Tuesday, December 1, 2009

My advice to the new umpire

Every year around December I start having withdrawls. This is the time of year when I just can't wait for baseball to start up again. So, natutrally, I start thinking about umpiring and it ususally ends up with me thinking about training the younger umpires since that will happen before the games begin.

This year will be my 20th year as an umpire. It's hard to believe that i have been doing this that long. I have worked games at every level from little league to college. Now, I am not going to sit here and try tot ell you that I am the greatest umpire in the world because if that was the case, I would have gotten a job after attending umpire school. However; I do know a few things about umpiring and I would like to pass some of my thoughts on to any young umpire who would like to read on.

Umpiring is not that hard. There really isn't that much too becoming a good umpire. Sure, it takes time and some hard work just like everyting else but let's be honest, it isn't rocket science. WHenever I am training new umpires, I always tell them, for your first few years this is all you need to do to put yourself on that path to becoming a good umpire: Learn the Rules, Hustle, Learn the Correct Positioning, Look Good and Be Loud. I believe that these five things are the key to becoming a good umpire. As you become more experienced and start doing better and better games, there are some more things that you will need to pick up but when you are first starting out and doing the younger games, this will be all you need.

Learning the Baseball Rule Book will take time. It took me 15 years to get to a point where i feel comfortable with the entire rule book. No, I am not saying I know every rule but I am getting closer. But to umpire at the younger games, you need to understand the basic rules of baseball. You need to know what the rule book defines as the strike zone. You need to know the difference between a foul ball and a foul tip. You need to know what the infield fly rule is and when it applies. You need to have a general understanding of the difference between obstruction and interference. And lastly have a very basic understnad of balks. If you can master those, you will be fine in your first year or so of umpiring. But as you more involved you will need to know more and more. Here is my tip to really learn the rulebook. Put one in the bathroom. Whenever you sit on the toilet read the rulebook. This will force you to learn, plus it will pass the time. On top of that, ask questions. Before, inbetween or after your game go to where all the umpires sit and ask questions. Umpires love to tell stories and talk rules. Plus, every association in the world has someone who makes it his life to know the rule book and they LOVE to talk about it. ASK, LISTEN AND LEARN!!!

Secondly, you need to hustle when you are on the field and be in the right position. If there is one thing that I believe in, its that the umpire who hustles and does his best to get into position, will not get yelled at as much as the umpire who does not hustle and is not in position to make a call. Listen, in most of your games there are only going to be two umpires on the field. There will be times that you just will NOT be able to get into the "perfect" position. But if you are hustling, the coaches (most of them at least) will give you a break. Also, learn that ANGLE is more important than DISTANCE. What does this mean? Let me explain. Getting close to the play is important but your angle is much more important. If you get the right angle and have a decent set of eyes, you can make the call from the otehr side of the field. Don't ever try it, just trust me. Ask any older umpire that know what they are doing and they will say the same thing.

WHile I am talking about distance and positioning. Let me add one quick thing. You don't want to be too close to any call. Umpires who are right "on top" of the play are out of position. 5 to 6 feet away is as close as you want to get. It allows you to see more. Like I said earlier, your angle on the play is MUCH more important than your distance. I know it sounds weird but trust me...I'm right.

Thirdly, you need to be loud when umpiring. Not so loud that you are making a fool out of yourself. But you want to make sure that the 90 year old Grandmother with the broken hearing aid can hear if her grandson was out of safe. Being loud makes you sound more confident and the more confident you sound, the less crap you are going to have to listen to on a close call.

The last, and in my opinion, most important thing that you need to remember as a umpire of any lever is this.....YOU HAVE TO LOOK LIKE AN UMPIRE!!!!! You ahve to look professional. Have you ever heard the saying, "You only get once chance to make a first impression"? Well, that is especially true when you are a umpire. If you walk on the field looking like a scrub, most likely, the coaches are going to give you more trouble than if you look like an umpire. In my opinion, to look like an umpire you have to have umpire pants, black shoes, a plain black hat (DO NOT WEAR IT BACKWARDS). Your plate equipment is on under your uniform. Your shirt is tucked in and your clothes are neatly pressed. That is what a professional umpire looks like.

I know this sounds like a lot of work and you might be thinking that umpiring just isn't worth it. I felt the same way when I was younger. But looking back, I couldn't have choosen a better job to get me through my summers in high school and college. It is a lot of fun and it pays well for the time you actually spend working.

I hope that these tips will help you when you take the field this coming summer. Have fun and PLAY BALL!!!

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