Baseball Umpires’ Learning Blog

Our Place to Share the Game

Great Moments in Youth Sports

About one-third or halfway through each season, we must take time to reflect on why we encourage our youth to take part in sports. My commitment to officiating comes from my personal passion for “age-appropriate youth sports experiences”. Youth sports create many “teachable moments”. Modeling good sporting behavior while teaching the intricacies of the game set the tone for a rich learning environment and set the scene for truly memorable events. Children learn how to respect opponents, accept losing, and “be good winners”. Youth sports build character and creates the important opportunity for our children to feel that they are earning respect.

We can only be involved if we agree to play by all the rules. Leaving out some rules simply for convenience, because they are tough calls, or since “coaches don’t like them” is not acceptable. All rules carry equal weight. Punishments, however, vary based on the severity of the offense. “See it, think it, call it” makes sense in officiating every aspect of our games.

Remember, the game is always bigger than the officials, and, frankly, the game is much, much bigger than the coaches and players because they are not expected to be versed in the rules. Fair play and the integrity of the game must be first and foremost, and the game officials are responsible for managing the game and demanding expected behaviors. Yes, good sporting behavior is expected. . . so PLEASE enforce it and applaud it when appropriate.

Every once in a while we hear about a great display of sportsmanship, but we all have recent memories of conflict, disputed calls, disrespectful behavior by the coach, or poor choices by a participant. When spectators yell at an opposing child, we know it is wrong. Thankfully, we all appreciate officiating most when we witness the right things happening during our games. Many hesitate or fail to appreciate the power of these moments. I thought I would brainstorm a few and then challenge you, the readers, to respond with good moments that you have witnessed or would like to see. (Just click on “Comments” below.)

Great moments in youth sports happen when:

  • opponents help/assist injured opponents,
  • apologize/feel remorse for their aggressive foul,
  • coaches compliment the officials when they lose the close game,
  • players really mean “good game” when they say it to opponents and officials,
  • participants and spectators feel empathy for a player that fell short in his attempt at greatness,
  • teams are amazed and almost cheer the great plays and hits by the other team,
  • a player called out on a close play says, “Good call!” to the umpire, and more.

I believe these moments are too often missing from youth sports competitions. We must remember that youth sports includes high school sports. These educational moments are meant to shape our children for decision-making in their future. For this reason alone, let’s do whatever we can to do our jobs well. The coach and the overall educational experience are very important. Thankfully, the rules clearly lay out the expectation of all parties. Game officials are challenged with the duty to enforce the rules as written. I fail to see many collegiate and professional leagues enforcing their rules as written. That’s a topic for a future article.

Generally problems arise when people try to do someone else’s job. When fans start to coach or officiate, coaches start to officiate, or officials start to coach, trouble ensues. If we all do our jobs with vigor and enthusiasm dedicating ourselves to learn continually as we go, our games are in good hands. The rules are working or the games would require constantly changing rules.

Did you notice that spectator behavior was lacking from this list? The few cordial cheers during the pre-game announcements is about the only times when I recognize the other guys getting “a hand”. Respond and give more examples of “good sporting behavior”. Recognize and appreciate proper behavior in an appropriate way (telling other officials or thanking coaches for modeling good behavior at the game-ending handshake. Just because we expect it, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t applaud it!

Now that I have you thinking about great deeds, check out this news worthy deed that earned national coverage. Despite the fact that the rules were misapplied, this is a great story. Click on title for a news article from ESPN or click on the youtube video to see the post-game interview.

ESPN Article–Ultimate
Act of Sportsmanship

May 9, 2008 Posted by | Commendations, Commentary, Rules | , , | Leave a comment

Run scores! Time now to create the next good angle!

One very important aspect of umpire teamwork is covering every touch of a base while also moving to get in position for your next call. Umpires must know what to watch and not miss a look. This umpire was just starting to move towards third now that his duty of watching the runner tag the plate was fulfilled.  Nice work Bill!

