Becoming an Umpire
To the Editor:
Some fifteen years ago, I had a life-altering experience – I signed up to become a Little League umpire.
Volunteer activity, supporting my son’s interest in baseball – sure. But, life-altering? Let me explain.
The original reason I signed up was to fulfill the volunteer requirement associated with registering my son to play. Like other parents, I felt I had a good understanding of the rules of baseball, and of course could accurately tell what a ball and strike was from 30 feet away in the stands. In rapid succession, I learned that many of the ideas I had about rules amounted to urban myths – any doctor can tell you that the hand is not a part of the bat; in close plays, a tie doesn’t go to the runner (there is no such thing as a tie.) I learned that coaches generally don’t know the rules, and that they don’t practice what to do in an infield fly situation. I learned that umpiring is a great way to keep in touch with neighbors, many of whom become life-long friends as a result.
But the most amazing thing I learned was that becoming an umpire gives you a unique view of youth baseball and the children who play the game. Interestingly, the umpire is the only adult allowed on the field when the game is underway. Dressed as we are, you’d think that we’d stand out like sore thumbs. In fact, the exact opposite is true – umpires become invisible. The players forget we’re there, and say things to each other that they’d never say if they remembered an adult was around. Some of it is just unguarded silliness, but more often than you’d think they convey a sense of real sportsmanship and friendship with each other. They sometimes take the game too seriously, but most of the time, they are just having a good time. Youth is such a fleeting thing, and the pressures on young people seem to grow with every passing year. When my son was 12 and his team was playing for the championship, I told the team that in ten years, they’d forget what the score of the game was, but they’d remember that it was a sunny day, the grass was green and they were playing baseball with their friends.
As the years went by, my son grew up, went to college, and got a job. But my love of umpiring grew beyond an obligation into one of the things I most look forward to doing. It was a bond in my family that helped us weather the difficult parts of real life. I’ve seen a generation of fine young people begin to play baseball together, use the baseball experience to avoid some of the pitfalls of young adulthood, and grow into wonderful adults. I see some of them in Safeway and around Fort Hunt from time to time, and even though they are over six feet tall now, they still remember their days in Fort Hunt Little League and the games we participated in together.
Umpires are as essential to the game of Little League baseball as well maintained fields and dedicated coaches. Yet today, not enough parents of young players are signing up to become umpires, preferring to stay in the stands and watch their kids play. Many worry that umpiring would be difficult, or too great a commitment of time. Some worry that umpiring is stressful with all the voices in the stands. Like my original view of the rules, nothing could be farther from the truth. Umpiring takes as much or as little time as you can give it. Umpiring makes coaches more effective. But most of all, umpiring allows you to become an important and unique part of one of the most enjoyable parts of your children’s lives.
I was talking to one of my fellow umpires before a game last fall, and he mentioned that he had set the goal that he would umpire until he turned 70, and that he had just reached that point. As I get older, I can live without a lot of things in life. But umpiring is not one of the things I am willing to give up.
If you have a child playing youth baseball, please consider becoming an umpire. Take the first step out of a sense of obligation. I guarantee that you will continue because it will give you much more than you can imagine.
Virginia District Nine