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.
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.
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.
My 2018 was filled with baseball. I umpired more than 200 games plus attended more for the enjoyment of the game. I have no clue how many games I watched on television or listened to on radio. Whatever the number, it was a lot.
This year I watched games in six different ballparks. I attended four Cincinnati Reds games at Great American Ball Park. I always attend at least one game when the Braves visit the Reds. I also attended a game against the Giants in August with a fellow listener to the Effectively Wild podcast; he was in the home stretch of a road trip to visit all 30 MLB teams. The other games were more random, yet just as exciting.
First game of the year, Braves at Reds. My wife and sister-in-law supporting their hometown team, while I do the same. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
I finally watched a Florence Freedom game from the stands. I have umpired several games on the field for the local youth leagues. The Frontier League is underrated, like most Independent Baseball Leagues. The play on the field is fun and exciting, even though the team lacks a Major League an affiliation. The fun of attending a game remains. As an added bonus, my wife and I accidentally attended a double header, it was awesome.The Florence Freedom split a double header with the Normal CornBelters. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
My wife and I took another three week summer road trip. While it did not involve as much baseball as our honeymoon did last year, we still visited several important places in the baseball world. The first stop on our trip was in Kansas City. Visiting the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum was my top destination while planning the trip. Saying it exceeded my wildest expectations is an understatement. As wonderful and well done as the Hall of Fame is, Jesse and I both agree the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is better. We understand Cooperstown deals with everything baseball, and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum focuses on a much smaller portion of baseball. However, something about the museum eclipses the magic of Cooperstown.
Welcome to the Negro League Baseball Museum. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
The greatest players in Negro Leagues history are still playing in Kansas City. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
The jerseys of the Negro League Museum. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
The next day we drove to Omaha. Among our stops there were the current, TD Ameritrade Park, and the historic, Rosenblatt Stadium, homes of the College World Series. Standing where so much baseball history has taken place gave me goosebumps. The drive between the ballparks felt like traveling from new Yankee Stadium to old Yankee Stadium. The new park is fine, but nothing like what it replaced.
The entrance to TD Ameritrade Park, home of the College World Series. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
What is left of Rosenblatt Stadium. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
Our last baseball stop on our road trip was in Fargo, North Dakota. Inside the West Acres Mall is the Roger Maris Museum. While Maris is best remembered for his 1961 season, the Museum, which consists of a video room and long window display, walks you through Maris’ life and career. The simple museum is perfect for the two time MVP who often seemed happier when avoiding the spotlight.
The highlight of my baseball year was the road trip I took with Bernie. Four games, in four days, in four cities. We watched the Lansing Lugnuts, Detroit Tigers, Fort Wayne TinCaps, and South Bend Cubs play. While the Major Leagues are the pinnacle of the sport, Minor League Baseball gives you more for your money. You can sit closer, attend more games, and see future Major Leaguers play today. Beyond the great baseball, such a road trip allows you to explore new cities. Bernie and I ate our way through each city, especially Detroit. We both needed a salad and a workout at the end of the trip.
A beautiful sunset as we watched the Lansing Lugnuts play. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
Bernie caught a plush baseball at our first game on the road trip in Lansing. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
Welcome to Comerica Park, home to the Detroit Tigers (The Winning Run/ DJ
Much closer and we could have suited up for the Fort Wayne TinCaps. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
Our seats for the final game of our road trip as we watched the South Bend Cubs play on Mr. Rogers Day. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
Batting practice home run ball hit by one of the Minnesota Twins. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
View from our seats over the Tigers bullpen in left field. (The Winning RUN/ DJ)
2018 was a wonderful year of baseball for me. I spent far too many hours umpiring, watching, and traveling for baseball. It was an excellent year of exploring the game. I am excited to see what 2019 brings.
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.