Run Scores -- Knowing What to Watch

April 16, 2008 Posted by | Commendations, Mechanics | , , , | Leave a comment

A Rare Umpire “Feel Good” Article

Our fellow BULB (Baseball Umpire Learning Blog) blogger Steve Johnson regularly unveils and unearths baseball bits that continue to entertain, educate, and inspire many from all walks of life. Today Steve is sharing the article by Fay Vincent, former MLB commissioner, who speaks kindly not only about one special umpire, Bruce Froemming, but also about arbiters in general. Thank you Mr. Vincent for remembering the true resting place for the integrity of the world’s competitive sporting events.

At this same time, I must share a fairly recent experience with Bruce Froemming. Former Double A Texas League partner Mike Winters has been a regular member of Mr. Froemming’s crew since Mike arrived in the majors. I took my son Ryan to Fenway Park and wanted to get a moment to say hello to Mike as we (along with other crew member Dan Wickham) thoroughly enjoyed the spring and summer of 1983 in the Texas League.

After simply requesting a moment to say hi to Mike Winters in the hallway, Ryan and I were escorted to umpire dressing room to visit with Mike and the crew. During a brief hello and some fun reminiscing with Mike, Mr. Froemming donated his full attention to Ryan (age 13) asking about Ryan about his baseball involvement. An autographed ball from the crew was given to Ryan. Ryan left that locker room with a whole new respect for major league umpires.

When I told Ryan that umpire great Al Barlick continuously told everyone who would listen that Bruce Froemming should be the one selected to work the plate if there would ever to be the most important game in baseball history. Just that comment and an older gentleman’s caring way, placed Bruce Froemming in Ryan’s Hall of Fame. Bruce Froemming’s signature is every bit as important to Ryan and I as that of Hank Aaron, Sandy Koufax, Bob Feller, and others that reside on baseballs in our home.

Thanks Bruce for all that you have done. I especially respect that you continue to manage your games despite the new direction that MLB has taken failing to demand respect for umpires and the game. It shouldn’t about the superstars and owners; it should be about the integrity of the game. No one is bigger than the game, but in our hearts Bruce Froemming is pretty darn close! Enjoy your fame and retirement Bruce, you have surely earned it.

Check out Mr. Fay Vincent’s timely and much appreciated “Opinion” article in today’s (7/9/09) New York Times, by clicking on the following link:

The Umpire Strikes Back by Fay Vincent

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/09/opinion/09vincent.html?ex=1

Froemming Passes Bill Klem

Umpire Froemming Speaks After Breaking Klem Record

July 9, 2007 Posted by | Baseball Bits, Commendations, Commentary | 1 Comment

How’s YOUR strike zone?

Most of you have now worked enough games to be getting into a bit of a groove. Some of you may even be recovering from a bit of a slump struggling a bit judging some pitches. Your head position, timing, and reaction to plate area situations should be second nature, so now is a perfect time to analyze and work on your strike zone. Is your strike zone accurate enough to spot pitches (designate exactly where they were)? Can you compare one close pitch several innings ago to the last pitch you just called . Isn’t that the best definition of “consistency”?

Inconsistent pitching will always play a big role in whether a game was called “consistently”. However, given a pretty good catcher and consistent pitchers, it should be relatively easy to be consistent. Pick apart your personal plate work and ask for feedback. Ask your partner(s) where they thought a particular pitch crossed the plate.

Seeing both the start and the finish of a pitch play a big part in your ball/strike decision. You must be acutely aware of the approach and the finish of a pitch to be an excellent umpire. Some umpires are very good at borderline high pitches because they see the high pitch very well while they may struggle with low and quick breaking pitches because they don’t see the ball finish (going all the way into the catcher’s mitt). Obviously, the opposite is also true.

Do you know your strengths and weaknesses? That’s your job in moving yourself closer to better understanding your strike zone. The more you know about your “ZONE”, the more you can be consistent. When your zone coincides with the strike zone stated in the rule book, you are good! The best feeling you I have ever had as a sports official is when I would call a “close to perfect” game between two pitchers throwing off their best “stuff”.

 Umpire Head Position


HEAD POSITION:
A dedicated local umpire recently told me that he realized he was working lower in a game when he noticed his head even with the catcher’s head when he called “ball”. Are your legs loosening up and allowing/making you move lower as the game progresses? Eyes must stay high enough and in a consistent position relative to the plate. Adjust up and toward the batter when you feel that you are struggling with consistency (seeing the pitches well).

