Grandma Knows Best
There used to be a TV program years ago entitled “Father Knows Best.” Dad was the all seeing, all knowing, person who had every situation under control. In much the same way, Grandma is the all seeing, all knowing expert on every call during a Little League game.
The unfortunate thing for many umpires is the fact that she may be right most of the time. But, there are reasons for her correct conclusions on particular calls.
You see, Grandma has the luxury of being far enough away from the play to get a total assessment of the development and conclusion to the situation. She sees, without any body or head movement, the hit, the fielding of the ball, the throw, and the conclusion at the base. This is what we, as umpires, need to achieve.
How do we accomplish this task? The answer is … angle and distance.
If we set up on a particular play so that we establish a 90-degree angle from where the ball is coming from, to the base where the “out” or “safe” call will be made, to us, we have established ourselves at the ideal angle at which to see the conclusion.
How many of us have smothered the base and have actually been waiting for the ball to arrive, and have absolutely no idea that the fielder misplayed the ball and there was not going to be a play at the base. By watching the ball being fielded and then allowing the release of the ball to guide us to the play at the base, we have readied ourselves for the impending play.
If we have sufficient depth from the base, we get to see, in some way, what Grandma is seeing, namely the whole play in its development. Our call can then be made with minimal to no body and eye movement to confuse or alter the view.
Whether we are at first base, in the A position, or second and third, in the B and C positions, angle and distance are always important. An illusion that always intrigues me is the comment from fans and coaches that we are too far away from the play. A particular play in a Little League (Majors) baseball game is the call we must make from the C position, when the ball is fielded to first base. Ump, you are too far away to see it. In actuality, we are probably no more than 75 feet from the call, and if we were making that call at first base in an upper level game from the B position, nothing would be said. The distance is probably the same.
The same philosophy can be used behind the plate. Don’t smother the catcher. Be able to see both sides of the plate. A good tool to use is to place a baseball in the front corners of the plate and the rear corners, and set up in our position. Can we see all four balls from where we are positioned? If not, we need to adjust our position, or stance, or both, to allow us to accomplish what we are trying to see. Head height can assist us in this situation. Rise up a bit, move outside a bit, but see the plate. Catchers can be our best friends and worst enemies at the same time. Excessive movement by the catcher, standing up on all pitches, and failure to catch the ball, can make for a long evening. But, unfortunately, we have to deal with it and the only person we can ask to move is ourselves.
Be flexible, be in condition, and be ready. The season is only a few short months away. Say hi to Grandma for me. We go back a long way.
By Mike Lantiere
Eastern Region Umpire-In-Chief