April 15, 2012: Blue Tips
Today I was recruited to umpire my son's little league scrimmage game. It was a scrimmage set up to allow the umpires to get some work in. I didn't know they would be pulling the umpires out of the stands. If I had, I might have hidden in my car.
At least here in Michigan, and maybe this is true of Little League all over the country, the home team supplies the field umpire. For the last two years in Caledonia, I had routinely been pulled into that service. It's a thankless job, of course, and there were several times the last couple of years that one or both teams' coaches expressed their disapproval of one of my calls. There is no finer feeling, of course, than hearing your only son cry out, "you suck, dad," as you make a call.
Anyway, today, they wanted some of us to also try umpiring home plate. I don't know why. That seems a really stupid idea, given the umpire's relationship with at least one kid on the team. Maybe they hope to suck one of us in and then have us umpire games that don't involve our children.
I didn't embarrass myself and, in fact, was pretty proud of my consistency and clarity in the home plate umpire role. That didn't stop my son from yelling at me from the dugout, though: "Jeez, dad, it looks like you're going to have a heart attack." It turns out that I was backing away from the catcher and the ball rather abruptly after making the ball or strike call. I suspect everyone thought I was scared of being hit, but as I told the "true" umpire watching me, I really just want to get out of the way so the catcher can do his job. "Don't worry about it," true blue told me, "the catcher knows where you are. Just stay where you are and he will work his way around you."
This goes against every grain of my being. Why wouldn't I want to allow someone else to do his or her job more easily while I do mine at the same time? When I do umpire in the field and have to stand behind the mound, I am constantly swiveling my head to make sure I am not in the second baseman's view, the shortstop's view, or the baserunner's. I suspect I look like a chicken with my head bopping and swiveling. (Don't know if my son is yelling things at me in those situations; what I don't know won't piss me off.)
All in all, I guess I'm a pretty good umpire, and probably the reason I so routinely accepted the mantle over the last couple of years is that I believe I will be impartial making calls. (Lincoln did walk when I was behind the plate, but he fouled off a couple of pitches to stay alive, so I gave him nothing.) However, while I understand that the umpire is supposed to show he is in charge, it is that characteristic that I naturally want to mute from the stoic, "go around me" kind of personality. I bark out my calls so that people can hear it and know the situation, not because I believe my loud voice lends more authority to my calls. If that is the by-product of me trying to do my job while at the same time making the coaches', players', even fans' jobs easier, then I can live with that.
I like to think this example could prove beneficial to executives everywhere:
- A main part of the position is to make other people's jobs easier;
- It is crucial to give clear and loudly stated information and direction;
- Think about everybody who might need to hear what you're saying;
- No matter what, you'll always have a critic. Hopefully for most of us, we don't end up working with our kids.