Without taking sides, but admittedly being biased, as an umpire and experienced parent/coach, I am a bit tired of players and parents blaming umpires for called third strikes. “It’s time to hit! Swing those bats guys! The pitching isn’t that good!

Finally, remember to have good timing! Inconsistent timing leads to inconsistent strike zones. Also, good timing is necessary if you wish to cover check swings properly. The check swing is the primary responsibility of the home plate umpire so do your best to see bat action. You should see most “check swings” pretty well. Remember what you saw and what your partners called upon appeal to gain the valuable experience that will directly benefit your umpiring. Call the swings when the ball is not a “called” strike! Appeal to your partner , “Did he go?”, even if you stated, “No Swing”. BASE UMPIRES WAIT UNTIL YOUR PARTNER COMES TO YOU. Plate umpires make sure you realize when a manager (head coach) or catcher want you to check with your partner. Have you as a base umpire ever made a call when they weren’t asking for help on a check swing? Oooh sooo, embarassing . . . . been there, done that!

Work on that soft, flexible part of your strike zone! Keep up the good work! You must always remember that you and your partner(s) are the best team out there. Getting better makes you even more worthy of being humbled later by an upcoming tough call. We are only as good as our last call! Let’s make our last strike/ball call be correct!

June 24, 2007 Posted by | Commendations, Commentary | 5 Comments

New Online Resources — MyReferee and NASO ONline

Referee Magazine and TheArbiter.net, an online officiating assignment service, haved teamed up to present information and resources for sports officials. Go the website below to sign up for your free access.

http://www.referee.com/arbiter/myreferee/learnmore.html

 

Any officials that already receive assignments on TheArbiter.Net can access this resource by clicking on “My Referee” in the bottom left corner on the start page after logging into your Arbiter account. Otherwise, just register by giving some personal information. I will eventually add the link to the blogroll.

NASO ONline is another resource that I discovered today. It seems like it will be especially helpful to those who are involved in leading associations. Click on the logo below to go to NASO ONline.

NASO ONline

June 7, 2007 Posted by | Association Improvements, Commendations, Reading Resources | Leave a comment

“I’ve got your back”; music to an umpire’s ears

The groundwork for this post comes from an earlier one, “When someone believes in you, you can’t be stopped” In that post I wrote about a conference for foster parents that I attended this weekend. To our delight, former Seattle Mariner second baseman Deshawn Patrick absolutely mesmerized all of us with his keynote speech and the three sessions he led over the two day conference. His experience as a foster child from age one taught him that as long as you have someone who is always there for you, no matter what goes wrong, you are going to succeed. During the two days he regaled us with laughter and saddened us with tears as he shared vignettes from his rocky start as a youth.

I was totally blown away by Deshawn’s presentations, and once he learned I was an umpire, that opened totally new area of discussions for the two of us. On the way home I was able to draw some parallels between being foster care siblings and part of an umpire crew.

Just as foster children must depend on one another to make it through the day, so umpires must depend on the rest of the crew if the crew is to survive. When my partner is in the “A” slot and he turns his back on to pursue a “trouble ball” he needs to know absolutely that I will come out from behind the plate, observe the touch at first, and take the runner into second if necessary. He needs to know that I will uphold the integrity of our team by doing my job while he does his, If he is worried that I’m not watching the runner, he can’t concentrate on making the tough call he is sprinting out to cover.

Likewise, I really feel as if I have been thrown under the bus when, with a runner on first and me in the “B” slot and the batter launches a line drive down into the left field corner, my partner stands rivited behind home plate, admiring the force of the blow. Now we have runners headed to second and third, the throw about to be rifled back into the infield, and only me in a position to make a good call at second and a really poor call at third. If the throw goes to third, our crew is dead. At best, we both are out of position to make at the call, and at worst, we blow the call. Either way, we have lost credibility.

