Today I took another giant step in my journey from pathetic little league player to semi-respected coach. This morning I donned a mask and a chest-protector and called balls and strikes from behind the plate. And, for the first time since that very misguided "nose protector" incident of my youth, I wore an athletic cup. I felt funny buying one (since I wasn't really using it for "athletic" purposes), but there was no way I was going to get in front of the errant throws of eight-year old pitchers without one.
I admit that I was worried about umpiring from the moment I was told last week that I'd have to do it. Despite the fact that I spend way too much of my time thinking about the game of baseball, I still don't trust my baseball instincts very much. Inside, I'm still that little kid who never swung and prayed for a walk (or swung wildly so he could get back to goofing around in the dugout). Today, I didn't want to make a fool of myself, I didn't want to influence the outcome of a game, and I really didn't want to piss off any parents.
How did I, a person whose very presence on the baseball diamond probably makes the Baseball Gods weep, end up behind the plate? In my town, home team coaches are required to ump the game before theirs. Since my son's team was the "home" team at the 12:30 game, we had to ump the 10:00 game. But neither of the "real" (veteran) coaches were available today, so it was up to me.
I picked up the cup and a clicker at the mall last night (with a teenage girl as my cashier, of course). I went out to the ballfield early this morning and asked both coaches to take it easy on me. Then I went out and had a ball! I may have called three or four close ones wrong and I heard some moaning from the crowd, but I don't think anybody wanted to kill me. It was a great place to watch the game from (the cup luckily didn't get tested) and I got to use my umpire voice. I got to say things like take your base and batter up and aaaa-siiide instead of "outside" (as in "low and outside"). It was nice to get to say something other than "good eye, good eye" at one of these games. The coaches were pretty cool and the kids seemed in awe of me (most of them are still too young to really challenge non-parental authority). I'd do it again in a heartbeat.
Following the first game was the game involving my seven-year old's team. We were short coaches for that game, too (even my seven-year old wasn't there, which shows my dedication to the team). So I ended up keeping the scorebook, coaching first base, and acting as the stand-in manager's confidant - which was really weird. The game ended up being a pitcher's duel (almost unheard of in minors little league) and we came out ahead. Our team seems to still be coming together, though we still don't hit enough and we just lost our backup catcher for the season to a rollerblading-induced broken hand. But we still have a few games before the playoffs start to get our act together and I have high hopes for our team.