Tagged: Umpire

Let’s Go To The Tape

Umpires never want to draw attention to themselves. If players and fans are talking about an umpire it is rarely a good thing. Any umpire worth their weight wants to get the call right, even if it means changing their call. The intent of replay in baseball is getting the call right. No one wants a mistake by an umpire to alter the outcome of a game.

After many close calls players will signal the dugout to challenge the call. The manager has seconds to decide whether to challenge the call. In 2019, there were 2,429 games played and 1,171 challenges, roughly once every two games. 558 calls were overturned, 47.7%. Managers were successful  525 times in 1,053 challenges, 49.9%. Umpires overturned their own calls 33 times out of 118, 28%. Major League umpires make the right call more often than players and fans realize. The players on the diamond are not the only elites at the ballpark. 

Replay today is quicker and teams better understand what they can challenge than in the beginning. Each team averaged 35 challenges in 2019, successfully overturned 17.5 calls. The Padres under Andy Green were the most aggressive, challenging 54 times. San Diego successfully overturned 25 calls, 46%. Conversely, the Yankees and Aaron Boone made the fewest challenges, 22, yet were successful 15 times, 68%. Brandon Hyde and the Orioles challenged just 30 times. Like the Yankees, Baltimore was selective with their challenges. Unlike New York, the Orioles overturned only 11 calls, 36%, the fewest in baseball. The American League loved going to replay in 2019. The Rangers had the most calls overturned. Texas and manager Chris Woodward were successful on 29 of 46 challenges, 63%. Rocco Baldelli and the Twins hated replay. Minnesota had the lowest success rate, 30%, winning just 12 of 39 challenges. Ned Yost and his Royals used their challenges well. Kansas City was successful with 82% of their challenges, 23 of 28. While teams can benefit from challenges, they can also create frustration when replay is unsuccessful. 

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Talking to the replay umpire in New York to get the call right. A brief delay to ensure the players decide the outcome of a game and not the umpires. (Steven Ryan/ News Day)

Replay allows the umpire in New York to overturn, up hold, or let stand the call in question. Clear and convincing evidence is necessary to overturn any call. Unfortunately without infinite camera angles some calls stand due to a lack of clear and convincing evidence. Replay is not perfect, but it aids in getting more calls right than ever before. 

When a player asks the dugout to challenge and the team waives him in, umpires unofficially confirm another call. It is only calls that were clearly missed or are extremely close that are reviewed. Managers have only one challenge guaranteed per game. If they are successful with their first challenge, they receive one more. Managers are careful to use their challenges only when they believe a call will be overturned. Umpires usually get the call right and no challenge occurs. They see the play once, at full speed. Their training helps, but they are also elite at their craft. 

Replay puts more eyes on umpires. Suddenly every fan is an expert after watching the play multiple times at slow speed. Everyone has their opinion. However, fans should understand the arbiters of the game make the right call almost every time, thus allowing the players to decide the outcome of each game. 

DJ

Bouncing Back

Spending a summer on the diamond takes a toll on an umpire, mentally and physically. Improving as an umpire requires studying the rule book and working on your mechanics so you are in position to make the call. Umpires must prepare and maintain their mental and physical fitness for their entire season. This becomes a grind, but if you love umpiring it creates more good days than bad.

Each November I take a break to recover from the long season. My legs are tired and need time to heal from the squatting, running, twisting, turning, stopping, and starting I subject them to from mid-March through Halloween. Once December rolls around I begin working out again. Sit ups, pushups, squats, stretching, and hiking. I ease back into shape, allowing my body to fully heal while strengthening any problematic area from the previous season.

This off-season was different. Instead of relaxing and recovering in November, my body revolted. I spent five days in the hospital with pneumonia. I was admitted with a 103 degree fever and a resting heart rate in the 140’s (mid-50’s is my normal). I was in bad shape. Simply watching TV was exhausting. However, thanks to modern medicine, I recovered. It was two weeks after returning home before I could climb the stairs without needing a break. I was forcibly glued to the couch, so I watched all of Ken Burns’ Baseball. Making the best of a bad situation.

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I may have felt terrible, but you can still smile through the tough times. (The Winning Run/ DJ)

My recovery was slow, but steady. As my physical strength returned my voice failed. All of the coughing from the pneumonia brought stomach acid into my throat, causing blisters on the muscles surrounding my vocal cords. I could barely speak or eat. Through it all my wonderful wife navigated life as a single mom with two kids, a 6 month old and a 33 year old. 

