Conducting an Effective Plate Conference
One of the best ways, as an umpiring team, to demonstrate to both the managers and teams that your crew is ready and prepared to officiate the game is the professionalism that is demonstrated by your crew when conducting the meeting at home plate.
The plate meeting really starts when you walk the field prior to the game looking for potential problems on the field which may cause you to invoke a special ground rule. The pregame meeting with your umpiring crew should be conducted prior to going on the field. All conditions and situations that might be discussed at the pregame meeting should be discussed then and not during the plate meeting. The plate meeting is run by the plate umpire and no one from the crew should interrupt or have any input during the plate meeting. If one of the crew wants something brought up at the plate meeting, they should mention it to the plate umpire during the pregame meeting. By following this guideline, the plate meeting will be organized, well managed and without interruption.
When entering the field, make sure you walk onto the field together with your partner(s). Walk briskly together directly to home plate. On the way to the plate, you may acknowledge managers or coaches on the sidelines, but don’t stop and have a conversation with them. Go directly to the plate. This is important, because as soon as you enter the field, you are setting an example for both teams on your appearance and authority. Make sure the crew is wearing the uniform and carrying their equipment correctly. Don’t have the plate mask dangling down at your side as if you were carrying your lunch bucket.
Once at the plate, the plate umpire should be at the point of the plate, with his/her partner(s) facing the plate umpire with their back to the playing field. Do not allow players to be on the field while you are having your plate meeting. This is a big distraction for the umpiring team as well as the managers. The teams should be in their dugouts or in the vicinity of the dugout. Both managers should be present at the plate meeting before the plate umpire begins the conference.
The plate umpire runs the plate conference! The plate conference should not last more than two or three minutes. Begin by receiving the lineup cards according to rule procedures. While receiving the lineup cards, introduce yourself to the managers and have them introduce each other. Once you have both lineup cards, introduce your crew to the managers. While inspecting the lineup cards for the proper content, it’s fine for there to be conversation going on between your crew and the managers, but monitor the conversation so it doesn’t get out of hand. When you address the managers make eye contact with them and make sure they give you a verbal answer when you ask a question. This is important, because most of the time they’re not paying attention to anything at the plate conference. They’re more interested in their strategy of managing their game.
After you give the managers their lineups, there should only be a minimum number of comments and questions by the plate umpire, as an example: (1) Are all your players properly equipped according to the rules? (2) Are both of you familiar with the ground rules? (You don’t need to go over ground rules if the teams have played on the field before, and your crew has umpired on this field before, unless there will be special ground rules for the day). (3) Are there any local ground rules for this field? (4) All changes must come through me. (5) Have a great game and please keep your players hustling. This is all you need. The plate meeting is not a clinic. Don’t ask your partners for any information and don’t ask the managers if they have any questions. This could open up all kinds of questions about situations in prior games, rules, etc. Keep the plate meeting short and to the point. Don’t talk about “what if this happens” scenarios. These assumed scenarios may never come up in your game, and if they do, you can handle them in a professional manner when they do. If your plate meeting drags out, it affects your game management and there’s no baseball being played.
If you follow these few simple steps, you will demonstrate you’re in control, you look professional, and as a result, you will gain respect from the managers, coaches and players.
Western Region Umpire Chief