These truly are the dog days of summer.
For about two weeks now, and for at least another three, I have been chasing Little Leaguers around almost every day. And while I hope not to be called Captain Obvious here, it has been mercilessly hot.
Those of you who know me know that football is my gig, but I think the Bulletin would have a problem with me saying I will do football in the fall and that is it. No, these dog days are my dues-paying days, because once these are through then we switch from cowhide to pigskin.
But I am compensated for my time. There are a group of people who do not do this for the money, nor do they do not do this because their kids are playing: umpires.
In most cases Little League umpires do not get paid. In the past, some leagues gave high-school kids $5 and a hot dog for doing games, but I do not think that happens much anymore. The umpires volunteer their time for the love of the game.
I could not do it – at least behind the plate. There is no way I could get in position behind a catcher for one inning, much less six!
I can be extremely critical, but I tend to give volunteer umps a break because if they were not out there how could there be games? And from time to time when I see a young ump out of position or using improper mechanics, I will mention to him to check with the older ump on proper position/mechanics, because everyone has to learn.
One of the things I have a problem with is an ump who does not know the rules — at any level. Sure, calls are going to be missed — I have no idea how any ump and decide if a knee-high fast ball is a ball or a strike — but before any blue gets out on that diamond he or she should have a working knowledge of the rules.
There has been no shortage of writings lately on how youth-sports parents are chasing sports officials away from their games. Some of the conduct I have seen is beyond atrocious, and yes, some rules interpretations and blown calls have been costly.
But what about the swinging strike in the dirt with the bases loaded two innings ago or the throw home on a grounder to second with two out instead of going to first because the coach did not tell the kids to go to first after telling them to go home with one out?
That umpire had nothing to do with those poor decisions, yet he is vilified if he blows a call when had business been taken care of that blown call would have made no difference.
Again, I am speaking of volunteer umps here. And to think of those poor guys working their day jobs and then schlepping out to the ball park in the heat of the day to have some loudmouth think he could do it better is absurd.
Probably the best umpire moment I ever witnessed was at a varsity softball game a number of years ago. The team I was covering was thumping its opponent pretty good, and a girl from the local team was on first base and her dad could be hear blaring, “Steal, steal!”
Her coach was a classy guy and from the third-base box shook his head for her not to steal. But the dad, who had been riding the umpire all day, kept it up.
There was only one umpire and he was behind the plate. The girl broke for second and was safe by a mile — at least.
The ump stepped out of the box, pointed to second and hollered, “You’re out,” and then rotated 180 degrees and pointed to the dad and said, “And so are you,” bouncing the dad from the stands.
Classic, just classic.
So. the next time you think your kid or grandkid comes up on the short end of the stick with an umpire’s call, think of what would happen to the game if your berating of the ump caused him to just walk off the field.
What would happen then? You may be right, but at what cost?