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Friday 10th January

Reps in the Cage, Two-Man Details and Overthrows 17:15 EST by ike

Some light mid-afternoon showers, the first rain of my time down here, cut the day a little short today, but we're still moving forward and putting the pieces together toward a functional two-man system.

My first fieldwork today was spent in the batting cage as part of a group of eight working with (veteran Major League Umpire) Larry Vanover on plate mechanics and the calling of balls and strikes. Larry's pretty chill. He was joking with us about his first game behind the plate in the big leagues: Braves vs. Dodgers, locked in a pennant race, with Bobby Cox in one dugout and Tommy Lasorda in the other, and John Smoltz bringing 95+ mph for Atlanta and Tom Candioti floating 68 mph knuckleballs for LA -- "And you think YOU have stuff to worry about. Just relax..." Larry also answered a question during lecture about how an umpire should respond to a runner's question of whether he needs to retouch a base, saying, "Well, I wouldn't say 'Yes', but you might give him one of these (*nodding head to the side*)." Cool dude...

In any case, in the cage we worked on our stance, judgement, timing, mechanics and voice, all important for calling the game effectively. One thing I'm finding especially hard is following the flight of the ball all the way into the catcher's mitt. The tendency is to stare straight through the strike zone and lose track of the ball, which gets you in trouble if something unexpected happens.

After lunch, we had a demonstration on some of the finer points of the two-man system, such as tag-ups, plays at the plate and so-called 'Time Plays', those where there's a runner attempting to score before the third out the inning (if it's not a force out).

An example might be: with two out, a runner at first and a 3-2 count, the batter lines a base hit toward right-center. Off with the pitch, the runner from first is rounding third as the batter-runner tries to stretch his single to a double. The center fielder cuts the ball off and fires to second in time to get the batter-runner. Since the out at second isn't a force out, if the runner crosses the plate before it's recorded, the run counts. Otherwise, if the out comes prior to the runner touching the plate, the run does not count.

It's the job of the plate umpire to line up the runner crossing the plate with the play where the out may occur, wherever it is (could get tricky if there's a rundown!), and make the Time Play judgement. Note that it's imperative that the plate umpire wait for the base umpire to give his call on the bases before he makes his ruling at the plate -- if the base umpire calls the runner safe, then the run always scores, so the crew would look pretty bad if the plate man starts waving off the run as the base man calls the guy safe. These types of plays again highlight the need for good teamwork and *timing* among the umpire crew.

[I also think the signal the umpire gives if the run counts is especially fun: you stride purposefully toward the plate and point twice saying aggressively, 'That run scores, that run scores', then turn to the press box and point yelling 'Score that run!' Yeehaw!]

Finally, since we have a test tomorrow on overthrows, I think I'll pose an overthrow quiz question to you all:

With one out and a runner at first, the offense tries a hit-and-run. As the runner breaks, the batter lines the pitch softly to short right field. As the runner rounds second, the right fielder makes the catch, but throws the ball into the dugout trying to double-up the runner. To which base is the runner entitled? Must the runner retouch any bases?

If you have access to a rulebook, great. Take a look in section 7.00, The Runner, and see if you can make the proper ruling. If you don't, that's fine -- think about the play and decide how you would rule. Email me your answer and I'll post those that are correct/funny/interesting. (If you send me something and you want it to be anonymous, let me know in your message.)

Go Niners...

Wednesday 8th January, 2003

A Few Characters 18:40 EST by ike

I had a decent day today as we did some more work in the Two Man System -- instructor Ray was especially impressed when my mechanics were correct calling a bouncing ball fair down the first base line (straddle the line and point it fair), since all the dudes before me screwed it up. Unforturnately, I got completely turned around two plays later trying to call the outs on both ends of a double play. Ray didn't like my mechanics so much that time. Nuts.

Since there wasn't much else to report from the lecture or the field today, I thought I would introduce a few of the people I've met down here:

-Randy: my roommate, mid-20's from Ohio, second-year student (it turns out there at least 20 guys here for the second time - I for one wasn't expecting so many, if any at all)

-Vinny: the dude that gives me rides between the hotel and the fields. Although Vinny comes from South Jersey and seems generally pissed off (that $500 cell phone bill he just got didn't help), he also likes 'chick music' -- I've never heard so much Avril Levine...

-Isaiah: early 20's and one of the students in my group during field work. Isaiah's one of the 4-5 black students here. He's a solid umpire, and he goes by 'Ike' also, which makes him doubly cool.

-Carl: 30ish, Carl commutes over around an hour and a half both ways from Jacksonville to school every day, since he needs to work a job there in the mornings to help support his wife and two kids. Wow.

-The turkey from Minnesota: I don't even know this guy's name, only that he's from MN and that he thinks he's all that. Grr.

Vic: mid-20's from Clearwater, FL and (for those who know) a Cameron Johnson look-alike.

-Rafael Vazquez: one of the three Puerto Rican students, and a policeman back home. All of the Puerto Rican guys are very friendly, but Rafael especially is a sweetheart of a guy -- he's helping me learning baseball terminology in Spanish. He's also an excellent umpire.

I apologize for not having pictures of these guys, or any pictures at all for that matter -- the computer situation down here is a little dicey, but I'm doing the best I can.

