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Before a Pitch Gets Thrown

In a perfect world, we would all be assigned to a permanent partner or crew throughout the entire baseball and softball season, and we would learn to respond to each other and situations instinctively. The real world of Little League is vastly different, therefore the practice of conducting a good, in-depth, pre-game conference with our partner(s) becomes all the more necessary.

The following sums up several, but not all, of the important points that should be covered by the crew before it step foot on to a field.

Let’s begin with the basics.

When should this conference take place? I recommend that all of the officials be at the game site at least 20 minutes prior to the scheduled start time. This should allow enough time to relax a little and conduct the pre-game conference, while physically preparing for the game.

Introductions are paramount! Get to know your partner(s) by their first name. It’s much better to be able to call them by name as opposed to yelling “Hey, you!” Next, determine who is working what position, plate or field, unless this has already been assigned.

Start by discussing who has fair/foul coverage; what, where and when. Talk through fly ball to the outfield coverage; this coverage is dependent on the division you’re working (60- or 90-foot field). Discuss who has responsibility for touches and tag ups at which base. Who is going to cover infield catch/trap situations and which official has “overthrow” responsibilities near dead ball territory? Make sure everyone understands the Infield Fly scenarios, and how that will be communicated throughout the crew. Talk through the Uncaught Third Strike and how those situations will be handled.

Discuss when it is appropriate to seek help or information from your partner. These situations include a batted ball striking the batter in the batter’s box, the check or the half swing, while the plate umpire’s view is obstructed. Go through the mechanics of how you will request your partner’s input. Go over the basic signals you will be using during the game; displaying the count and the outs, infield fly situation, timing plays, calling time and making the ball live again.

Make sure you go over any special ground rules for the field you are working. If it’s a tournament game, review the tournament-specific rules with your partner. If you or your partner are familiar with the tendencies of either team, make sure you bring up things like “the Orioles like to bunt” or that “the Junior Pirates love to play hit and run.” If one of the teams has a pitcher with an outstanding pick-off move, make sure you bring that up. Surprise is an umpire’s worst enemy on the field; you want to eliminate as much surprise as possible by discussing these types of situations before they happen.

This article in no way covers everything that can and should be sorted out before the game begins. It is rather a brief outline of some of the topics that should be discussed before you and your partner(s) walk onto the field.

As you are reading this, you’re probably making note of the things that were not mentioned like bat rules, equipment checks and safety concerns. The important point to remember is to cover as many areas of concern as possible. It will make the game run more smoothly than if you were to leave things to chance.

This type of conference should be conducted for every game you officiate, whether it’s the first game of Opening Day at your local league or the Championship Game at a World Series. Pre-game conferences are like everything else we do relating to the game … the more we do it, the better we get. So let’s make sure that we’re doing this all the time.

For a brief video presentation on the pre-game conference log onto the Umpire Resource Center at www.LittleLeague.org select the Resource Center, then the Getting Started tab and then choose Conference/Meeting.

Good Luck and Let’s Talk!

By Tom Rawlings
Pennsylvania 6 Umpire Consultant