Nothing prepares you for the inability to hold your daughter. The fear of dropping her because you are so weak is both terrifying and infuriating. Lots of sleep, healthy eating, slowly increasing my physical activity, the appropriate medication, and two cameras stuck down my throat my body and voice recovered.

The beginning of 2020 saw me feeling normal again. I could go through my normal daily routine. As the calendar turned to February, it was past time to begin preparing for the upcoming season. I was more than a few months behind in my offseason routine. The pneumonia took a severe toll on my physical strength and endurance. Low repetitions of push ups, sit-ups, squats, and short walks were difficult. I was 10 steps behind square one. Slowly my strength has returned. I will rely heavily on my mental preparations this season. I am not an umpiring veteran, but entering my fifth season I know how to prepare myself for the grind.

Umpiring is a privilege and this off season has shown how easily it can slip away. The experience I have will help me navigate the season. Baseball is an amazing game, but it is not life and death. I am excited to get back on the diamond. This season I have a new appreciation for the time and energy it takes to umpire at my best. Time will tell when Covid-19 allows my season to begin, but I will be ready.

DJ

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. 

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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.

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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

Ducking Responsibilities 

Umpires must continually work to master a million small skills. Everyone knows umpires focus on balls and strikes, safe and out. However, no one tells you everything else associated with being a baseball arbiter. One of the most visible of these skills in need of mastering is training yourself to not flinch or duck when a pitch is aiming straight for your face. 

No one likes getting hit in the face, not umpires, not fighters, not anyone. Luckily baseball has learned over time that using protective equipment is a good idea. No matter how good the equipment or slow the pitch, taking a baseball in the face hurts. There are massive differences between pitches thrown by a 9 and 19 year old. The 9 year old will knock sweat in my face and maybe move my mask. The 19 year old will move my mask as the inside of my mask sounds like a car crash. 

Fortunately, thus far in my umpiring career I have avoided serious injury. I have weathered every shot to my head well, the worst being a foul ball to the throat. Baseballs have rearranged my mask. I have stumbled due to resting on my heels, instead of my toes. The time I need after getting drilled in the face has been to check my mask for damage and to clean the sweat off my sunglasses. I have never had my bell rung or felt concussed. 

Despite the fear and danger, umpires must train themselves to accept the punishment while doing their job. You must trust your equipment and the catcher. Umpires can only control their equipment; properly maintaining and replacing as necessary. They can never control the catcher. Even the best catcher will miss a ball from time to time, they cannot block everything. Sooner or later every umpire gets hit in the mask. It is a matter of time. Trusting the catcher to do their job is sometimes about lying to yourself as your equipment and body take the pummeling.  

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Umpiring can be painful when the baseball misses the bat and the catcher. (The Winning Run/ JJ)

Flinching means you missed the pitch. The eyes are the camera umpires use to call balls and strikes. If the camera is moving it is impossible to accurately call close pitches. Pitches two feet outside or down the middle are easy, pitches on the corner turns umpiring into a verb.

There are two primary reasons I flinch, although I flinch less now than when I began umpiring. The first reason is obvious. A pitcher is throwing fastballs you can hear coming. Rule #1 of umpiring is self preservation. Stay down and make the call, but never trade your long term health for one pitch. A pitcher, signed to play Division I baseball, throwing 90 MPH, the pitch is coming towards my face, and I have the slightest doubt about the catcher’s ability. Yeah sorry people, I am ducking. There is usually minimal grumbling, but I know I must plant myself behind the plate. If I stay in position while my mind is screaming for my body to move, I will flinch less and gain confidence. Players, coaches, and fans do not agree with plenty of calls, even correct ones. If you lack confidence to make the difficult correct calls, what other calls are you missing? Confidence and ability breed each other, just avoid overconfidence.

The second reason I flinch is less obvious. I flinch more umpiring younger aged baseball, because the pitch is slower and the catchers tend to miss more pitches. I have time to think, which is one of the worst things to do on a baseball field. I will not move on a 55 foot fastball going 80 MPH, but I will flinch on one traveling 45 MPH. Remember Rule #1 of umpiring? Those 45 MPH fastballs will not break you, but they can be death by a thousand pitches. The younger baseball games are perfect for training yourself to not flinch. Staying in position prevents your moving into harm’s way. Raising up exposes your thighs and torso. Crouching keeps you safe behind your gear and stance. Raising up creates a larger target. Training yourself to stay down is critical in preserving your health and safety. People do not rise to the occasion, they sink to their level of training. Raise up your level of training.

