My Trip to The Show (Part II) (cont.)
Posted: Wednesday March 28, 2007 12:45PM; Updated: Friday March 30, 2007 12:19PM
I must also know the rule book and the grounds rules with absolute certainty, a weakness of mine exposed during a mild argument the previous half inning with Boston rightfielder J.D. Drew (who had no clue he was pleading his case to a sportswriter until I told him the next day). And one more thought -- the mother of all marbles. Being an umpire is like being a jet pilot, a skydiver or a sword swallower: You're expected to be perfect every time, and if you do screw up it's obvious to everyone. Nothing less than flawless is acceptable. I must get it right.
"God knows if you don't have the mental aptitude for this, you'd ask, 'What are you doing?'" says Fieldin Culbreth, another crew member. "If you're right, nobody's coming in and patting you on the back. If there are 10 close plays and you get 10 exactly right, they're booing you anyway. The only people who will say, 'Good job' are the other three guys in the [locker] room with you. The teams aren't going to say, 'Hell of a job.' ESPN's not going to say, 'Watch this umpire!' Here's the difference: The players are trying to make a play to get on SportsCenter. We're trying our damnedest to stay off it."
I trained long (O.K., two days with Tschida and Culbreth) and hard (kicking back watching games in the Florida sun) for this gig. Ominously, the most important advice given to me by the umpires was to avoid utter disaster. My Umpire 101 syllabus looked like this:
1. Don't blow out the knee of Baltimore shortstop Miguel Tejada by watching the flight of a pop-up near the third base line.
The fielder, who is also looking up, is likely to plow into the umpire, whose proper course of action is to first look for and avoid the fielders. "You getting hurt is one thing," Culbreth says. "The player getting hurt? Now there's a problem."
2. Beware of balls that explode.
That's umpire terminology for what happens when you try to track a ball as it passes directly over your head, causing you to lose sight of it.
3. Don't chase down a batted or thrown ball; that's the players' job.
Don't laugh; it's happened. Former major leaguer Ron LeFlore flunked umpire school in 1988 for his instinctive reaction to play the ball like the outfielder he once was rather than getting into proper position.
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