Working from the “A” Position: An in Depth View
Let’s spend some time with the “A” position in umpiring. With no one on base, the base umpire will be positioned about 10 to 12 feet behind First Base, just in foul territory and his/her body should be squared up to home plate. From this position, as a starting point, the umpire will be able to watch the pitcher’s windup and assist the plate umpire, when requested by said umpire, with check swings, any batted balls that may strike the batter and to help the home-plate umpire with any balls that may go out of play that the home plate umpire may have trouble locating.
Once the ball is batted, provided it remains in the infield, the base umpire will come into fair territory, while watching the fielding of the ball and become prepared to make the call at first base. In making such a movement into fair territory, the umpire will try to keep his/her same distance from the bag while forming an arc. The object here is to establish a 90 degree angle from the release of the ball, to the base, and then to him/her. Any less of an angle will cause the umpire too much head movement to adjust from the fielder to the base and the eventual call of “safe” or “out.”
An angle just in excess of 90 degrees is also acceptable. As the ball is released by the fielder and crosses the mound area, the umpire will allow the flight of the ball to take him/her to the base where he/she will focus in on the ball, fielder’s glove and the runner’s foot.
As the ball reaches the bag, the umpire should be in a-hands-on-set position, still, with eyes focused on the play and not moving. If, in attempting to acquire this ideal position, from the ball to the bag, to himself/herself, the umpire is late, it is far more important to become stationary and focused on the play at hand, than to form the perfect arc and 90 degree angle. The key is to be still and not moving while the play is developing.
When the ball is being fielded from the second base to first base area, it will be impossible to acquire a 90 degree angle and still remain in fair territory. In this case, always remain in fair territory and establish the best angle possible.
In some cases, the best you can do is one or two steps into fair territory. The reason we do not want to go into foul territory is, in the event of an overthrow and subsequent attempt to advance, we are grossly behind the runner and can be late or out of position to make the call at second base.
If the batted ball is going to be to the outfield, the umpire, from the “A” position, will pivot into the infield. From the initial “A” position, the umpire, once he/she knows the ball will be going to the outfield, will sprint to a spot in line with and to the left side of the pitching rubber while forming an arc and maintaining the same distance that he/she was from first base, and just off the pitcher’s mound. In approaching the area discussed, the umpire will use the three step pivot to get into position, this is accomplished by first stepping with the left foot, then stepping and pivoting with the right foot and then opening up to the left with the left foot positioned towards second base and watch the batter touch first base. This is called the Umpire’s Pivot.
After watching the batter touch first base, and making sure that there is no obstruction, the umpire will again pick up the ball and judge whether the batter will be attempting to go to second base or retreat to first.
If the umpire has established enough depth into the infield, it will be easy to take a couple of crossover steps to gain a favorable position from which to make a call at second base or back at first base. If the runner continues onto third base, the umpire will take as many crossover steps around the perimeter of the mound to get into a favorable position for the new call.
There can be slight variations to this procedure, but for the most part, this will be the technique we would like to see followed by umpires utilizing the two-man system.
By Mike Lantiere
East Region UIC