On the subject of computers, I want to publicly thank both Eunnok (for helping get some updates posted) and Jake (for supplying the HTML template). You guys rock.

Also, a couple people have suggested I put together a guestbook as a means to post questions. I'll try to put one together, time permitting, but in the meantime, if you have a question, please email me directly and I'll make mention of it in the next post.

Well, we have a test tomorrow on fair/foul balls the definition of a Force Play, so I'm heading up study hard...

Tuesday 7th January, 2003

New Roommate, a Test and the Two Man System 19:10 EST by ike

My single room was too good to be true -- Monday afternoon I had to give it up and move in with another student. So I packed up my stuff and dragged it down three flights of stairs to move in with Randy, a rather portly fellow from Ohio.

Jackpot. Not only does Randy have a brand new laptop in the room for me to use if necessary, he also brought his Playstation2, about 15 games and 15 DVDs. I win, I win, I win...

But, back to umpiring. This morning we had our first test of the course, 20 questions covering Section 1.00 of the baseball rulebook: Objectives of the Game, Field and Equipment. Basically, we focused on the dimensions of the bases, plate, gloves, ball, boxes (coach's, batter's and catcher's), rubber, etc. Doesn't really get your blood pumping, but you gotta know it...

On the field, we've spent these last two days concentrating on the Two Man System, the method of positioning and teamwork when only two umpires must officiate the game. Apparently, umpires in the lower levels of professional ball use this system exclusively.

Although there are countless scenarios that come up during a game, understanding where you're supposed to be on the field in the 2MS isn't hard, but getting the footwork down and eliminating excessive motion takes practice. To get some extra work in after the regular class today, I went out on the beach did some drop-steppping. Yeehaw...

Finally, during a break today I starting prying some of the Major League umps for dirt on the A's guys. Dana Demuth told me he did one of Zito's games (he remembered it as a 1-Hitter vs Texas -- I don't recall that game but I have no reason to doubt it) and that Zito's curve wasn't too hard to call, as long as he maintained good 'timing' (a buzz word that comes up all the time here). Good timing means going slowly, even on the easy pitches, so that if you have to think for a second on one right on the black, it's in the same rhythm as the others. Dana also said he liked working games in NY and Chicago...

Sunday 5th January, 2003

First Two Days 10:20 EST by ike

It's Sunday morning here (we have Sunday's off), sunny but cool, and I'm typing away on one of the two iMacs in the lobby of the hotel. In just two days, we've covered quite a bit, and we've hardly touched the rule book!

Both days so far have had similar structure, and I imagine the rest of the course will follow the same pattern: I head down around 7:30 for breakfast in the hotel restaurant in order to get to the ballroom for lecture by 8:30 (the service isn't exactly brisk). Since I don't have a roommate (money...cash!), I just join a table some other students sitting down around the time I get there. When the hour approaches, I head to the hotel ballroom, which doubles as the lecture hall, with tables and a stage at the front for the instructors, and rows of chairs for us (probably 16-20 across and 10 deep)(the room isn't full). From 8:30 until around 10:30, the chief instructor Mr. Paul Nauert (pronounced something like 'Nart' -- I don't think I quite have it yet) leads the lecture, and the students follow in their rulebooks and make notes if necessary.

When the discussion is over, we head to the fields, which are about a 20 minute drive away. I get a ride from Vinny, who's about 28 from South Jersey, and the guy's accent and temper fit the stereotype to a T (to another driver: 'Whatta doin', you fuckin' moron?!', and to me later: 'You a drinka?') Good times. Vinny's having roommate issues, but I decided to conceal the vacancy in my room...

We get to the fields (three of them) and immediately line up in 'formation', which means 8-10 row leaders down the left field line in the outfield of Field 1, and the rest of the students facing them, aligned in rows heading out toward center field, resulting in a giant grid. In this configuration, we limber up with some light calesthenics, and (once we had learned them) practice our mechanics. One instructor calls out the drills with a bullhorn while the other instructors filter through the group making corrections to our positioning. Think football practice....

Once we're loose, we come together in one group to watch a 'demonstration' of a certain mechanic, narrated by Mr. Nauert and usually performed by Major League Umpire Mr. Eddie Hickox (who it seems is known for his outstanding mechanics). After watching the demonstration, we break into smaller groups to practice the mechanic ourselves, under the supervision of one or more instructors. Following a lunch break at the field (food brought via pickup truck from a local restaurant for purchase), we have a second demonstration, another small group session, and finally a return to formation for the last work of the day. We're back at the hotel around 4:30...

Now that I've outlined the routine, let me detail the skills we've learned to this point:

-The rulebook definitions of ball and strike and the mechanic to call a ball or strike

-The rulebook definitions of fair and foul and the mechanic to call a ball fair or foul

-Plate umpire mechanics, such as telling the pitcher he has one more warm-up toss, wiping home plate, putting the ball in play, clearing the catcher on a wild pitch/passed ball and getting into proper position on ground and fly ball in the two-umpire system

Interesting rule of the day: for the purposes of determing if a pitch is a strike, the umpire shall consider the batter's strike zone *as he is prepared to hit the ball*. Mr. Nauert explained that people often want the 'high strike', but a pitch at the top of the strike zone when the batter stands upright is out of the zone when the batter moves into position to swing...

I have to give up my computer now, but more tidbits to follow...

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