As the beginning of the 2018 season is upon us, it is a good time to take stock of the lessons learned during the 2017 season. My first season of umpiring baseball gave me a million lessons about what to do and what not to do. Continuing to learn from the rule book and training to withstand the physical toll of umpiring have been constant throughout the winter.
I umpired 154 games last season. This is not something I am bragging about it is just a fact, I firmly believe in quality over quantity. As the summer began to fade into fall, I could feel my body getting tired. Entering my second season I have a better understanding on how to prepare for the physical demands of umpiring by the painful lessons of last season.
Umpiring demands focus on three areas of fitness. The most obvious is the legs. You are constantly squatting and running throughout the game. If your legs are not in shape then you will not last through multiple games in a day. You back and neck have to be strong due to the hits your take from foul balls. There is rarely time to react to a foul ball straight back, so having a strong back and neck keeps you safe from the impact of the ball, and prevents you from getting knocked down. Finally, to make it through an entire season of umpiring you need to be flexible. The literal twists and turns of the season demands a lot from your body and if your body cannot move the way it needs to, sooner or later you will pull a muscle.
Best and only picture of me umpiring my first season of baseball. I worked a tournament at UC Health Stadium, home of the Florence Freedom. My wife took the photo before moving to the other side of the stands to get away from fans who were unhappy with my calls. (The Winning Run/ SCL)
Beyond the physical aches and pains from umpiring, here is a brief rundown of where I was hit by foul balls last season. I would break down the types of hits I took into three types: protected by my equipment, the ball found me, and BOOM. I took countless hits in my shins, feet, chest, and helmet throughout the year. Yes you still feel the force when you get hit. However, my equipment did its job and the only delay in the game was putting the ball back into play. If I have to get hit, sign me up for these type of hits. The second type, I would describe as the ball finding me. Oh you do not have your elbow tucked or your forearm hidden properly. Wham. Much like the hits that bounce off my equipment these hits are usually just part of the game and they just happen to find you where you do not have protection. Getting hit in the arms, thighs, hips, and stomach never feels good. Usually my arms would tingle and aches and I would wake up the next morning with a nice bruise in the shape of a baseball. No one likes taking these hits, however positioning yourself properly reduces, but does not eliminate this punishment. The BOOM type hits are the hits that cause you to delay the game while you collect yourself. I got hit twice in the neck from foul balls, way too many times in the cup (always get the best equipment you can for your cup and mask), and directly off the face mask. Getting hit in the neck was both bad luck and a mistake in my positioning, which has since been corrected. The hits to the cup and mask are parts of umpiring that no one wants. Usually it only takes a few seconds before you are ready to go again, however after getting hit in the neck and cup I needed a few minutes before I was ready for the game to continue. You have to be confident, and a little loony, to get back behind the plate again so soon after getting hit, but you do what the game requires.
Baseball is a tough game played by tough people. I learned a very important and painful lesson in 2017 that the same goes for the umpires. I cannot wait to get back on the field in the spring and go through the pain, heat, misery, and joy for the game I love.