When you talk about tough jobs, there are Navy SEALs and then there are baseball umpires. Okay okay, guilty of another exaggeration, no offense to our armed forces, thank you for your service! But seriously, the job of a baseball umpire requires an irrational devotion to the sport that often goes unnoticed and, dare we say, unrewarded. Being a youth baseball umpire takes work, dedication and fortitude, an unbeatable mind, and a very good eye. Here is what you can expect when you pull the cage over your face and start calling the shots.
ESSENTIAL DUTIES OF A YOUTH BASEBALL UMPIRE
You’ll want to get to the game early, at least about twenty or thirty minutes before, so that you can make the necessary inspections. Talk with the coaches, review ground rules and any field hazards or unusual circumstances. Inspect the players and make sure they are all in proper uniform, check all equipment and the field and report anything that’s amiss to the coaches. Avoid any contact with spectators, keep track of game time, and remain unbiased while running the game.
YOU CONTROL THE GAME’S ENVIRONMENT
That’s right, who starts and ends the game? Who officiates the whole affair, makes the judgements and enforces the rules? YOU DO! You are to be cool like Fonzie when you enter your domain. You’ve got your shoes shined and your official shirt, as well as the rest of your uniform, and you look spiffy, in shape and super professional. The respect for an umpire is created both on and off the field, you may be the only person on the field getting paid, so act like it!
KNOW THE RULES
If you don’t like opposition, umpiring is the wrong gig for you, because it is within baseball’s tradition to constantly question the umpire. Be prepared for everyone to yell at you, whether you are right or wrong. You may have to become “conveniently deaf”to focus on matters at hand. But above all, know your rules like the back of your hand, so that your calls are made swiftly and firmly with no hesitation. Be prepared to explain your decisions after the game is over, but don’t become embroiled in arguments that take away from the game.
LITTLE LEAGUE IS A BLOODSPORT
Remember how we told you that everyone is going to yell at you? What we really meant is that parents are going to yell at you when you strike out their pride and joy. Of course everyone is encouraged to honor the game. Nevertheless, it’s hard to keep your cool when you see someone’s parent climbing the chain link fence blowing smoke out of their nostrils. Always focus on the kids and being the best ambassador for little league possible. Do not lose your temper, because if you do, you lose control. You are an important part of the game, but you are never more important than the game.
KEEP YOUR EYE ON THE BALL
It’s a simple idea, keeping your eye on the ball, but it can be a challenge! Your vision needs to have laser-like precision for about three hours every game. Do everything you can to avoid interference with the ball, avoid being blocked out visually, give up distance to get the best angle to call a play. A batted ball can strike in a foul area and still become a fair ball. Wait for a full second before making a call, and never anticipate where the pitch is going. Phase out distractions, and politely remind any “assistants”that you are the umpire and you will make the calls. Also, those early season games can mean everyone’s arms are still wobbly and wily, pitchers aren’t in top form, and you probably aren’t either. You may get beaned by the ball, it’s cooler in the early season, and the sun goes down earlier making you feel frozen and blind by the end of the game. So don’t forget your scarf and always dress warmly enough.
BEING AN UMPIRE IS BEING A LONE WOLF
When you are the umpire, you are your own island, no one is on your side. You don’t get a break, you’re out there the entire time, freezing your butt off or roasting in your uniform with no chance to sit down every half inning. There’s no substitution for you if you’re not having such a great game. Umpires have bad days as well! You have to be top notch, and that’s why they say it’s lonely at the top.
Being an umpire has its challenges, you’ve got to make quick decisions under a lot of pressure and scrutiny, but it’s absolutely worth it. Where else do you get to be on a baseball field all the time being part of the game you love?