Flinching and ducking are usually unnecessary. The catcher catches the pitch and you are safe. Pitches coming at your face often end high and/or inside to the batter for easy ball calls. However, coaches pick up on your habits and if you flinch and duck too often they have a reason to complain. If an umpire is not doing their job, countering the complaints becomes more difficult. Doing your job as an umpire is just like playing. The little things done well add up to successful. 

I am undefeated as an umpire, every game I get better and improve. I have not made the correct call every time, but I learn from my mistakes. I never care who wins, regardless of what a few coaches have suggested. Umpires go unnoticed when they do their job well. Ducking your responsibilities is easy, but staying put and making the call is better.

DJ

Inside the Mask

Calling balls and strikes requires an umpire to not flinch as a baseball is coming at you at 80+ mph. Stay in your stance, knowing your equipment will protect you from the five ounce baseball. No umpire enjoys taking hits, but when your equipment does its job the fear of taking a blow begins to subside. Each piece of equipment is important, however the mask is unquestionably the most important.

Personally, I wear a hockey style mask. It gives me the protection of a normal mask, plus it protects the side, top, and back of my head. Baseballs have hit me on the side, top, and back of my head, usually from ricochets off tight backstops. Always keep your head on a swivel. Your equipment will protect you when you cannot protect yourself.

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The hockey style mask protects me from every direction and allows me to hide when things get serious or not so serious. (The Winning Run/ DJ)

Beyond the physical protection of the mask, it also allows me to maintain a serious demeanor while laughing when something funny happens. Work enough baseball games and you will see funny things happen. A runner wiping out for no reason, a coach telling a player to quit playing in the grass, a parent’s voice cracking while yelling at their kid. I can smile and laugh a little without anyone knowing. While the mask shields you when something funny happens, it also hides you during serious moments. You can let someone vent about a perceived bad call, while also keeping an eye on them. Inside the mask you see the game, and until you make a call no one knows what you are thinking. This gives you valuable time to make decisions.

It is your own little world inside the mask. The ear protection dampens some noise. The cage protects your face and brain. The mask keeps you a little warmer in the cold and a little cooler in the summer heat. The helmet can get hot, but I will gladly take the heat over the blunt force trauma it guards against. The additional weight of the hockey style mask puts more strain on your neck, back, and shoulders. However it is a small price to pay to mitigate long term injuries like concussions.

You see the game differently as an umpire. You are the ultimate judge. Working behind the plate and inside the mask, you focus on every pitch and ball in play. The mask protects you from the game, without it your mind and body would pay a terrible price. Every piece of equipment is important, but only the mask allows you to see the game up close and then walk off the field with a smile on your face and all your teeth.

DJ

Year in Review: 2018

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.

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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.img_20180829_201148The 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.

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Welcome to the Negro League Baseball Museum. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
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The greatest players in Negro Leagues history are still playing in Kansas City. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
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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.

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The entrance to TD Ameritrade Park, home of the College World Series. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
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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.

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A beautiful sunset as we watched the Lansing Lugnuts play. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
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Bernie caught a plush baseball at our first game on the road trip in Lansing. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
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Welcome to Comerica Park, home to the Detroit Tigers (The Winning Run/ DJ
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Much closer and we could have suited up for the Fort Wayne TinCaps. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
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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)
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Batting practice home run ball hit by one of the Minnesota Twins. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
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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.

DJ

The Joys of Umpiring

Why do I spend so much time on baseball? Simple, I love the game. The same goes for umpiring. I am passionate about umpiring, it is something I truly love. My playing abilities were never going to have me sign a professional contract, or even a college scholarship. Working behind the plate keeps me connected to the game. Good umpires only care about getting the call right. Who wins or loses is not my concern, I am competing against myself to get every call right. While I am not always successful, the competition is part of the joy of umpiring.

Stepping on the field to call a game is thrilling. Getting paid to do it is beyond my wildest dreams. The pay for umpires will never make you rich, but it is a wonderful side job. The money I have earned umpiring has paid for a three week road trip each of the last two years.

You are getting paid to umpire baseball. Your appreciation for what is a good fastball or curveball grows as call increasingly higher level games. As the play on the field rises, you realize just how good Major League players are. Multiple times after calling a pitch I knew I had zero chance as a batter to hit the pitch, even if I knew it was coming. Umpiring has kept me involved with baseball beyond, just reading news articles and watching games on television.

