When I am not writing extremely funny and witty blogs for City Weekly, I work part time umpiring Little League baseball, and I have had it with some of the parents and coaches of these young kids. Now, I know being an umpire, one is subject to the occasional ribbing from the fans and the coaches of the players, but there are some people who take it way too far. You know the type of people I am taking about: They think their 9-year-old son is the next Derek Jeter, each game is like game seven of the World Series and they think they know more about baseball than anyone else on the planet. Ugh! Give me a break.
Allow me to set the stage for many of the games so you can get an understanding for what I have to go through even BEFORE the parents and coaches get involved. First of all, these kids in this league are all relatively young, and the games are kid-pitch, which oftentimes yields some uuuuuuugly games. The boy on the mound is supposedly the team’s star pitcher, as he is the only one who can effectively get the ball remotely across the plate to the catcher, and even then I still get beaned mercilessly by wild pitches.
Adding to the pleasure of taking baseball after baseball to my shins, chest and face is the fact that many of the catchers in the league cannot stop the pitches when they actually come across the plate. The coach yells to his catcher to “make sure you get in front of the ball, bud” as I take another painful groin shot, leaving me wondering if I will ever have children of my own. Some of the coaches yell more stern words to their catchers, saying, “One more ball gets past you and you’re never playing catcher again!” Yeah, no pressure, little guy. All the kids want to play pitcher or catcher because they get the most action during the games, and now that little Johnny finally got his shot, he is being verbally badgered by his coach. As an 8-year-old, I might just go park my ass in left field before I had to go through all that.
Going hand-in-hand with pitching is the fact that there will be no 100 percent accurate
strike zones, unbeknownst to many of the coaches and parents. These kids are
too young to play with the Major League zone, and as an umpire, I have to be
considerate to both the batter and the pitcher. In all honesty, if we did abide
by the letter of the strike-zone law, then pitcher Billy would finish with 46
walks and an ERA looking like what pre-Subway Jared saw on the scale. All I
will say is, thank God there is a six-run-per-inning limit. Regardless, after every pitch that is even remotely close to the zone, I need to start preparing myself for the screams from either side, depending on
my call. “Come on, blue, he’s just a kid!” Exactly, and believe it or not, I do not have
any personal vendettas against 10 year olds on the baseball field, even if that
one kid hit me in the face with his, er, curve ball.
The worst part of it is that some of the kids (mostly the coach’s kids) start
to talk back, too, when calls don't go their way. Great, now
the pitcher is sticking his tongue out at me after every pitch.
Now, there are plenty of kids who can really put the bat on the ball and can be very exciting to watch. However, whenever they hit the ball into the outfield, it is usually to the one kid who is out there braiding grass with his glove on his head because coach was trying to hide him out there where he couldn’t make any mistakes. Once the ball is hit to these kids, the coaches of the batting team take full advantage, having their players in essence get in a pickle between every base and hope that the fielder airmails it six feet over the baseman’s head. This allows the runner to steal base after base and turn a routine ground ball into a triple due to errors. Is taking advantage of the fielder’s throwing ability really the way to go? Many fielding coaches now just have their pitcher run, grab the ball and hurry to the pitcher’s mound so the runner can't milk out any extra bases.
Toward the end of games that aren’t called early due to a 10-run rule, the time of the game comes into play. Under the league’s rules, there is a time after first pitch where there can be no new inning, and 10 minutes after that, the game is called regardless of the situation and score. Coaches know this ruling full well. When it starts to get late in a game and their team has the lead, they will often send out a new pitcher. They try to say that they are just trying to get a player some reps at the position, but everyone knows what they are doing. The game time does not stop while a new pitcher warms up, and they are allowed eight warm-up pitches. Coaches try to slyly pull this stunt to try and waste game clock and have the game called on time, rather than winning (or losing) it the right way. When this happens, I get yelled at by the opposing team because they know what is going on, but other than tell the other coach that he needs to hurry up, I can't do much to aid the situation. When I approach the coach, telling him I know what he is doing, I get yelled at for calling him a cheater, and, in essence, it turns into my word against his -- a futile battle.
When the game finally comes to a close, I shake hands with both coaches and oftentimes get treated with a “Thanks, blue” or an “I know it can get brutal out there, it cannot be easy, thank you,” which makes me feel appreciated for what I do. Then there are the other coaches who slip in the “If not for that one call, we would have had ‘em” or “Hope you can sleep well tonight” in a sarcastic tone. In the meantime, the players run toward the snack shack to get their free candy, pretzels, or churros, laughing and joking around with both teammates and members of the opposing team. Win or lose, they just had fun playing the great game of baseball and often have no idea about the scheming and plotting of their coaches during the game. Opposing coaches exchange “evil eyes” with one another, leading me to sometimes think a Kimbo Slice street fight is about to break out, and all that the kids want to talk about is their great catch or the amazing double they hit.
Too often in today’s little league, parents and coaches lose sight of what the game is really about at this age: having fun and learning the game. Umpiring is a great summer job, and it is really entertaining to get to talk to some of the players while they bat: “Blue, is my batting stance good?” or “Do you like my new cleats?” There are some kids who are good for a laugh every game, and watching these kids play and succeed at such a young age makes all the bickering from the coaches and parents worth it. At the end of the game, rather than argue with the coaches about a call in the second inning, I think I will go grab a churro with Johnny, the glasses-wearing, jersey-10-sizes-too-big-for-him, grass-braiding left fielder who struck out three times but managed to hit a foul ball during one of his at-bats. And he couldn’t be happier.