“I sit here so if I hear screaming and see that no one is on base, I know that I need to go over to that field,” the baseball director advised the assembled group of teenage umpires last night. “Please call me before you eject a coach.”
They have brought out the big gun umpires now, the recently graduated high school seniors, the tall, bearded, jaded guys back from college. Ladies and gentlemen (and I use those terms loosely), it is playoff week. Gone are the relaxing evening baseball games. Gone are the idyllic images of young boys engaging in America’s pastime on pristine diamonds. These parents are out for blood. Or at least, a trophy or a few braggy pictures they can throw up on Facebook to prove their parenting prowess (stifling a yawn).
My son, being fourteen, is no stranger to drama. He has umpired several games so far this season, but has been vaguely disappointed by the relative calm. I think he was really ready for coaches to question his calls, for parents to yell, for kids to stomp back to the bench in anger. Well, he is starting to get his wish now that there are championships on the line.
A kid ran for first last night and made a turn towards second and was tagged by the first baseman. “He’s OUT!” my son called confidently, smiling to himself, ignoring and secretly relishing the screaming sideline. Another kid barrelled towards second base but the second baseman did not apply the tag. “He’s SAFE! No tag.” Again more rumbling.
The college-aged plate umpire told him before the game, “They know I don’t take any shit.” Inspirational.
He’s behind the plate tonight in an elimination game.
Last night my son completed the umpire training program and he may now officially serve as an umpire this spring. The baseball director gave some parting advice at the end of the training. He said, “Remember, if someone gets in your face, it is a good idea to speak very quietly in order to calm them down,” and then added, “I did that last year and the guy just walked away and kicked over the Port-A-John.”
It is going to be an interesting season.
The arduous process of training fourteen-year-old umpires has begun. The trainers have condensed sixteen hours of training into eight intense sessions taking place every Friday night in the elementary school building. The fields are just outside their window, dark at this time of night, with a few piles of dirty snow still standing defiant against the impending Spring. Given the warm weather forecast, they won’t make it past this week.
The guys at this training are serious, speaking in hushed tones. “Have any of you been in the championship?” the baseball director asked the group. My son raised his hand and said “twice” recalling the two epic, grinding games that resulted in two of the trophies on his shelf. A few members of the rival team in the room shot him a dirty look. They remember.
He is taking notes that are more detailed than any he has ever taken for a class in school. He has drawn stars next to things like”infield fly in effect here” and has underlined things like “don’t forget to say have a good game, coaches.”
“They told us that if the parents say anything rude to us, that we should not say anything at all back.” Good advice.
The teacher was wearing a T-shirt that sums up what he will really need to know once he gets behind the plate. It read:“Rule number one: I am Judge, Jury and Executioner.”
He should definitely make a note of that.
“This ish my final warnnning to all of yeeewww parents.” the umpire sneered at our sideline, swaying and visibly drunk. The parents were being typically irritating, especially so to a drunk. Screaming out commentary at every pitch and vocally questioning every single call. One mom, a pretty blonde and prominent local surgeon who is usually very mild-mannered jumped up and started to enter the field in protest. A few of us pulled her back as she screamed”HEYYYY! MY SON IS SAFE THERE ARE YOU FU%@#%**@%T# BLIND?” I am often fascinated by what baseball can do to the most reserved, classiest people among us. No, dear. He was not “technically” blind. He’s was just hammered and looking to earn a quick $50 bucks by umpiring a 10 year old baseball game. He was a brave, brave man indeed. What sane person would willingly enter the ego-soaked jungle of a youth baseball game? Perhaps the man had a point being drunk on arrival.
“NO NO NO NO NO!!! That is compleeeeeettttee bulllllshhhitttt.” the Dad coach implored to another home plate umpire who was all of fifteen years old. “It’s my call.” the kid said back simply and succinctly (I like that kid) but the Dad kept pleading and whining in the fading evening sunlight. Dude. Wrap it up. Its Wednesday night and the sun is setting on this meaningless game of eight year olds. Really.
“Well, I got thinking about it, and I think I need to change my call.” another hapless fool umpire said to a group of rabid baseball parents. Oh. Did someone mistakenly tell him you can show humanity and frailty in this very treacherous situation? “WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU GOT THINKING ABOUT IT? THAT’S RIDICULOUSSSSSS!!!!” several of the parents screamed. It meant he got thinking about it. God forbid a man thinks and possibly admits… a mistake. Reminder – while everyone strives and rightly expects to follow the rules of the game to the letter, we are not affecting the stats of pro ball millionaires here. Most of these players are fourth graders missing teeth. (Come to think of it so are some of the the umpires, but I digress).
A few of them I really liked. Like the one who within ten minutes into the first inning tossed our (former, with good reason trust me) coach out of a tournament for mouthing off. “Out.” he said as the coach stalked away and stood within viewing distance of the field. “No. OUT of the facility.” that umpire said. Unlike me, that umpire knew to get rid of that guy as soon as possible.
And my personal favorite:
“Scorekeeper!” he’d call out professionally. “That’s me.” I said and walked over. “I will be confirming the count and the score with you throughout the game and I will assume that you will confirm the same with the other team.” “Of course, sir.” I said back. “And what kind of tea are you drinking there?” he asked. “Chai,sir.” I replied. “I prefer Earl Grey.” he said smiling and walking behind home base to neatly brush off the plate and conduct a perfectly called youth game.
Now that my son is fourteen he is eligible for the umpire training program in our league. “Mom, I really want to be an umpire.” he said yesterday.
Well that ought to provide some good material this spring…