Marolt: Calling them how umpires should see them
There is a man in Grand Junction I do business with who used to play slow-pitch softball. What a coincidence! I used to umpire slow-pitch softball games. I’m not talking about last week. We were both doing our respective softball things back in the mid-1980s when it was big stuff.
We were talking about the old Aspen Invitational softball tournament. It was an event pretty much every softball team in the state wanted to participate in. It was not fame or fortune anyone sought as they scrambled to submit their team entry forms every spring, praying to get one of the limited slots to play. It was free beer.
A fully loaded Coors semitruck pulled into town Thursday morning of the four-day double-elimination tournament with the instructions from headquarters not to return until every last can of beer it could hold had been given away. That was back when that sort of good-will-building exercise was still legal. “Oh, you got eliminated this morning? Here, have a case of beer for the drive home.” Pfttt. Schlock. Here’s to the good old days.
The funny thing we learned at our business lunch is that I had been umpiring one of those games that he had been playing in way back when. It’s funny how clearly you suddenly remember something that happened more than three decades ago that you had completely forgotten about when the right switch is flipped. I happened to be at my umpire best that day, he at his player worst. The mix was toxic. Although he was 10 years my senior, I had all the power. He argued a close call at the plate, and I chucked him. I didn’t even let him sit in the dugout and drown his sorrows. I refused to resume play until he took his suds out into the parking lot.
I was mad. He was furious. Now we are good friends. It just shows that umpires, even young, lousy ones, can eventually integrate and interact with normal human beings. I did say “eventually” and didn’t say “well.”
This all came back to me the other day at a local high school game I was watching on a glorious spring mid-Saturday morning at the gorgeous, quaint ballfield in El Jebel. If you haven’t been there, where the ancient backstop is nestled into the almost-as-old cottonwoods drinking out of the historically significant irrigation ditch trickling barely noticed through the middle of and yet a million miles away from Yuppieville, you ought to.
There was a call at first — bang, bang. The problem was that the ump got the bangs mixed up and erroneously called the runner out. I know — it happens. But, this day, since the call went against the home team, my son, our town, the school colors and everything I believe in, it happened to drive me mad.
I yelled. I screamed. I said things that made the head coach blush. The ump was blind, out of his mind, and his mother had problems choosing appropriately feminine footwear. In my defense, though, the tirade lasted less than a minute, only a few people living in the neighborhood across the street even took note, and no formal complaints were logged at the police station.
Being a former umpire, I know the people who take the job don’t do it for the money. I also know that, except in very rare instances, they don’t do it for the love of the game, either. Game officials live to show off their ability to memorize the mundane rules of sport that might only be called into question once in a lifetime and then chucking somebody from the game who is furious because he is humiliated for not knowing the picayune nuance and arguing it wrongly in front of everyone watching the game. The crowning achievement, though, is when they get to eject a civilian from the grandstands. I kid you not: There is a YouTube video of a baseball umpire ejecting the organist for playing “Three Blind Mice” between innings.
Anyway, I did not get tossed from the stands at the beautiful ballfield at El Jebel. After the game, nobody felt worse about my behavior than I did. That umpire certainly would have been justified in tossing me out into the parking lot. Unfortunately, he was experienced enough not to. Now, everybody thinks I’m the jerk. Trust me. That’s the oldest umpire trick in the book.
Roger Marolt misses his umpiring days. The abuse prepared him well for being a newspaper columnist. Call him out at email@example.com.
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