A Season In The Sun

All good things must come to an end. My season on the diamond ended early due to pneumonia. It was not how I wanted to end my season, but my body had other ideas. I love umpiring. My skills for playing baseball did not take me far. Umpiring gives me the opportunity to stay on the field. Beginning in March and ending in October, I umpired roughly half on half of the days in between. The nights not spent umpiring are spent at home due to rain or welcoming my daughter to the world. The time spent calling games compared to the pay umpires receive does not always line up. Umpiring is a terrific side job, few make a living just umpiring. Umpires juggle responsibilities away from the field so they can be a part of the game they love.

There is good and bad with everything in life. We too often dwell on the bad. The desire for more money, more time doing what we love, more time with those we love. 2019 was my fourth season umpiring. I have worked hard to become a better umpire, I am infinitely more confident in correctly making tough calls. Every game has plenty of easy calls. Pitch is thrown to the backstop. Ball. Easy roller to the second baseman who flips to first while the runner is half way down the line. Out. I do not get paid for these calls. Umpires are paid for making the difficult calls. Bang bang play at first. Tag grazed the leg of a runner at the plate. Batter called out on appeal for missing a base on an inside the park home run. These calls are when umpires make their money. Even when we are correct half of the crowd is upset. The best games call themselves and umpires go unnoticed. Not every game is the best game. 

Umpiring.jpg
Working the plate. The ball is in flight, the possibilities are endless. (The Winning Run/ JJ)

Happily I had more moments of joy than headache this year. One player and two coaches ejected themselves. The player barreled over the catcher, launching himself like he was Pete Rose. An easy malicious contact call. The coach did not argue, only asking if the player would miss the next game of the tournament. I told him to ask the tournament director, not my decision. The coaches ejected themselves for arguing. People are allowed to disagree with my calls, but there is a limit. The first coach continued arguing a tag at the plate after I answered his questions. Ask for clarification, but then we move on. You will not continue yelling from the dugout two batters later. The second coach disagreed with my safe call on a missed tag. No problem. However you are gone when you claim I am biased in favor of the other team. I never care who wins. Bye bye. 

Baseball turns adults into kids again. The thrill of the game can consume you. There is a satisfaction in knowing I correctly made a difficult call. Few calls turn me into a little boy like a triple play, and this year I called four of them. Triple plays are usually a line out with runners stealing. The runners are doubled off or tagged before they realize what happened. The strangest triple play of the year was the last. I was behind the plate. Bases loaded. The winning run, mercy rule, on third base. The batter popped a high fastball straight up, to the third base side of the mound. This in the early afternoon, and the sun was directly overhead. The runners held expecting a catch. I called infield fly, batter out. One out. The third baseman lost the ball in the sun, turning away as the ball fell to the ground. Seeing the ball on the ground and the batter nearing first, the runner on first took off for second before realizing no one else was running. The third baseman recovered and threw to first. The runner never reached the base, his slide left him short. Tag. Two outs. When the ball was thrown to first, the runner on third broke for home. After applying the tag, the first baseman fired a strike to the catcher who tagged the runner on the foot as he slid home. Three outs. Triple play. Here comes the coach, clearly not happy. I was not sure what he was about to ask me as each out was obvious. “Mr. Umpire you gotta be louder when you call infield fly, we never heard you.” “Coach I promise you I announced infield fly loud enough for the entire ballpark to hear me.” His first base coach walks by, “Our guys screwed up, for once the umpire knew the infield fly rule.” Conversation over.

Freedom
Some times you get to work amateur games on professional fields, such as UC Health Stadium, home of the Florence Freedom of the Frontier League. (The Winning Run/ DJ)

The more games you umpire the more situations you handle. You learn how to stay warm early in the season when the temperature hovers around freezing and the wind is blowing. You learn how to stay cool during July tournaments with temperatures touching triple digits with no clouds or shade in sight. You learn to delay a game because the sun is blazing straight in and no one can see the ball. You learn how to quickly get an ambulance for a second baseman who broke their leg attempting to double off a runner that failed to tag up on a lazy fly ball. You learn to work through a painful weekend tournament when the catcher misses the second pitch of the first game and your elbow swells requiring ice, ibuprofen, and compression to maintain movement in the joint. 

Umpiring shows you the great, the weird, and the strange of baseball. You see the comedy of errors and the miraculous. You work with umpires that are graceful and others who are not. I love my time on the field, it connects me to baseball like nothing else in my life. Every game is an opportunity to learn and grow. As the season winds down your body tells the story of your season. Lingering soreness from getting hit, tired legs from squatting and running around the field to make calls, bruises that never go away. The constant dirty laundry and thin layer of dust constantly covering your equipment, clothes, and car. Baseball begins when the weather teases you that the long, cold winter is ending. It ends with the return of that cold. Rain, heat, and wind do not care about baseball, but baseball cares about them. Calling balls and strikes on a windy field is different when the pitcher is 10 and when they are 18 and will play baseball in the SEC next season. The weather, skill of the players, and strain of the season alter each game, yet it is still just baseball every time I step on the field. I love umpiring and I love baseball. There is nowhere else I would rather spend a large part of my year than on the diamond. See you in the spring.

DJ

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