Working The Plate
Amateur Umpires everywhere should have this book in their library. I have found it to be an excellent resource and primer the re-focuses me on how I should be improving each new season. The author is Carl Childress and the book can be purchased now for just $10 plus $3 for shipping and handling. Order your copy today.
Here is an excerpt that should convince you to place your order today... ORDER LINK
How to call the pitch
That’s why you bought the book. You want to reach the point where five missed pitches is a horrible game. Friend, you have come to the right place.
1. Set at about the same spot every time.
One key to making consistent calls is to look at pitches from a consistent spot. That’s difficult with amateur catchers because they slip and slide and go up and down and for no reason. But the more often you set in the same spot, the better you’ll call. (See DON’T SET TOO LOW, and DON’T SET TOO HIGH, page 9.)
2. Track the ball with your eyes, not your head.
Follow the ball from the time it leaves the pitcher’s hand until it smacks into the catcher’s mitt. Move your eyes, not your head. When you see a video of your work behind the plate, if anything moves before the “pop,” (ball into mitt) give yourself one demerit. If you reach five in a game, fine yourself one game fee. Send it to me.
Recently, the Big Dogs of the softball world have begun to move their heads as the pitch reaches the plate. They claim it makes for better tracking. But remember, their pitchers are not pitching from 60.6 but from 40 to 46 feet. I certainly don’t recommend ducking your head for baseball, and I have not seen any professional umpires use that technique.
Following the ball will correct a common error, something akin to tunnel vision, where the visual field is reduced to 20 degrees or less. For an umpire with normal vision, failure to follow the pitch from the release means he is probably picking up the track of the ball when it enters the cutout at the plate. From there even a moderate fast ball will explode in his eyes, for he has only milliseconds to react to the pitch.
There’s also something I call “telescopic vision,” where the umpire picks up the ball from the pitcher’s hand but loses it at the cutout. That umpire has no chance to absorb the break of a curve ball or even the slight bend of a slider. I’ve argued that telescopic sight is a problem not of vision but of what John Calvin and the Presbyterians would call “predestination.” The pitch looks so good at the cutout, you cannot imagine it won’t continue that track. So your mind says “Strike/ball” and your eyes, figuratively speaking, close.
There’s one other important reason not to move your head; namely, safety. You have ample protection straight on. But unless you’re wearing a wrap-around hockey helmet, you are vulnerable when you duck to the side.
3. Wait until the catcher gloves the ball.
When you learn that and do it on every pitch, you’re on your way to good timing. Bad timing is the number one mistake the untrained plate umpire makes. A truism is that perception is reality; nowhere is the validity of that statement more visible than when an umpire calls balls and strikes.
The ball hits the front of the plate just level with the hollow beneath the knee. It slides along nicely, but at the back of the plate it dips down so that the catcher must shift his entire body to grab the pitch. By the book that’s a strike. But the perception of everybody at the park turns it into a ball. Umpires with poor timing but who want to appear decisive rush to judgment. Since it is a strike, they call “Strike” and wonder why they don’t move up.
Rich Garcia, a former major league umpire, said that a strike is “where I call it and they don’t bitch.” If you call that pitch a strike, you can make book on it: They will bitch.
Some clinicians argue that good timing is not necessarily pausing after the catcher gloves the ball. It’s simply tracking the pitch the whole way. Of course, you must see the pitch into the glove: That’s a given. But the deliberate, even artificial pause after the pop of the ball gives the umpire a chance to re-see and re-think the pitch. Tracking and the pause together create good timing.
In the fifth game of the 2001 ALDS (Yankees/Athletics) the plate umpire was Ed Rapuano. His performance typified the timing you need.
About a week before I reached this spot in the manuscript, I was working with some USSSA umpires for 13u games. We had covered in the classroom the necessity for good timing: “Listen for the pop, call the pitch silently, then verbalize it, even if the pitch goes to the backstop.” Look, Listen, Decide, Verbalize. Use in order your eyes, ears, brain, and voice.
Now, on the field, a young umpire was doing very well. When the game started, several fans yelled: “Hey, c’mon, Blue. Make up your mind.” Within an inning his “delay” was forgotten. I’d say his speed was Pop, one, two, call. At a crucial point, count 2-2, the ball popped, the catcher held his mitt steady, the pause was one, two, three, four, “Ball!!” Nobody said a word. He took the extra beats to be sure he was right, and the crowd never even noticed the extra delay. That is timing. (Now see CALL EVERY BALL, page 9.)
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Michael Leavitt - Orem, Utah