“Hey, Blue, Time Out!” My first thought is, “Come on, you know you can ask for time. I am the only one who can grant time or give time.” This is just one of the fun things I have to deal with as an umpire. I was told by a coach once, “Don’t ever leave the sport you love. If you love a sport, coach it. If you are in love with a sport, officiate it.”
I really didn’t understand what he meant by that. That was until I became a coach and an official. Coaching is the fun part of the sport you love: you get to play, strategize, and teach your team to become better and better. I coached tennis in Mississippi and in Germany, where I got the chance to lead a lot of great kids to new heights. In Mississippi, I helped the team get over the hump and win state. In Germany, I took the team to three consecutive 2nd place finishes.
This is an amazing testament to how awesome the kids were. You see, being on a military installation, it was rare to carry the same team over to the next year. Most coaches have to deal with graduation. I not only had to deal with that but also with Permanent Change in Station (PCS) movers. Every year I had a great group of kids that were willing to learn and play. Those kids helped me win Coach of the Year in my first year.
But with all of this fun there is also the stress. Who to play in what order, who plays well together on a doubles team, who does not. Who is better by themselves, when to talk to a kid or when to let them be. And then there is a whole another level of stress called… you know what, I will get back to that later.
First let me get back to officiating. If you are in love–and I mean IN LOVE–with a sport, you should officiate that sport. Let me tell you why. It gives you a new appreciation for that sport. My sport of choice is baseball. Now I could go into why I love–and do I mean LOVE–baseball. I will get into that more in a few weeks.
Anyway, back on track: officiating. Officiating lets you see the sport you love in a new light. It takes your bias away from one team or another. You see the game through the eyes of the judge. At first, when you start looking at all the rules, you become overwhelmed. Looking at the rule book, you start looking at everything you did when you were playing. All the arguments you had, all the times you thought you were right. All of your views start to change, your understanding grows deeper, and your knowledge expands.
You take your test, buy your equipment, and get ready for your first game. You do your pregame, you do everything to get started. Now normally your first games will be on the bases. Mine were not, since I started off doing 50+ slow pitch softball. So there is only the umpire. So there I was, behind the plate, waiting for that first pitch to come in, my heart racing. It hits. I make my call and I start to hear moans and groans from people. Next pitch hits, more moans and groans. I think to myself, “I’m just making the calls, sorry if you don’t like them.” A few years later another umpire told me that on your first call, you will make half the crowd dislike you; your second call, the other half will dislike you. Now everyone dislikes you and there is nothing you can do about it.
Now, I have to say most of the leagues I umpire in are volunteer leagues. That means I don’t get paid for any of the work I do. That means all the work and effort on and off the field that I put in is all for the kids. I want to do the best I can for the kids and for the game itself. When you go on to officiate a sport, you see it at its purest form. You see it in the most unbiased form. You fall more and more in love with the sport, and now you become as much a part of it as it to you.
Oh, and side note: I am a human. I have made mistakes and I will make mistakes. That is part of being a human. This is something that people need to remember, because people expect us umpires to be perfect at the start of the game and get better as the game goes on. Most of the complaints that I hear are from–can anyone guess? Yeah, that’s right, PARENTS.
I told you I would get back to parents. Parents, you are the worst. Okay, that’s not 100% true. Umpires who don’t want to study the rules and use made up rules are. “Tie goes to runner.” Listen to me, now: there are no such things as ties. Either the ball beats the runner or the runner beats the ball. Again, THERE ARE NO TIES! Okay, back to parents. You are there to encourage your kids. You are not there to belittle the coaches or the officials. I personally have had some nasty things said to me, both as a coach and as an umpire. On the flip side, there have also been some funny things said to me. Remember, parents, what your kids see you do is what they are going to do. Don’t like who your kids are becoming on the field? Look at yourself first.
But, parents, let your coaches do their jobs. If you think you can do a better job then why don’t you coach? Are you too busy, don’t have enough time? I have heard every excuse in the book. Guess what? We all run a busy life, but the coaches are the ones who are putting their time and money out there.
Last but not least, coaches. Oh, coaches. You are the ones who should know the rules and are the ones in charge of keeping your parents informed and settled through the game. Don’t come after officials for your lack of knowledge.
So back on point, if you love a sport, try coaching. It will give you a different perspective. If you are in love with a sport, I encourage you to go out and officiate a game or two. Heck, why not go all out and do a full season. But at least, if you even watch a sport, go to a class or a clinic. Even then you will start to see a new side of the game.
With all that being said, I think I need some time to relax and read my rule book to make sure I am ready for the tournament season coming up. I will see you all next time at the “Ballgame.” I’ll be the one behind the mask.