9 year olds. After the play was over I walked over to the young athlete and as tears rolled down his cheeks, he tried to stand up and was unable to do so. The coach of the Titans came onto the field as did the player’s Mom and together they were able to carry him off the field. This was significant because not only did it remove the Titans’ fastest player from the game, it also lifted the spirits of the players on the Irish. The Irish took the ball down the field and in for a touchdown and a single point conversion which made the score 28-15. The fourth quarter arrived with Titans leading by that same score and with the Irish having the football and driving towards another score. Once the Irish found the end zone and made the single point conversion by running the ball into the end zone, the score was closer at 28-22. The Titans were without their fastest running back and were unable to make any progress on offense and with roughly 2 minutes to play in the 4th quarter punted the ball away to the Irish. In the 8 and 9 year old league a “punt” is a march off of 20 yards towards the defensive team’s goal line and once this “punt” was completed the Irish had the ball at their own 30 yard line. The Irish had 2 timeouts and 50 yards to go in order to go ahead and possibly win the game. The Irish ran right, ran left and then ran up the middle and found themselves at the Titans’ 5 yard line with 25 seconds remaining and no timeouts left. At this point in the game, fans on both sidelines were cheering and clapping for their young athletes and “their team”. It was a very electric atmosphere to be a part of and what happened next was one of the most euphoric and depressing experiences that I have had as an official. It was a quarterback sweep around the right side of the offensive line and the quarterback was hit at the 1 yard line. As the quarterback was falling to the turf, he reached the ball out towards the goal line and I watched for a signal from the official on that side of the field (known as a wing official). From my vantage point, it looked like all 22 players were in one big pile around the quarterback and I heard a whistle blow and then looked at my wing official who had yet to make any signal. As I was walking over towards my wing official, the official from the opposite side of the field was running in towards the play with his hands up in the air signalling a touchdown. As I blew my whistle and signaled for the clock operator to stop the clock, a stocky man was coming onto the field. I asked that all of the players please go to their sidelines and I huddled with my wing officials to discuss what they saw. The wing official that was closest to where the play was happening stated that the ball did indeed cross the goal line and the official on the opposite side confirmed that he had seen the same thing. I turned toward the sideline and signaled a touchdown and the crowd on the Irish side of the field was cheering and the players were jumping up and down. The stocky gentleman who had come onto the field then returned to the field and barreled into me. I could not make out what he was saying outside of the swell of obscenities that was coming from his mouth and then I saw the head coach come out onto the field to try to restrain the man. A woman came out onto the field and I heard her say something to the effect that he was embarrassing himself and his son. As I attempted to remove myself from the brewing conflict, I realized that the man had raised his fist towards me and was beginning to swing it. As I moved back to avoid being knocked over or worse knocked out, I asked one of my wing officials to go and get the league commissioner. Just as my wing official was starting to walk towards where the league commissioner was located, I saw 2 police vehicles pull into the parking lot adjacent to the field. I also looked just off to the side of where I was standing and I noticed that the woman who had come onto the field was kneeling beside one of the Titans’ players who was crying and she was hugging him as the police came onto the field to restrain the man who was threatening me. Right in front of me the police officers restrained and then handcuffed the man and walked him to their vehicle. Deep inside of me, I felt tears for the 8 or 9 year athletes who were there to witness this selfish act and the results. I wanted to hug the young crying Titans’ player. This game and incident sticks with me today and each of them has taught me several valuable lessons about youth sports not the least of which is that, youth sports are for our youth and as fans, participants and most importantly, as parents we need to give the time that our young are participating in sports to them, wholly! Let them experience the joy of playing, excitement of making new friends and the opportunity to grow by dealing with emotions and situations that will help make them better for themselves, their families, our communities and the World!

It’s the Rule!

Learning the rules:

While I watched professional football as a child, I tried to learn as much as I could about the rules. I was able to learn a little bit by watching the officials and when they would throw their flags. I also paid close attention to the announcers and analysts who were calling the action on the field in order to pick up explanations as to why calls were made. The rules were complicated and there were so many of them. Since there was no internet when I was growing up, I needed to find out more about the rules of professional football and the best place to do that was at the library. Luckily for me, there were books on professional football at the school library and I took advantage of a period in my day where I had a study hall and ventured over to see what I could find. I found a book on the history of professional football in America and I read through it looking for how the rules were determined. The book provided me with the basics on the rules and I was now equipped with some knowledge to better enjoy Sundays watching football. Reading through the book and watching games on TV wet my appetite to learn more and the opportunity would come once I started to play the game.

