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Easy Improvements Can Be Made To Your Game

Parent Category: Archive Category: Fick's Fast Pitch
Written by Jerry Fick


It’s the time of year where over a period of months I see hundreds of umpires in action.  It’s amazing that when observing umpires, no matter where I go and no matter how well the umpiresdo, I see many of the same things that can be done better.  It’s also really interesting that so many of the items are things that can be improved quite easily – often with just a little additional effort or thought.  Since many umpires are heading to championship play let’s look a few of these and see if this review can immediately benefit your game with a simple adjustment or two.

My first suggestion has to do with the pregame conference at home plate.  There are certain things that must be accomplished in this conference: introductions, review and exchange of lineups, ground rules and perhaps some special rules if they have not been covered elsewhere or you have been directed to review them.  Depending on the type of game a coin toss or a few words concerning sporting conduct may be needed.  But why do some umpires get all this done in less than five minutes while other umpires need two or three times that long? Eliminate the lectures, stories, history lessons, etc. and make the pregame conference about business.  Starting the game promptly by using a businesslike pregame sets the right tone to keep the game moving and establishes the umpire crew as a group of professionals who are there to do a good job.

A related item concerns the unnecessary conversations that umpires seem to initiate with coaches and other game personnel.  These conversations may start because we are trying to gain some recognition, be friendly or are just bored but they can lead to trouble.  Remember, it is like Miranda rights – “anything you say can be used against you” whether sooner or later.  Let me illustrate withone of my favorite stories.  This last month Barry Larkin was inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame.  Barry is a native of my hometown, Cincinnati, and attended Moeller High School there.  I remember a few things about Barry’s career in his high school years and at the University of Michigan but the best story I remember came one day when Moeller was playing a doubleheader.  I was working the plate the second game and a pitcher was injured so the reliever entering the game was taking some extra warm-up throws.  Barry was on deck and my partner came in to visit and started a conversation with him.  He had noticed that Barry, attending a Catholic high school, made the sign of the cross each time he came up to bat.  Barry told him that he did that in hopes of being a better hitter.  My partner suggested to Barry that he might try the same thing in hopes of becoming a better umpire.  I could not stop laughing when Barry told my partner that it would not work “because you are not a good umpire”.  Of course, Barry was always a class guy with a great sense of humor but my partner did not realize that he was joking.  He headed back to his positionand was crabby the rest of the day.  A good story used to illustrate why we should stick to our own business.

While on the topic of conversations let’s remember that we should be able to go through most games without a between inning visit with our partners. This not only keeps the game moving but again helps to make us appear professional.  Nothing looks worse than a pair of umpires who must visit each and every half inning or after a break where there has been a questioned call. Both plate and base umpires have assigned “between inning positions” that help us perform our duties (see next paragraph for an example).

Another game administration issue has to do with the recording/reporting chores that we are responsible for.  In the game of softball we have more of these than our baseball brethren so by handling these quickly and efficiently we can keep the game moving.  Remember that we must record items such as lineup changes, courtesy runners, and conferences.  Be prepared to do this quickly and while recording the change simultaneously inform the opposing team.  If their scorer is handy tell that person but if not don’t run around the park looking for them.  Notify the coach and the word can be passed on.  Make the announcement or signal the official scorer – no hand signals or skywriting for the number – point out the change and they will figure it out. Should the press box folks get confused remember that you possess the official batting order.

Another quick and easy hint for keeping the game moving is to secure plenty of game balls prior to the game.  The use of two ball bags allows the plate umpire to have a game ball ready when needed.  There are many ways to keep the game moving, some of which are elsewhere in this article, and this is just one of the simple but important ones.

We talk often about the importance of signals and communication in umpiring.  What signal is easier than calling time?  Simply both hands up – how tough is it?  But how many times do we see the signal made with one hand.  Make the effort to put both hands up and it won’t wear you out. This is an easy one that makes us look so much better.

While we are discussing signals let’s mention a couple times that many umpires use signals that are not needed.  First, when there is an obvious foul ball, hit over or off the backstop or into the dugout or stands no call is needed.  The umpire simply should put a new ball into play and prepare for the next pitch.  We can guarantee that no one will ask you if the ball was foul.  In addition, there are times where an umpire need not make any call on other obvious plays.  An example is what we often call “no ball, no call”.  When there is a throw to a base and the fielder misses or clearly drops the ball umpires should generally skip the “safe” signal and/or verbal call.  This not only helps us to avoid what is obvious to everyone but also helps to slow our timing as we make sure that we see and digest the entire play before determining whether a call is necessary and if so what it should be.

Speaking of unnecessary, let’s address the issue of constantly dusting the bases.  Of course, dusting bases is an accepted mechanic in softball but that does not mean every base must be kept as spotless as home plate.   While bases should be kept clean enough so that they can be easily located by runners, fielders and umpires it seems that we often interrupt the game at inopportune times to perform this responsibility.   The worst example of this might be when a batter attempts to stretch a double into a triple and is thrown out on a close play at third.  The base umpire who sweeps off the base may often end up in an unfriendly encounter with the third base coach while the base umpire who hustles back to their position will often end up hearing nothing.  

Of course, not all of these nine thoughts will apply to every umpire but most of us can benefit by working on the areas that would help us better administer our games.