Come On Blue!
Under The Bright Lights - OYB Umpire Tryouts 2014
One of the toughest things a new umpire has to deal with is knowing where they are in the game and knowing what to do when something happens. There is a whole lot more to do than just watch the pitch and call balls and strikes. Yes, it is all about scenarios.
APRIL 12, 2014 - Last night we did a first with Orem Youth Baseball. We had two of our 11-12 year old competition teams show up for a beautiful Saturday evening 2 hour scrimmage and while they played we had our newer umpire candidates show up and take turns behind the plate and out in the field. We had about 40 show up and for most of them it was the first time actually doing it with a game going on.
Was it a success? Absolutely! We had three previous 45-90 minute clinics where we covered rules, protocols, and positioning, but there is no easy way to simulate a real game experience unless you are in a real game. As many of them learned last night, they aren't quite ready for a real game.
BALL AND STRIKES - Most of the candidates were ready to call balls and strikes, but even that can be scary when a young man is swinging a metal bat at the same ball you are trying to judge. There is the issue of where to set up, when to drop into position, when to make your decision, and how to alert the large crowd of what you thought about the pitch.
I was the lucky one who also got to don the equipment and I set up immediately behind them and I would talk them through what they should alter, stop, and continue doing. This put me in the interesting position where I got to take my first face shot of the season. Yep, the candidate in front of me was set up and there was a foul tipped off and upwards directly at him and he was already diving out of its path. The ball continued on and hit me right in the mask. I had yet to move and the cool shock absorbers on the Wilson took the impact and was barely noticeable that I had been hit. But that did not stop me from making a mini scene by saying, "Hey wait a minute, that face shot was meant for you. What are you doing jumping out of the way. That was meant for you! You can't move. You need to stand still and take the shots with your name on them." And then once he got back into position for the next pitch I told him quietly, "Don't worry, it is only natural to be scared when a projectile is hurled your way. Just trust your equipment and don't jump out of the way."
Most were ready for the balls and strikes, but needed guidance with their positioning, stance, and timing.
POSITIONING - Our attempt has been to teach the young men to line up in a Gerry Davis type of stance that puts their chins in a direct line with the inside edge of the plate. Most wanted to line up squarely behind the catcher. I would guide them to the right position that would give them the best view without a catcher blocking their view.
STANCE - The Gerry Davis stance is the easiest on the legs and back. Plus, it reserves your energy and allows you to more easily hustle when you need to move from behind the plate. I watched these young men do the same thing I used to do when I first started, and that was to try to hide behind the catcher. The thought is that the catcher has the best view, so somehow it is best for the umpire to be down there right next to the catcher so that they can also share that same view. This is a flawed concept because the catcher is always moving around due to the placement of the pitch he is calling. This means that the view of the strike zone is always from a slightly different position and adopting the position low near the moving catcher will result in a very inconsistent strike zone.
We want our candidates to set up in the same relaxed position on the inside edge of the plate for either the right handed or left handed batter, and then stay set without movement, flinching, eyes closing, or dancing, until after the pitch is complete. The umpire should be almost robotic with only their eyes moving as they track the pitch from the release of the ball from the pitchers hand all the way until it hits the catcher's glove. If this is done from the same stance every pitch, then the same consistent calls can be made throughout the entire game.
TIMING - Timing behind the plate has to do with making the call of "Ball" or "Strike!" I took a group of about 10 candidates standing in line and shared with them that the crowd hates delayed calls, so make each call delayed and they will become used to your taking the time needed to judge what you saw to make the right call. I told them this after about 10 other candidate umpires had come to the plate and they were calling "Strike" before the ball had even struck the catchers glove. When it was a ball they would delay and say "Ball". This gave strikes a rapid fire quick call and a ball very delayed.
The correct timing is to watch the ball as it is released from the pitchers hand all the way until it hits the catcher's glove, Then make sure the catcher caught the ball, decide on whether the pitch was a strike or a ball, and then make your call. I can promise you that if you are making a decision and call before the ball even strikes the glove, then your timing is off and you need to rethink your decision to be an umpire. Take a deep breath, set up and try again. Watch the ball all the way to the catcher's glove, make your decision, and then make your call. Every non-hit pitch call is delayed and given the judgment it deserves.
RIGHT HAND WAVY - I had to tell about a third of the candidates to stop waving their hands after each ball. This was especially true with their right hands. The right hand is only moved when there is a strike being called. For those that can't hear the call, they are looking for movement of the right hand to confirm a strike. "But I was just indicating how the ball was outside" they would reply. WE DO NOT SHOW WITH HAND GESTURES WHERE A BALL WAS!... That is a bad habit to get into and I have been guilty of it as well. Don't do it! It is not needed. It is not professional. The movement confuses what you are actually there for, and the coach can ask his catcher where the pitch was if he really couldn't tell. If it was out of the strike zone, then it was a ball and if it was in the strike zone, then it is a called strike.
