Come On Blue!
Scenarios - What is the count?
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.
Bases loaded, 1 out, and the tying run is on first base, what does it all mean? Well, a rally is going on, and this means that everything is tense and every call is critical. Wait, there is only one out. Infield Fly Rule, uh oh, that means I need to get my partners attention and alert him to the situation. But he isn't looking at me. How do I get his attention? Should I call time and yell out his name? Or should I just let it go another pitch and then try and get his attention? What is the worst that can happen? I feel so alone. Wait, he is looking so I'll flash him the "Infield Fly" sign. Why isn't he responding? Is he even aware? Does he see me? I should have gone over this in our pregame time together. It is too bad he showed up just moments before the first pitch. I guess I'll just wait until this half of the inning is over and hope nothing bad happens.
A few pitches later and the bases are still loaded, and there is 1 ball and 2 strikes. Is the infield fly rule still on?... No, because there are now two outs. What happens if the catcher drops the third strike? Is the inning over? No, wait a minute. If there is a runner on first with two outs, then a dropped third strike is live and everybody is on the move. Can the catcher just retrieve the ball and step on home? What if batter turned runner runs to first inside the baseline and the catcher nails him in the back with a throw to first while trying to put him out? What if the batter bunts and fouls it off instead? What if he goes into the bunt position, but does not pull the bat back? What if he bunts it and the ball goes down and hits the plate and comes back up and hits the bat a second time?
Okay, enough already? Yet these situations should be running through your mind and you should have the answers long before they happen. Then the rulings will come quickly and naturally in the flow of the game. Unfortunately, most new umpires are told by well intentioned individuals that they don't need to worry about all of this. "Just go out and have fun and call your balls and strikes" they say "and all will be well." I have found that having that attitude creates the recipe for disaster.
It is good to run scenarios and make sure you know the rulings. You don't have to get too strange and work out the bizarre, but you do need to know where you are in the game and what might happen with the count and the number of outs, along with where runners are before the pitch. When you think of a basic scenario that you don't know the ruling, then find the answer. You can hit the rule books, or you can type it up and send it to me for help. If you need the answer right away during a game, find a senior official and figure it out. If it happens right in front of you and you are standing like a deer in the headlights, then get together with your partner and figure it out. If there is still no answer, then send for the OYB Director on call for that evening and work to get it right.
REAL LIFE - Count is full with two outs and runners on second and third base. A beautiful pitch comes right down the plate and the umpire jumps the gun and yells loudly, "Strike Three, You're Out!!!" The batter turns and heads to the dugout. The issue was that the catcher deflects the ball and it goes to the backstop. The umpire ruined the inning and the coaches were semi livid. Why? because the batter turned runner was still live, yet he was called out and the inning was over. No runs were scored. The rally was killed. There was no way to correct the major blunder.
Why did this happen? The umpire had never before umpired on a field with leading off and live dropped third strikes. He did not know the mechanic for this situation. He did not realize prior to this happening what would happen when he called it wrong. There was no way to right the error because his loud vocal call caused the play to stop. And yet, he called the ball correctly a strike. He was loud and confident in his mechanic. But he was too quick to make the call. When he started yelling strike he had not even realized that the ball was deflected. He was way too excited to ring up the batter with his cool strike three mechanic. It is a good thing that this was just a scrimmage game.
You have to know the rules of the division with which you are officiating. You must know whether or not there are balks, live dropped third strikes, stealing, leading off, or delayed stealing. And then you have to know what to do when these things happen. How do you rule? What are the mechanics? How do I correct a blunder? How do I not ruin the game?
MAINTAIN FOCUS - It is really important to maintain focus on the events taking place on the filed. Last night we had a classic situation where there was a passed ball and the catcher then hucked it down to second wildly, the ball then was retrieved and threw to third but it was deflected to left field. After the throw to second the plate ump was looking at his indicator trying to get the clicker right with the passed ball as I said to him, "Are you aware that the ball is now rolling to left field and the runner might be coming home?" Startled, he looked up and realized that the play was still going on and he was trying to get the count right on his clicker. Whoa, getting the clicker right comes after the current play has ended... Lesson learned! Luckily it was a scrimmage.