Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Tale of Two Games

Isn't that a beautiful picture? I love that the baseball season has started. It is the greatest time of the year. Tuesday, I had my first two games and they were a quick reminder that with 12 year olds, you never know what you are going to get.

My first game of the season was a Select "Gold" Level Boys 12 game and I had the dish. This was the type of game that every umpire should dream about. Both teams had pitchers that were around the plate. The coaches were pumped to be there but not hot heads. The parents were in the game but not crazy. The batters swung that bats, the fielders made plays AND....the game was over in an hour and 2 minutes. FANTASTIC. It was a 9-0 game but it didn't feel that way. 6 runs were scored in the bottom of the first and then no runs until the bottom of the 4th. It was a much better game than the score would lead you to believe.

My second game was a Select "Silver" Level Boys 12 game. I use the word select here very loosely. This game lasted over 2 hours and 20 minutes. I think I made 6 calls the entire game. There were a lot of walks, errors, strike outs and just bad baseball. But as an umpire, I like games like this every once in a while. It reminds you that as an umpire you have to stay on your toes. You never know when a play is going to completely fall aparts and the ball is going to be thrown the last place you expect. It reminds you to react and not assume as an umpire.

All in all, it was a great first night at the ball fields. I am working a tournament tonight and tomorrow. I think I have 12s tonight and 14s tomorrow. For all of you getting ready to start you seasons, good luck this year. PLAY BALL!!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Seaon Starts Tomorrow

It's finally here!!! Tomorrow the baseball season begins for me with two boys 12 games. It should be a fairly easy start to what I am hoping is going to be a very good summer. As the season is about to start, I felt it would be a good time to go through some of my tips to the new (and sometimes not so new) umpires.

#1 - Dress like an umpire: Have you heard the expression "you never get a second chance to make a first impression"? This is true in almost every aspect of life and it holds true to being an umpire as well. Come dressed like an umpire. Make sure your pants and shirt are clean and wrinkle free. Have your shirt tucked in when you get to the field. Wear a black belt. Have you hat on the right way when you get there. If you are behind the plate, have your gear on before you leave for the field. Have a ball bag (I use two but one is fine). Make sure your shoes are clean and polished. Look professional and your well be treated like a professional. Look like a scrub and you will be treated like a scrub.

#2 - Get to your field on time: This ties into #1. Get to your field 15 minutes before first pitch. If it isn't your first game of the day you might not be able to do this because your prior game ran late. In that case get there as quickly as you can. Be ready to go.

#3 - Know the rules of the age group you are working. Know if infield fly is enforced. Know the bat restrictions. Know if there is a run limit per inning. Some umpire take a cheat sheet to the plate, I don't not like this. In my opinion, it shows that you need help to know the rules. Gives a bad impression. Take 5 minutes before the game to memorize them.

#4 - BE LOUD!!! - I can't stress this enough. Good umpires are loud. It's as simple as that. You want to make sure everyone can hear your call. On top of that, being loud gives the perception of confidence.

#5 - TIMING - This is as important, if not more so, as being loud. You need to make sure your timing on your calls is good. Umpires hear the term Pause, Read, React a lot. When you have to make a call (out/safe or ball/strike) you need to see the play or pitch, think the call in your head and then make the call. Don't rush your calls. First thing this will do is it will stop you from saying out and signaling safe. It will also allow you to make sure that ball hasn't been dropped on plays on the bases. Lastly, let's just say you are working behind the plate and on a pitch right down the middle you make a quick call but on the next pitch that is on the corner you use correct timing. In the coaches eyes, they will think you messed up because it took you longer the make the call. PAUSE, READ, REACT!!!

#6 - Consistency - this goes without saying. You need to be consistent. Your strike zone can not change during the game. Sure you are going to miss a call here and there but you want it to be the same the entire game.