We could have avoided the disintegration of our team had we 1) done an adequate pregame and 2) followed the plan to which we both had agreed. There is nothing more satisfying to my ears on the field when I hear my partner call, “I got the runner” or “I’m at third if he comes”, and it is not just because we’ve got all the action covered. When he says, “I’ve got your back,” it is affirmation that we are a team, that I have at least one person out there on my side who will stand behind me, no matter what happens. It is the recognition that we are both on the same page as we pursue the course we have set out for ourselves and that I can have full confidence in the only friend I have out there on the field.

Deshawn Patrick did more for me this weekend than make me a better foster and adoptive parent. His frequent references to the value of commitment helped me crystalize my thinking about what it means to be part of an umpire crew and the responsibilities inherent therein. For all of that, Deshawn, I am extremely grateful.

April 29, 2007 Posted by | Commendations, Mechanics | 2 Comments

When someone believes in you, you can’t be stopped

As an adoptive parent as well as a professional foster parent maintaining, along with my dear wife, a foster home for kids diagnosed as having Reactive Attachment Disorder, I go to educational conferences each year for help improving my parenting skills. This weekend I am privileged to be attending a conference whose keynote speaker is Deshawn Patrick. For those of you who are not Mariner fans, Deshawn came to that club in the same year as Junior Griffey, 1987. They were both outstanding athletes who could run and hit as well as any players in the majors. The two of them got to the majors through two very different routes. We all know the story of Junior, who had a world class baseball-playing father to guide and support him thorough his formative years. Deshawn Patrick, on the other hand, was in foster care from the time he was one, bounced from home to home to home. Considering he was signed by the Mariners when he was 19, there had to have been something more than the non-existant doting dad to help Deshawn achieve the baseball success that he did.

I asked Deshawn what happened in his life to allow him to avoid the pitfalls of foster care (75% of today’s prison population has spent at least six months in foster care). His answer was quite revealing.

“One of the things that foster kids hate the most is the fact that they have a thick file that follows them wherever they go. The minute they get into trouble at school, the principal reaches into the file cabinet to pull out their thick file. And you know what? That file never says ‘Deshawn has the potential to be a great baseball player, or a prolific writer, or a dynamite artist’; instead, it says ‘ Deshawn never completes his work, is a distraction in the classroom, and is a social misfit.’ No one reading that file would ever give me any hope for achieving something good.

“Baseball, and the coaches who said I could be a great baseball player, my ton of friends, and my grandmother who always loved me, gave me the passion to endure all the foster homes could give out. I made up my mind that I was going to make myself proud. I knew that everyone one expected me to be a troubled foster child with a checkered past and a doubtful future, but I knew differently. I knew that what was inside no one else could see unless they looked past my foster home files. No one, not even my closest friends, could comprehend how it felt to come home from school and not know if the state had decided to place us in another foster home or if my foster parent had thrown in the towel. It was hard to concentrate on the ABC’s and 123’s when I didn’t know where I would be living one day to the next.

Deshawn became emotional when he talked about the support his grandmother gave him and by the time he had finished talking about how powerful it can be when someone believes in you there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. As I drove home this afternoon I thought long and hard about what I was or wasn’t doing to empower my children to become the very best they can be. Those thoughts took me to my passion, baseball umpiring, and made me take a long hard look at what I do to empower players, coaches, and my peers to be the very best they can be. I’m not sure what the answers are in either arena, but I do know I can’t wait to get back to Day 2 of the conference tomorrow, whose theme is based on Deshawn Patrick’s book, And Some Rise Above It. Maybe Deshawn’s insights will help me find those answers.

April 27, 2007 Posted by | Baseball Bits, Commendations | 3 Comments

Umpire Education Rises to a New Level–Blogging!

Now that we have a respectable group of local and long distance readers, I want to take a few minutes out of this rainy night to remind you that the purpose of this blog is to get you thinking about your umpiring. This the “Baseball Umpires’ Learning Blog”. The more you think about your umpiring, the more you will learn. It makes sense to me that this type of dedication will make you a better umpire.

You have a lot to focus on. Take some time to ponder/assess:

  • your timing,
  • your positioning,
  • your movement to cover a play,
  • your thinking,
  • your rule knowledge, and
  • your decisions.