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There are good days and bad days of umpiring. I would go to the Emergency Room after taking a foul ball to the throat during this game. (The Winning Run/ SCL)

Umpiring has shown me how little I know about baseball. Studying the rule book to make calls at a moments notice gives me more questions than answers. Baseball fans know the basics, but the seldom used rules can be the most interesting. As you begin to truly understand the rules of baseball you begin to see the game as a whole. The puzzle pieces slowly come together.

The best part of umpiring is having a front row seat to the game. You see the crazy and amazing plays, including a triple play. Over the course of a year you will watch good and bad baseball at every level. There are days you do not want to umpire. You are tired and beat up. The days when it is more of an effort to get to the field on time ready to hustle, even then umpiring is a wonderful thing. Some of the best games occur on those days. Umpiring, like everything in life, is not always perfect. However, if you stay with it, work hard, show up on time, and put in the work, you will reap the rewards. Nailing the tough calls, the great plays, the beautiful sunsets, a perfect curveball are an umpires rewards when they are true to themselves and baseball.

DJ

Worth The Wait

Cooperstown is the desired destination for players. Most will not openly discuss their desire to be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame, however human nature all but dictates that highly driven people strive to become the best at their chosen profession. The process to reach Cooperstown for a player is typically through the BBWAA (Baseball Writers’ Association of America) election process, which announces its results each January. However, there is another way into the Hall of Fame.

Previously known as the Veterans Committee, the Era Committees were formed to reexamine players who are no longer eligible for the BBWAA voting. The committees also examine the contributions of managers, umpires, and executives to determine if they warrant enshrinement. Currently, there are four committees: Early Baseball (pre 1950), Golden Days (1950-1969), Modern Baseball (1970-1987), and Today’s Game (1988-2016). Each committee considers 10 candidates, with each committee member allowed to vote for a maximum of four candidates. A candidate needs at least 75% of the votes to be elected.

The Today’s Game Committee has 16 voting members. The members include members of the Baseball Hall of Fame, executives, and veteran media members. This year the committee considered the candidacy of Lee Smith, Harold Baines, Lou Piniella, Albert Belle, Joe Carter, Will Clark, Orel Hershiser, Davey Johnson, Charlie Manuel, and George Steinbrenner.

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Harold Baines and Lee Smith, the newest members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. (John Locker/ AP)

After much examination by the Today’s Game Committee, Cooperstown will welcome two new members to the Hall of Fame this summer. Lee Smith and Harold Baines will forever be enshrined along side the greatest players, managers, umpires, and executives in baseball history. Smith appeared on all 16 ballots, while Baines appeared on 12 ballots. Lou Piniella missed his place in Cooperstown by a single vote, appearing on 11 ballots. The remaining seven candidates each received fewer than five votes.

The journey to Cooperstown was longer than Smith or Baines preferred. However, receiving the highest honor in baseball was worth the wait. The Today’s Game Committee, as well as the other committees, are vital to the thorough examination of baseball. The committees give those deserving of enshrinement in the Hall of Fame the recognition they deserve, no matter how long the wait.

DJ

Thankful

Thanksgiving is when we show our gratitude for the wonderful things in our lives. We ought to give thanks more than once a year, as there is always good in our lives. Life is not perfect but there is always a reason to be thankful. I have many things to be thankful for, and one of them is baseball. Baseball is so much more than just a game. It touches every area of my life.

I am thankful for the close friends I have because of baseball. John, Bernie, and Kevin are a few of my friends who share in my obsession with the game. Discussions of a game, a player, a stat, or something funny are daily occurrences. Whether we are together or a thousand miles apart, friends make life and baseball better.

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Bernie, Kevin, and I at our second Pirates games over Memorial Day Weekend 2017. We saw Pittsburgh play the Mets and Diamondbacks that weekend. (The Winning Run)

I am thankful for my family and the memories we have because of baseball. Attending baseball games with my Parents and Jesse. Watching the Braves play on television with my Grandfather and Great Aunt. Sharing my love of the game with my Wife. Plotting the baseball indoctrination of my Nephew and Niece. Who better to share what you love than with who you love.

I am thankful for the travel my love of baseball has spurred. Driving to Boston with my now Wife to watch a game at Fenway on Memorial Day. Going to Giants and Athletics games on our honeymoon. Last minute trips to Pittsburgh to see the Pirates play. Planned trips to Pittsburgh to watch the Pirates play the Mets and Diamondbacks. Flying to New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles to see historic ballparks. Minor League road trips. Exploring Cooperstown and the Negro Leagues Museum. I love traveling and baseball, they are better when they are together.

