It’s okay to get the winter “blues”. In fact, winter is a great time for the men and women in “blue” to brush up on rules, techniques and the art of umpiring.
We hope the following tips and advice will assist you in raising the level of your game.
A Brief Word on Perfecting your Craft
Umpiring, for most is more hobby than vocation. But on the other hand, there is pride, work ethic and commitment. We all want to be great umpires, but there is a price to pay to get there.
You might think you are working hard, but there is a whole other level when it comes to perfecting your craft. Work on your mechanics as often as possible because confidence in your mechanics leads to confidence on the field. Read and re-read the rulebook. Learn the meaning and intent of each rule and how to apply each rule. Watch video and come up with a contingency plan for everything you see. Work on conditioning.
The point is that improving your skills takes hard work and commitment. You have to work hard enough, even when no one is watching, and even when it doesn’t seem to matter to anyone else.
Get professional assistance. Even if you are the best umpire in your community’s youth league, if you have never been exposed to professional training, you are missing out on a very good thing. No matter how comfortable you are with your skills and knowledge, professionals will teach you new techniques and methods you never knew existed. They will catch little mistakes you make and improve the effectiveness of your calls and mechanics.
Problems That Lead to Mistakes
A good umpire learns from his or her errors, and we all make those. Here are some basic problems that lead to mistakes:
- Not knowing the rule.
- Misapplying the rule.
- Not seeing the whole play.
- Being in the wrong position.
- Anticipating the call.
- A simple mental lapse.
Know the rule – Not knowing the rule is the easiest shortfall to correct. Rulebooks are not designed for leisure reading and it's difficult to pick one up and stay with it for long, but you can learn by studying the rule you missed (or thought you missed) and any associated material. Reading casebook plays and researching specific points is a good way to learn rules. It can be done in short spurts, during breaks, anywhere you will have five minutes or more of uninterrupted time and an opportunity to focus.
Apply the rule – Knowing how to apply a rule requires greater talent than just knowing the rule. Understanding each rule's spirit and intent is a big aid.
See the whole play – Double (or triple) calls are sometimes made on one play because the umpire doesn't see the whole play. It's easier to get the call right when you see the action immediately preceding the play. When you have responsibility for the play you must watch the ball. Keep your chest to the ball at all times.
Being in the right position – Positioning is what separates the veteran umpires from the rookies. It's so much easier to call it right when you have a good view. Always strive for the best possible view. This means getting the right angle and knowing how close you want to be to the play. In fact, being too close can be a very bad position.
Anticipate the play, not the call – Anticipating the play is a totally different issue from anticipating the call. Anticipating likely plays in a given situation and getting into a good position to see the play as it develops are absolutely vital. Anticipating the result of the play - for example, deciding a runner is going to beat a throw because the ball was mishandled, breeds blown calls. As a play begins, rely on the standard instruction: pause, read, and react. Wait a moment before doing anything while you decide where the ball is going, figure out who is going to do what with the ball, then move into position to see the developing play.
Stay alert – The last item, mental lapses, is another way of saying "stuff" happens. It happens to the best of us and when it does, all you can do is shrug it off. Some lapses can't be explained. If they happen too often, though, you need to reassess what you're doing.
Odds and Ends
- Stay down an extra second on your ball calls. This helps to sell the border line low pitch. Most amateur umpires pop up too quickly on a ball call and it doesn't look good.
- On an obvious foul ball do nothing. Everyone knows it's foul.
- Set up early behind the plate, but not before the pitcher is ready to deliver. Many amateur umpires get set too late and have trouble with the curve ball. It makes calling balls and strikes much easier.
- On check swings, don't oversell the call. Act casual, like it was obvious.
- When working the dish and a foul fly is heading back toward the backstop, follow the movement of the catcher, not the flight of the ball. We've seen many an amateur umpire tear off his mask and watch the ball, only to have the catcher run him over in an attempt to get to the ball. Let the catcher make the first move, clear him in the opposite direction, then remove your mask and hustle back with the catcher. It's the only way to avoid contact with the catcher and to put yourself in proper position to determine if the ball has been trapped against the backstop or cleanly caught.