What are your strengths? weaknesses? When and where might you be most apt to get in trouble when performing on the field? How do you mentally approach your games? No, not how you project/share this approach to others! But rather how you channel your knowledge, energy, and ability before, during, and after the game.

Even more important are:

  • CONCENTRATION, and
  • FOCUS ON THE GAME.
  • Always, always . . . “WATCH THE BALL and GLANCE AT THE RUNNERS”!!!!!

Without concentration and a total focus on the game, you subject yourself to being fooled. Don’t let yourself be surprised! The emotion and anxiety that goes along with being fooled makes us miss these calls more often than getting them right. Good instincts and knowing the game (sometimes a direct result of experience) can help you when surprise and a loss of timing make decision-making more like a game of flipping coins.

After your games, take time to REFLECT on your work as an individual and as a member of a crew. Think back on all the calls, comments, and decisions. How did you do as a team? Talk about this with your partner. There is a tendency not to talk about positioning mistakes unless they blow up in your face. Talk about, ‘what if they had thrown the ball there’, or ‘that ball had been fair’, ‘only 1 out’, etc. Share them in this blog also.

People that cannot watch and read the actions in a game will never become a top-rated sports official. Communicate, enforce the rules, cover your position, and show good judgement. Control the game when it is needed, let the game run itself when the baseball is good.

However, you cannot marvel over a game because umpire responsibilities take your attention–feet touching bases, pitchers remaining still and coming to a complete stop, checking over your shoulder to see if the runner is stealing third, etc. Running to get into position doesn’t allow you time to appreciate the players’ finesse and magnificent abilities. (I guess the inverse is also true–we also do not have to see how bad some of the play is either!)

This blog is also forum to ask questions or present situations for further thinking. NO COMPLAINING! NO NAMES! Please take time to click on the word “Comments” at the bottom of this or any article. You are an expert because you are out on the field. You have the best seat/view in the house! Your opinions and experiences matter. This is your blog. If it means taking a risk to comment, go for it! Risk-takers learn more, faster!

Happy Blogging!

P.S. The Eastern Maine Baseball Umpire Association (EMBUA) new coats look awesome. I can nearly coax myself back onto the field just so I can have the coat. Check them out in our own Officials’ Picture Gallery.

Click here to go to the Umpire Photo Gallery. It is where pictures can teach and make learning a little more visual!  Pictures will appear sporadically so check back often.

April 27, 2007 Posted by | Commendations, Commentary | Leave a comment

NF Provides Online Rulebooks

The following was previously posted on the Basketball Officials’ Learning Blog and was simply copied and pasted into this space.

The National Federation of State High School Associations establishes the rules for all high school sports and publishes the rulebooks and casebooks for coaches and officials. When I was asked to make a presentation to high school baseball players a few weeks ago, I turned to the internet to find a resource for high school baseball rules and recent interpretations since I did not have a current baseball rulebook.

Rule changes and related interpretations were available on the NF website for 2006 and 2007. These documents were very helpful and as I dug deeper, I discovered that the National Federation now has online rulebooks. For just $20 per year, you have access to all the NF rulebooks and casebooks.

Register and pay for full access to all the online rulebooks and casebooks by going to http://www.nfhs.org/. Click on “Sign Up” in the Members Only box on the upper right center of the website. It will take you through 2-3 screens where you fill in various forms registering and finally using your credit card to purchase your membership. The cheapest option is $20.

The following rulebooks and casebooks are available organized by season:

Fall Sports: Field Hockey, Football, Soccer, Spirit Rules, and Volleyball

Winter Sports: Ice Hockey, Wrestling, Basketball, and Swimming and Diving

Spring Sports: Baseball, Lacrosse, Softball, and Track and Field

Coaches and officials can also join their respective National Federation Association for a fee slightly greater than the $20 fee that I mentioned earlier. Additional benefits come with these memberships. Remember also that all of these fees are tax-deductible.

Did you ever wonder what the lacrosse rules say about whacking the opponent with the ball with your stick? Are you considering officiating another sport? Let the rulebooks help you decide.

April 17, 2007 Posted by | Commendations, Rules | 1 Comment