Ah and it happens, as it always does. A pitch comes in and you can't decide if it's the same as one you called a strike three innings previous, or an inch too low. Quick decisions must be made. "Strike Three, Batter's Out!" One side erupts with indignity. "That was a terrible call," "too low," and so on and so forth. Amusing, but nothing new, and nothing really worth thinking about. I don't think that side liked me very much, but they lost that game by a bunch of runs because they made a ton of errors, and the other team hit better, not because of one strike call in the fourth inning.
It was a nice reminder of how amusing I find all aspects of umpiring. I like being that close to baseball, I like watching the kids endeavor to learn a game I played for so many years, I like the interactions with fans, with players, with coaches (even the negative ones), and I like trying to give both teams the best effort I possibly can as an umpire.
Even this season with only three games under my belt there have been plenty of good moments, and nothing I would consider bad. My first game behind the plate was a Minor (7-9 years old) softball game. The entry leagues (where the kids are pitching to each other for the first time) can be tricky. Most of them are still learning and that can sometimes lead to havoc on the field, a lot of walks, high scores, and long games. The Minor softball game I did ended with a score of 5-3 in about 1:45 which is impressive in several different ways. There was only one assisted out the entire game, but both teams had dedicated pitchers and (more importantly) dedicated catchers. Having a catcher that can stop most pitches and get most of their throws back to the pitcher's glove saves A TON of time. Multiply running to the backstop, getting the ball, making a poor throw back, adjusting the pads, and getting back into position by 60 pitches. It adds up in a hurry.
Another reason those leagues can be tricky is sometimes the coaches have the highest intensity level on the field. That's a problem because the kids aren't going to match it (boys or girls), and the talent level is going to make things extremely frustrating in a hurry. When you add in that a lot of new coaches don't know the rules so well, and don't know how to not yell at the umpire like a jackass, it can get messy. Definitely not the case from what I can see in the Minor SB. I was told it had a rec. league atmosphere, which I can agree with on some level, but the teams were too good to be thought of like that. The coaches simply have a very realistic idea of what to expect from their players and coached accordingly. It made for an enjoyable game for everyone.
The second game I was behind the plate for was a Major Baseball (10-12 years old) game. Major Baseball is great for one reason, the kids are good and they all want to be there, and bad for another, it's the Little League World Series age level and there is a palpable intensity from everyone. That doesn't bother me so much. I hear quite a bit, but I don't think anything that anyone's said to me has actually gotten me mad. It makes me laugh more than anything. No one is going to get on their kids when they're losing, but they're going to get on someone, I know that and I accept it.
You do have to be on your game for those higher age groups though because some of the kinds know how to try and manipulate calls. The catchers know how to frame pitches, the fielders know how to embellish tags, the batters know how to dodge around pitches, and the pitchers know how to work corners. I don't really have any trouble with these things because I played for 13 years, most of them as a pitcher and a catcher, so umpiring is not the first time I'm getting that close a look at things. I can read pitches coming in and don't get caught off guard by breaking balls and offspeed pitches.
The one pitcher I had today though, I'll give him credit he was good. First and foremost he had the most agreeable body language of any pitcher I've seen. Every close call I made, whether it went for him or against him, he'd just nod his head as if to say "yep, that's what I expected." Having a guy that keeps a cool head at all times won't change what you call, but it will definitely make it more fun to call it. Furthermore he was really good at putting a pitch right on the corner for a strike, and then putting the next pitch a few inches outside trying to work me for a strike on an unhittable pitch because they look oh-so similar. Like I said, I've pitched and I've caught and I'm not biting. I'll give a guy the corner, I won't give him an inch outside.
I worked that Majors game with another umpire as a make-up for a game I got squeezed out of due to a scheduling conflict (their conflict, not mine). Typically we do games on the small diamond alone, which is usually how I prefer things. It's easy to know that you've got to make every call. In major baseball though, I think I appreciate having a second umpire (especially one with the experience of my partner in that game). Things happen so fast, it can be tough to get into a good position, and the kids are good so there are a lot of close plays.
I'm happy to be back.
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