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I have to keep an eye on many things when I’m umpiring baseball or softball. In baseball, I always have to keep my eye on the pitcher in case he does something illegal, while in softball I need to make sure the runners don’t leave the base early.

But sometimes I notice other things. One of those things the last couple of years has been a dearth of players choking up on the bat. There are two occasions in which a batter should move his or her hands up the bat handle. One is that the pitcher is throwing very hard; this allows the batter to get around on the pitch quicker. The other is when a batter has two strikes. Choking up there again allows that quick bat and hopefully an ability to at least put the ball in play instead of striking out.

Why don’t players do this much anymore? I’d much rather ground out than strike out; by putting the ball in play, there’s a much better chance of reaching base than by a swing and a miss!

It’s been an interesting spring and summer of umpiring. I’ve noticed that the weather has overall been better than it has the past few years. Sure, I had consecutive nights in April where I was on a field with a temp around 30 degrees. Sure, I had games pushed back because of rain. But the amount of days with the sun shining and the temp in the 60s or above has been astonishing!

My love of the game is what allows me to love umpiring, but I thought I would be tested this year. Since Jayna was playing junior high softball, I was asked to umpire those home games. “Oh boy,” I thought, “junior high softball. I’m not sure I can expand my strike zone enough to keep games moving.”

Plus, I had to umpire with my daughter batting and sometimes pitching. There certainly would be questions of favoritism. I’ve always prided myself on not being biased for our local teams, and that would prove the case again this spring. Jayna didn’t get every close pitch when she was toeing the rubber, and there certainly was no question when I called her out on strikes while at bat one game. She knew it was a strike, so I escaped scrutiny when I got home!

I’ve been able to see fabulous come-from-behind wins and dramatic escapes by home teams fending off the opposition. I was happy for a team from Farmington who won in the bottom of the seventh with a walk-off double that drove in the tying and winning runs. Why was I so happy for them? Earlier in the game, I had blown a call which caused one of their runners to be out. I hate to make a mistake that might cost a team a game, so it was nice to see them overcome that.

There were a few instances of parent discontent, which I mostly ignored, though I gave a stern look at a group from out of state and didn’t hear anything the rest of the game. But I did have to walk that path of ejecting a coach this year. This young man didn’t seem to realize that 9th grade baseball isn’t the most important thing in the world and didn’t know when to let his argument drop. He didn’t want to hear my interpretation of the rule and kept yapping.

I believe I gave him four warnings throughout the game, which is more than he deserved. I finally restricted him to the bench, a wonderful rule put in a couple of years ago which allows me to avoid ejecting someone, but keeps their mouth shut and their face off the field. This coach didn’t believe that was a real rule and told me to learn the rule book. That was a step too far after all the previous indiscretions, so I tossed him.

Okay, this happens sometimes. But he made it worse by coming back on the field after the game was over and berating me some more. In addition, the classlessness of some of his players was evident with their comments about my strike zone and their “fake shakes” with both the opposing team and me after the game.

We need more people to umpire. I had to ump two of Jayna’s games on the road this year because the other schools couldn’t find anyone. But is it any wonder folks don’t want this job? I don’t hear overt criticism every game, but it happens more often to younger, less-established umpires who might not have learned how to ignore some things or don’t know how to deal with coaches such as I encountered.

The pay is pretty good for a couple hours of work, and I hope that can draw some younger people to this occupation. Jayna is learning some basics by umpiring Anton’s 3rd/4th grade games this summer. I’ve worked with her on positioning and making strong calls, which she’s done well. I’m willing to help train in any younger folks who want to give it a try – I’m going to need umpires for Anton’s team next year when they move to the QCBA.

If you enjoy baseball, umpiring is the best seat in the house. You often get to watch good ball, and hey, you even meet some really, really interesting people, both good and bad!

Word of the Week: This week’s word is splenetic, which mean bad-tempered or spiteful, as in, “The splenetic coach soon found that he wouldn’t win any arguments with the umpire.” Impress your friends and confuse your enemies!

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