- Stay off the catcher. Give him room to do his job. Let him move first, and then you move.
- Don't be a human scoreboard. When working the plate, it's not necessary to indicate the ball-strike count before every pitch. That's overkill, fatiguing and completely unnecessary. This is especially true when working a field with a good scoreboard that is being professionally managed with balls, strikes, and outs. (Don't rely on the scoreboard, however!) Just indicate the count every so often - but not every pitch.
- Be pleasant, but firm. Many rookie umpires make the mistake of trying to be either, everybody’s friend or Mr. Nasty. You can never please everybody as an umpire. As soon as you make your first close call, half the people there will no longer want to be your friend. On every call, somebody will be mad at you. Being too friendly and easy going will make you an easy target for constant complaints and chirps. Keep your presence businesslike and approachable. Answer reasonable questions professionally with a respectful attitude. Appear sure of yourself and your decisions will get more respect and be more readily accepted.
- Don’t try to “even up” a bad call. Occasionally you’re going to accidentally make a bad call, and you’ll know it. Under most circumstances, you cannot change the call because further play has already been made based on your bad call. However, the worst thing you can do is deliberately make another bad call to favor the other team to “even things up.” You just got rid of the first ranting coach. Now you’ll have the other team’s coach out there angry with you, too! Most reasonable coaches expect that the umpires will miss one occasionally. But nobody expects or wants to see an umpire to do it willfully.
Your protection is very important as you will get hit by foul or passed balls. Working the plate is hard. High temperatures and a scorching sun can make working the dish almost unbearable. The strain on an umpire’s body is significant, and heavy plate gear can make life miserable, even hazardous.
Each year, there are a lot of umpires that go down with heat exhaustion, or worse. Some suffer a health issue after the game and away from the field. Wearing plate gear heats you up and makes your body work harder. Plate gear also slows you down. The heavier the plate gear, the hotter your body gets, the harder you work, and the slower you are on the field.
Again, safety always comes first. But if you can, shedding weight from your equipment will make your job more bearable. It may sound silly, but a few different equipment choices can save you pounds, while at the same time offering you the same level of protection.
Chest protectors are your most important gear choice due to their protection of vital body parts, including the heart, chest, shoulders and ribs. Chest protectors come in either a hard shell with soft inner padding or with soft padding with or without hard plastic inserts. Obviously, you will get more protection from the hard shell, than the soft. Today, there are several manufacturers who produce hard shell chest protectors that weigh a little under 3 pounds. This is an average weight savings of 1 pound.
The same applies to leg guards and masks. You can obtain shin guards that weigh anywhere from 13.5 ounces to 32 ounces each. This could save you up to 2 pounds of equipment weight. And you can find masks that weigh anywhere from 15 ounces to 23 ounces. Here you could save an average of a 1/2 pound.
Altogether, you are looking at an equipment weight savings of 3+ pounds. That’s like carrying an extra seven baseballs around. Consider wearing lighter, more breathable plate gear to make your job easier when that weather heats up during tournament time. And it couldn’t hurt if you make similar good choices such as a regular exercise program, including aerobic exercise, as well as hydrating properly. First and Foremost—Safety Comes First!!
Here are a few suggestions to help you behind the plate:
- Pay close attention to your hands and their protection.
- The first lesson taught to a young catcher is to curl their fingers to avoid potential injury.
- The second lesson is to keep their hands out of the way as much as possible.
- Both of these lessons hold true to umpires as well.
- Also, remember to keep your elbows tucked into the body. Keeping the elbows close to the body and at an angle will reduce direct impact on the elbow.
- The ultimate questions is, “”Would you rather have a bruise or a break?”
Get it in your mind to be the best umpire you can be. Read everything and watch everyone—always taking in information, sorting it out and retaining that which works for you. Don’t make rules you cannot enforce. Play by the book and you’ll avoid problems.
Fans and news media will overlook flares of temper by the players, but will never overlook it in an umpire. You represent Babe Ruth League on the field with the boys and girls where it really counts. Remember, the best umpired game is when the fans cannot recall the umpires who worked it. The best advice to an official of any sport is to USE COMMON SENSE!