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Sunday 2nd February, 2003

Bad News, Good News 11:15 EST by ike

First the bad: the shuttle disaster brought a heavy gloom over the beginning of the day yesterday. We found out what had happened just as we convened at the field to start the day, and Harry was especially moved as a resident of Ormond Beach, just 30 miles from the Kennedy center. I don't think he knew any of the austronauts involved in the crash, but he's had austronauts at the school in the past. As an added twist, the last time Harry allowed a class to break from lecture and watch a launch was 17 years ago for Challenger...

Now the good: we've had a couple of cool events these last few days. Thurday night was 'Movie Night With Larry', where Larry Vanover played a series of videos with all kinds of baseball situations (bizarre plays, arguments, close calls, fights, etc) and provided commentary on the details of what the umpires were doing. Some of the footage was serious, but most was funny, and Larry was more than happy to joke around with those of us that opted to show up.

Then yesterday we had six high school teams out to the fields to play a small round-robin tournament, and I had the opportunity to an inning of my first 'live baseball' (so far, all my innings have been with teams of umpire school students). My half on the bases was very straightforward (strikeout, popout, groundout). Behind the plate, though, I had a couple more interesting plays. First, a kid got hit by a pitch, so I jumped up there right away and called time, then awarded him first base. Second, this dude hit a high fly down the left field line that landed untouched only a few inches foul. I yelled, 'Foul Ball!' and pointed it foul, then bounced back behind the plate and got ready for the next pitch, only to look up and see the kid starting to take his lead at first base. So I got back out there and ordered him back to bat -- Fool, don't mess with IkeTheUmp....

I received only one response to my trivia question about batting out of order (*sniffle*). Ken B. correctly ruled that if the proper batter is on base, his turn in the batting order is simply skipped and whoever follows him becomes the next proper batter (in our case, D is skipped and E is up). Nicely done, Dad...

Finally, there are two working days left, then the instructors have to make their decisions about who they'll recommend for professional baseball. I think I'm on the bubble. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me at all if they tell me at the evaluation Thursday to go home and work games to gain some experience, then come back and give Umpire School another shot. Would I come back? I don't know yet. Luckily, I have time to figure it out...

Wednesday 29th January, 2003

The Home Stretch 22:00 EST by ike

First, congrats to Carol, the breakfast waitress and Super Bowl Swami Extraordinaire, who correctly predicted a Bucs blowout. Anti-snaps to the Raiders and the Oakland fans, who both turned in less than stellar performances...

We're into the final week here, filling the remaining gaps in our coverage of the rulebook. Recently, we've discussed Substitution, Designated Hitter, Forfeited and Protested Games, the handling of Lineup Cards, and my favorite section, 6.07, Batting Out Of Turn. If you decide you're only going to read one thing from the Major League Rulebook, make it the part on batting out of order -- it's hilarious.

In short, the guidelines for handling a 'properly appealed' batting out of order situation are:

1. Nullify any advances created by the improper batter putting the ball in play (note: advance by stolen base, balk, wild pitch, etc. would occur regardless of who's at bat, so they stand despite batting out of order).

2. Call out the proper batter, ie, the dude that should have been hitting.

3. The person following the guy you just called out in the batting order is the next proper batter.

I say 'properly appealed' because following a pitch to a hitter *on either team*, or any play or attempted play, the defensive team loses its right to appeal the batting out of order violation. If the defense fails to appeal correctly (or at all), then the improper batter's time at bat becomes legal, and the next proper batter is whoever follows the now-legalized improper batter in the batting order. Also, if the proper batter replaces the improper batter during the improper batter's at-bat, there is no penalty. The proper batter simply inherits the count and play continues.

You can see how trying to make sense of this rule can get out of control. But wait, there's more! Check this one out:

Assume a batting order of A-B-C-D-E-F-G-H-I.

D bats in A's place and walks. If the defense appeals, D is removed from base, A is out and B is the proper batter. They don't, and a pitch is delivered to A. D's at-bat is now legalized, and the proper batter is E. E can replace A anytime during A's at-bat without penalty. He doesn't, and A walks. If the defense appeals, A is removed from base, D goes back to first, E is out and F is the proper batter. They don't, and a pitch is delivered to B. A's at-bat is now legalized, and B is the proper batter. B strikes out for the first out. Now C is the proper batter. C strikes out for the second out. Now D is proper batter, but D is standing on second base! What is the correct ruling??

Think it over and send me your guess...

Another important topic we've just covered and are continuing to practice is the handling of 'situations', aka arguments. According to the instructors, how an umpire deals with irate managers and players can make or break a career: once the umpire reaches a certain level, everyone can call balls and strikes, fairs and fouls, and safes and outs, so how the umpire approaches an argument (and the ensuing paperwork, which really sucks to fill out) sets him apart. Along the same lines, the handling of lineup cards can also dinstinguish an umpire (maybe for the wrong reason). If a game becomes suspended or protested, and your lineup card is illegible, you have a problem.

Anyway, to practice situations, the instructors are now taking the opportunity to run on the field after a play and act the part of a manager arguing the call. For example, after pitcher comes set and then drops the ball: 'Whoa, timeout, what the hell is going on here?! Whatta callin' a balk for? What did he do?'. Our job as umpires is to calm the dude down and keep him in the game if possible: 'Hey, put your arms down, let me explain what I called and then I'll listen to what you have to say.' At that point, the idea is to answer the manager's questions with terminology from the rulebook and as little else as possible. Making up rules and running your mouth only gets you in trouble. Ideally, the guy calms down, leaves the field and stays in the game. Of course, if he doesn't calm down and ends up saying something like 'You suck' or (more realistically) 'You're fucking horseshit', well, at that point you eject him...

I actually haven't had such a situation happen to me yet, but when one does, I'll be sure to report it in detail...

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