So let me repeat the thought, when the right hand moves, then it is an important call. It shows strikes and it shows outs. The less important stuff is shown with the left hand. The left hand removes the mask, it operates the indicator, it shows balls on the hand count, and it is used to bring the ball into play.
DEAD BALL, LIVE BALL - A big learning lesson was bringing the dead ball into play. This is to be done by looking at the pitcher (who is holding the ball) dead in the eye, pointing with the left hand, and even saying "Play!" Notice that this is done with the left hand, and as it happens then the real fun can begin.
MIRROR MIRROR, ON THE WALL - It was obvious that these young men were not raised as princesses by spending long hours in front of the mirror admiring their beauty. In fact, most had spent no time in front of their mirror practicing to be an umpire. My best advice is to find a mirror in a private place of solitude and go crazy where only you get to see yourself. That's right, set up in your stance, track the pitch, pretend you hear the sound of the ball hitting the catcher's glove, make your decision, and then make your call. Now pretend you were a Grandpa sitting in your lounge chair watching your grandson play from under the trees down the first base line on Field 2. What would Grandpa see as he watched you making the calls from behind the plate? Practice your "Strike" mechanic. What does it look like on strike one, strike two, and most importantly on a strike three where the batter was caught looking? What do you look like as you ring him up? What do you look like on ball four as you alert the young batter to take their base?
I guess the biggest question is how to best look cool when this may be your first season umpiring? Nobody wants to look like a rookie, yet everybody must start out as a rookie. Practice in front of the mirror and develop good mechanics. Habits are developed whether we like them or not. It was easy to see who was most embarrassed last night on the field. It was easy to see who was afraid to raise their voices loudly. It was easy to see who had not practiced in front of the mirror. On that note, do it when nobody else is home and use your voice at full strength in the privacy of your own bathroom where nobody else can hear.
WATCH OTHERS - There are dozens of ways to make the ball or strike call. Each person has their own style, but style can be developed. I recommend that you watch others and find somebody whose style you like. YouTube is great for this. Here are some links to 2 minute videos from grown-up men who have paid a lot of money to a professional umpire training school as they try to pass their auditions. They have been umpiring for years, and each has their own style. Is there one that you like? If so, then go practice in front of the mirror and perfect the style. Later on you can modify it or change to another altogether.
Before watching the videos, you need to be aware that no longer how long you have been doing this you have to be able to accept criticism and guidance. We all develop bad habits and putting yourself under scrutiny is the best way to improve mechanics. Often we are doing things that only others can identify. Each of the following experienced umpires are willing to accept the trainer's recommendations.
Here, take a look...
- TIM K - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n1-n5k61PtY&list=UU_Ug94yKYN4DlOP-cv9nGDg - Watch their training tips... Great Advice
- STEVE T - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WunkYKrlOhk&list=UU_Ug94yKYN4DlOP-cv9nGDg - Look how critical they are of him in the beginning.
- SCOTT C - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cR8fewSahoc&list=UU_Ug94yKYN4DlOP-cv9nGDg - Hammer
- RICHARD B - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QzlESLPt5mA&list=UU_Ug94yKYN4DlOP-cv9nGDg - Hammer
- LUCAS H - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UzOI4eLm47k&list=UU_Ug94yKYN4DlOP-cv9nGDg - Hammer - Too rushed. Hands. Track the ball.
- KYLE HAWKINS - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yP3tnF_EudE&list=UU_Ug94yKYN4DlOP-cv9nGDg - Slow down
- JOHN K - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JPz0oT-HEXw&list=UU_Ug94yKYN4DlOP-cv9nGDg - Relax - Too mechanical - Good timing.
- JOHN F - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=srVOQYN-0uI&list=UU_Ug94yKYN4DlOP-cv9nGDg - Tracking with body. too rushed, work on third strike, raise up, subtle movements.
- JOE R - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N4THNSo9Z5g&list=UU_Ug94yKYN4DlOP-cv9nGDg - Good ring up. Watch head movement.
- JEFF B - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sPqIKr6vfZ0&list=UU_Ug94yKYN4DlOP-cv9nGDg - Stay down, head movement.
- JASON H - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nx678czzWEg&list=UU_Ug94yKYN4DlOP-cv9nGDg - Hammer, stay set, good advice.
- GEORGE H - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zyrYMzCtTtk&list=UU_Ug94yKYN4DlOP-cv9nGDg - Hammer, don't rush.
ENTIRE COLLECTION - https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=UU_Ug94yKYN4DlOP-cv9nGDg
IN SUMMARY - A lot was learned last night. I was proud of each candidate as they took their turn behind the plate. Some will never be umpires, some have the ability to work at it and make it to the field. Others have developed the initial skills where they can become good umpires. But those that looked at it as an easy way to make some summer money realized that it is really much more involved than they ever realized, and that's okay. Umpiring is not for everybody.
So I started this entry promising to write about scenarios, yet I never did talk about that. Instead, I dealt with the mechanics of calling balls and strikes. Okay, I'll start another blog entry right now... Thanks for reading.
Make it a great day!