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