Learning while playing:

My early playing days taught me many lessons that would help me as I began coaching and officiating. Two that have stuck with me and that I try to work on often before, during and after any football season are learn the rules and communicate openly. The interesting thing about learning the rules is that nearly every year, there is a new rule or a change to a rule which can make it difficult to keep the most current rule in mind when working a game. When I became a youth football official in the 1990’s, I did it to help the youth organization that I was volunteering for. I thought that I knew the rules and soon found out that I did not know the rules for youth football. Now basic rules like, holding, offsides and too many players on the field are pretty much the same regardless of what level of competition is playing. I soon discovered that there were many rules that differed between youth and professional football and that I needed to become more knowledgeable about the youth rules and, I did. I decided to become a certified high school official in the state of Wisconsin and in making this decision, I was able to learn the rules of the high school game and to discover that high school football rules differ greatly from those in the professional football game. One of the rules’ differences is the way in which the clock is handled. During a high school football game when an offensive team gains a first down, the referee signals to stop the clock in order to move the chains and down indicator to the new first down spot and in the professional game, the clock runs unless the player in possession of the ball is out of bounds at the end of the play. This difference in rules played a major role in determining the outcome of a championship game which I had the pleasure of being the referee for. The youth organization that I was involved with graded their game officials throughout the regular season and those who were graded the highest were selected to work championship Saturday. I was chosen on several occasions to be on the field for championship games and on one such Saturday, knowing the rules saved me some grief and caused some heartache.

Stop the clock:

Towards the end of the fourth quarter during a back and forth championship game between 2 very evenly matched teams, the Lions were trailing by 5 points and were backed up on their own side of midfield with no timeouts left. With the scoreboard clock at my back, I turned to peek at how much time was left and the clock read 21 seconds. The snap was made and the clock started to tick down as the quarterback took the ball and threw it backwards to his running back. The running back took the ball and started to sprint around the left side and as he was being chased, I could see that he would probably be caught prior to going into the end zone for what would almost assuredly be the game winning touchdown. I could hear the fans cheering and the coaching yelling and I could see a defensive player closing in on the running back. Grabbed by the legs, the running back tumbled to the ground short of the goal line and then, the coaches were yelling to run up to the line in order to try and snap the ball and run one last play. As the yelling in the stands was being amplified, the players, parents and coaches from the Buccaneers (the team that was winning) started to come onto the field to celebrate a victory and a championship. I turned to look at the clock and it was still ticking down, 9, 8, 7 and I was signaling feverishly for the clock operator to stop the clock and was yelling as loud as I could, “STOP THE CLOCK!” The clock finally stopped at 6 seconds left and I waited until the chains and down marker were in place and while I was waiting, the Lions lined up and were ready to run another play. Once the chains and marker were in place, I blew my whistle and made a circular motion with my right arm to start the clock. The ball was snapped and the Lions ran a play which resulted in them scoring a touchdown as time expired on the game clock. Game over! I will say that the end of the game did cause the Buccaneers’ coaches and parents to approach me about why the clock was stopped and some were even irate that the clock did not continue to run. I was calm, walked over to the head coach, congratulated him on a great game and listened to him ask me about why the clock had been stopped to let the other team get ready. I informed him that the rules we play by require the clock to be stopped on each first down in order to reset the chains before the clock is restarted. The coach nodded and said something like, “that’s right, I forgot” and then, he walked over to congratulate the other team.

The Best Seat in the House!

Love of the Game:

Baseball was my first love! For as long as I can remember, I desired to watch baseball at all levels. When the time came for me to learn how to play, I was eager to grab my glove and get out in the backyard and throw the ball around. Unfortunately for me, I should have learned how to catch the ball first! During an early “catch” session with my father, I attempted to catch a baseball with the palm of my glove facing toward the sky and the ball bounced off the palm of my glove and hit me in the eye. There was good and bad in this. The bad was that I had a pretty nasty looking black eye where the ball struck me. The good was that I learned a valuable lesson at a very young age. The lesson? The baseball is hard and my face is harder so, while there may be a bruise where the baseball made contact with my skin, I would eventually heal and be able to play again. I took this lesson into my first ever little league baseball game at the age of 9. The very first pitch that I ever saw in a live baseball game struck me square in the ribs which knocked the breath out of me and I collapsed to the ground writhing in pain and wondering if I would ever breathe again. Luckily for me the baseball universe decided that it still wanted me as an esteemed member of its club and I rose to my feet and with tears streaming down my face, I walked to first base. I have been hit with a baseball many times during baseball games since that day when I was first starting and I am happy to say that I still have all of my parts and still love the game!