#7 Be Polite - This is hard sometimes but essential. Coaches are going to yell, fans are going to yell, players are going to yell. You need to keep your cool. Even when you throw someone out, maintain your composure. Sure there are times you will have to raise your voice but never ever lose your cool. It only causes more problems.

#8 Don't be afraid to ask for help: In baseball, the umpire who made the call doesn't have to seek help unless he wants it and even then he doesn't have to change his call. Don't let pride get in your way. If you have any doubt, as for help. Even if you end of staying with the original call, the coaches will appreciate it.

#9 Angle is more important than Distance: Don't get too on top of plays. Younger umpires always want to get as close to the play as possible when making calls. There is no need for this. Angle is much more important than distance. Get yourself in the right angle to see the play and then make the call.

#10 HUSTLE: Listen, in little league baseball you are usually only going to have two umpires per game. There are going to be times that you are going to be out of position. Weird plays happen and you can't always see them coming. If you are the type of umpire who is doing his best to get in position, you are less likely to hear a lot of yelling than the umpire who walks around the field.

There are more tips that I could give but I think I have rattled on enough for today. For everyone getting ready to start their season, I hope it's a great one!!! PLAY BALL!!!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Duties of the Home Plate Umpire

I was training the other day and I asked a group of 14 year old rookies, what the responsibilities of the plate umpire were. They all gave me pretty much the same answer, to call balls and strikes and to make calls on plays at the plate. Both are correct answers but there is a lot more into being a good plate umpire besides these. This post is going to go through what I determine to be the responsibilities of the plate umpire:

1) First and foremost, calling balls and strikes is the most important task an umpire does. It is also what separates the decent umpires from the good umpires. One of these days, I am going to put up a video on mechanics behind the plate but for the purposes of this post, know this: the key to being good at calling balls and strikes are simple. You need to be consistent. The strike zone does not change during the game, no matter what the score it. You need to be loud. The deaf grandmother needs to be able to hear your strike call. And you need to have good timing. PAUSE, READ, REACT!! See the pitch, think the call, make the call.

2) Fair and Foul Decisions. When you get older and start working with more experienced umpires, this gets more complicated but as a younger umpire in our system, the plate umpire takes ALL fair/foul decisions. So you have to be ready to get on that line and make the call.

3) Fly balls to the outfield. In our system, with no runners on base, the plate umpire takes takes all fly balls. Even though you can do that from behind the plate, it makes you look A LOT better to get out from behind the plate and get a better view of the play. Sometimes you only have to take 5 steps, other times (i.e. sinking line drive that the left fielder might dive for) you need to get past the pitching mound. The key is to just get out from behind the plate and hustle.

Now, if there is are runners on, this is where it gets complicated. If the ball is hit from inbetween the left fielder and the right field (or other words, there is no chance it is going to be a foul ball) then the field umpire takes the ball and the plate umpire makes sure the runners touch the bases. In this situation, you won't go to far from the plate because you might have a play at the plate. If the fly ball is hit down the line, the plate umpire takes the ball and the field umpire watches the runner. CONFUSED YET?

4) BALKS!!!! This is technically both umpires responsibilities but it is important.

5) Ground Balls with no runners on - On ground balls with no runners on, the plate umpire needs to clear the catcher and follow the runner down the first base line about 10 to 12 steps. (Half way down the line if you want to do it like the pros but it's not necessary). You do this for two reasons. First, sometimes your partner misses the fielder pulling his foot early, you are another set of eyes that can be used, IF HE ASKS FOR HELP. Remember, you NEVER overturn a partners call. If he wants help, he will ask and then you can tell him what you say. It is up to the partner if they want to change the call or not. The second reason you head down the line is to make sure the runner stays in the running lane.

As you umpire more, you will learn of more responsibilities but for the younger umpire, this will be more than enough to think about as you start working this spring. Just remember, the umpire that hustles is less likely to get yelled at as the umpire who just stands in one spot all game.

Have fun this summer and PLAY BALL!!!