I am thankful I became an umpire. Having a front row seat to a baseball game is the best way to watch. Baseball makes the weather perfect, regardless if it means calling games on the surface of the sun in July or in the Polar arctic in March. The bumps, bruises, and trips to the Emergency Room are the cost of admission. Umpiring was not in my life’s plan, but I am glad life does not always follow the plan. There is no better way to spend a day than calling balls and strikes in the sunshine. I umpire for the love of baseball, not the paycheck.

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Jesse, John, and myself at a Pirates game in 2013. We decided to drive to Pittsburgh for the game at 2 a.m. that morning. It was a long drive but worth it. (The Winning Run)

I am thankful for endless baseball trivia. Learning random tidbits and then quizzing friends and family on said information is always entertaining. You will never know everything about baseball, but this does not stop me from trying. Baseball trivia is mostly useless in real life, but each tidbit broadens my understanding of the game.

I am thankful for the feeling baseball gives you. Playing catch or hitting a baseball on the sweet spot. The sounds, smells, and feel of the game are timeless. The joy of the game never ends. We do not remember the score of the games, but we remember how we felt. Baseball is fun. It makes you smile and warms your soul.

I am thankful for baseball, it is so much more than a game.

Happy Thanksgiving!

DJ

Balls and Strikes Aren’t Black and White

Try as you might, it is becoming increasingly difficult to avoid politics. The polarization of American politics is steadily seeping its way into nearly everything, including baseball. The contentious Senate hearing for Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination has even brought umpiring into politics.

Texas Senator John Cornyn along with the Family Research Council are supporting Judge Kavanaugh, saying he is someone who “calls balls and strikes.” This analogy seems to irritate retired Major League umpire Jim Evans, who wrote a prospective piece for the Washington Post titled “Sorry, judges, we umpires do more than call balls and strikes.” Evans argues umpires are not machines, they must interpret the rule book constantly. Was a collision interference or obstruction, or simply players running into each other? Umpires also constantly make judgement calls on catches, tag plays, force outs, and yes even balls and strikes. No two players have the same strike zone. Yes, the strike zone is spelled out in the rule book, but the size of the strike zone is larger for Aaron Judge than for Jose Altuve.

Speaking of the rule book. How many amateur umpires, disgruntled fans, have ever sat down and studied the rule book? My guess is not many. It is not their job to know the rule book, but it is also not an umpire’s job to make people happy. Do I get every call correct? No. Do I spend hours studying the rule book? Yes. The rule book for high school baseball per the National Federation of State High School Associations is 88 pages. The rule book for Major League Baseball is more than 150 pages. Have you ever seen a Major League umpire consult the rule book during a game? Nope. High school umpires do not consult the rule book during a game either. The rules of baseball, all of them, should be ingrained in the mind of an umpire. The analogy of Kavanaugh calling balls and strikes is that he knows the rule book, the United States Constitution, and makes decisions based on what the Constitution says. I doubt when the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution they foresaw every imaginable case the Supreme Court would hear. The Constitution and the various baseball rule books do not cover every possible scenario, judges and umpires must interpret how those rules apply to the case or play before them.

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Calling balls and strikes is not black and white. There is plenty of gray. (www.larrybrownsports.com)

Obviously a judge sitting on any bench, especially the United States Supreme Court, has a more profound impact than an umpire. However, simplify umpires into machines is off base. Umpires must make decisions quickly, they cannot spend weeks or months reviewing similar plays and the text of the rule book before making a decision. If an umpire waits five seconds to decide if a borderline pitch is a ball or strike people would complain. Judgement calls are part of being an umpire and they must happen quickly, not slowly and after careful consideration.

There is dignity in all work, dishwashers, mechanics, lawyers, CEO’s. Honest work is dignified work. Do not simplify another person’s job to make a point. Good umpires make a sometimes difficult job look easy, the same way a good teacher makes teaching a class full of energetic First Graders look easy. You only understand how difficult someone’s job is when you walk in their shoes.

Little in life is black and white. On the diamond and in court, interpreting the rules is necessary and creates gray areas. Gray areas necessitate institutions like the Supreme Court to settle disagreements. In baseball the umpire is the judge. Working solo, or discussing a play with your partner on appeal, the umpire is the Supreme Court. Their decision is final. There is no reviewing previous plays, umpires must know the rules, interpret them for the situation, and the render a verdict. They do it all in the snap of a finger. Can you imagine the Supreme Court issuing a ruling in less than five seconds? Neither can I, so stop comparing Supreme Court Justices to umpires. One clearly has a greater impact than the other, yet both deserve respect.  

DJ