Mom, Dad, may I have $10, please:

At times, Growing up in a family of 5 we did not have a lot of extra money and since my father was the only source of income, we did not always get money when we asked for it. I had been delivering the afternoon paper for some spending money for a few years and I desired to have more money. During this time, I was spending a lot of time at the baseball fields in the spring and summer. I remember being low on funds from time to time and asking my parents if I could “borrow” some money so that I could go out with my friends to a high school football game, the Dairy Queen ™ or to a movie. Many times my parents would give me some money and while that was great, my parents started to ask me about the money that I was saving from doing my paper deliveries. Well, as a teenage with a desire to do what I wanted to do, I was spending that money faster than I was making it and I needed a new plan to gain some “coin”. With a love of baseball and a desire to have some more spending cash, I hiked up to the community center one day and went into the office. There was a man sitting there and I talked with him for a little while and not surprisingly, he knew my dad and he also knew me from my time as a baseball player in little league. He asked me if I would like to umpire some little league baseball games. I was only 15 and I did not know that I was allowed to umpire. I asked him to tell me a little bit more about this opportunity and he said that it would be 2 nights a week and 2 games per night and that the pay would be $5 per game. I quickly did the math in my head and “BINGO”, $20 extra for me, per week!!!! “Yes Sir!”, I said. Since he knew me and that I was still playing baseball he asked me what days my baseball games were on and I told him. We came up with a schedule that would work for both of us and he informed me that I would not need to buy any equipment as the league supplied it and that I would be given an t-shirt and hat to wear while I was umpiring. He said that there would be a class on consecutive Saturday mornings and that I needed to attend both classes in order to be able to umpire. I was in!!!

Baseball – Every Day:

After taking the classes, I was ready to take to the field with confidence and new knowledge about umpiring. I ended up watching the baseball game of the week that Saturday before my first scheduled umpiring “gig” and behind the plate was Dutch Rennert1. I watched in amazement as he called balls and strikes with a boisterous exuberance and I wanted to be an umpire just like him! I showed up for my first assigned game and was teamed up with another teenager who was 4 years older than me. I knew who he was and was excited to be able to be an umpire on the same field as him. I was the base umpire for my first 2 games and I watched my partner call balls and strikes in his own unique way. When he called balls and strikes everyone at the game knew what the call was. He was good and I realized that I needed to learn a lot more. My first call was an easy one! A ground ball was hit to the first baseman and he scooped up the bounding ball and stepped on first base, I raised my right fist and said; “Out!” My umpiring career was off to a good start. After the second game, I left the field with my partner and he gave me some feedback that was helpful by letting me know that being confident about my calls was important and showed everyone at the game that I knew what I was doing on the field. I have continued to use this advice throughout my life on and off the baseball field.

The Best View of the Field:

The day came when I was assigned to umpire the plate for the first time and to say that I was nervous was an understatement! Calling balls and strikes during a baseball game at any level I have come to learn is one of the toughest things that I have ever experienced. One of the things that I learned during my classes is that the home plate umpire needs to watch the ball leave the pitcher’s hand and follow the ball as it crosses the plate paying close attention to whether the ball crosses the plate in the batter’s strike zone2. In addition, the plate umpire needs to be aware of the batter to see whether the batter swings, is hit by the pitch, and remains in the box with both feet while striking the ball. One last thing that the home plate umpire needs to look for is whether the catcher catches the ball prior to it hitting the ground. This is vitally important on the third strike or when a base runner is attempting to steal a base and the pitched ball is foul tipped. As a 15 year old, I was just excited about calling balls and strikes. I did make it through my first games as the home plate umpire and I made a lot of mistakes however, I was confident in my calls and I left the field to the fans thanking me for being the umpire and doing a nice job. This made me feel good about what I had done and I wanted to get some more feedback. My partner was the same teenager that I had worked with before and he gave me some great advice, again. One of the things that he talked to me about was that the strike zone for each batter changes based on their height and to step back before each batter steps up to the plate and let the batter get into the batter’s box and into their batting stance prior to me taking my position behind the catcher. He let me know that this will give me a chance to get a better idea of the strike zone for that batter and also let me reset myself from the previous batter. I have used this advice throughout my 30+ years of umpiring. The second thing that I learned a little later on during my umpiring career was that the home plate umpire has the best view on the baseball field and is in the only position to see every athlete and other participant on the field. The final and most important thing that I have learned over my time officiating baseball games is that it is a blessing to be able to participate in a game that I truly love so, cherish every game. These lessons have helped me to understand that the umpires of baseball games definitely have the “best seat in the house”.

1 – Wikipedia: Dutch Rennert

2 – Wikipedia: Baseball Strike Zone