She was, of course, the only woman in her class. On the first day, bat-wielding instructors screamed insults at the students. When she botched a positioning drill, 275-pound National League ump John McSherry bellowed sarcastically, "Hey, Becky, you got some binoculars? You sure need 'em to make the call from there!" The next day, when another instructor yelled at her, she responded—unwisely, but typically—by giving him the finger. In the ensuing uproar, she burst into tears and fled from the field.
But she didn't quit, as several of the men did. Segregated in separate barracks, she was lonely and miserable. The verbal abuse—a school strategy to prepare students for the Earl Weavers of the world—continued. But the boot-camp psychology worked. She subsequently kept her temper under control, toughened her hide, and soon came to idolize McSherry.
By the end of the six-week course, she knew the infield-fly and obstruction rules inside out and had developed a pretty decent third-strike call. The class graduation picture is still on her bulletin board; she's the one without a tie.
Despite her Kinnamon diploma, Becky had to fight every inch of the way to get game assignments back in Albuquerque. When she first walked into the city's public school administrative office, she was promptly directed to the softball office. It took four years to win over the man in charge of hiring umpires for high school games. But her persistence paid off. By last year, she had worked her way up to Western Athletic Conference college games in the 10,510-seat Albuquerque Sports Stadium, home of the Triple A Albuquerque Dukes—the same field where she had watched Postema perform.
Along the way, she has suffered countless tired sexist jokes from fans and players alike. She has been spat upon and cursed in both English and Spanish. In the heat of one rhubarb, a college coach yelled an especially repugnant gender-specific insult. "I ran him," she remembers fondly. (For the uninitiated, "run" means to eject.)
Although Becky has occasionally visited me in New York—always during McSherry's stints at Shea Stadium—somehow, it wasn't until earlier this year that I got to Albuquerque during the baseball season to watch her work a game. It was New Mexico versus New Mexico State at New Mexico, on a clear, warm Sunday afternoon in February. Best of all, she had the plate.
My first shock was seeing Becky all dressed up in a clean, pressed blue suit. Calling out the coaches for the pregame meeting, she was all business; even her posture projected confidence and control. Only the blond ponytail poking out under the hat hinted that a woman was the ump.
Right away, I liked her strike call; a shrill "Stee-rike!" followed by a snappy right arm in the air, elbow cocked just right. In the top of the second, I saw her called-third-strike motion, an umpire's personal trademark. As the leadoff batter watched a two-strike curveball slice low over the outside corner, she stood up, boomed out "Stri-three!" and punched her right arm forward while jerking the left elbow back—a technique the umps call the bow and arrow. It was a good sell; the batter walked to the dugout without a whimper.
It felt very odd to see my little sister—the tomboy brat who had hassled me all those years when we were kids—out there in charge of 18 big, tough kids and a couple of intense coaches. In the top of the fifth, she called interference on a New Mexico State batter who tried to protect the base stealer a bit too enthusiastically—a call that brought the Aggie coach storming out of the dugout. I cringed, waiting for Becky's temper to explode. But she stayed cool and soothed the irate coach, sending him trotting back to the dugout, apparently satisfied.
In the bottom of the fifth, with New Mexico a run down, a Lobo batter hit a single to center with a man on second. The runner hesitated coming around third, then sprinted for home and dove headlong to the plate just as the throw arrived. Becky paused a moment to make sure the catcher had the ball, and then she wound up and called the runner out with a sharp downward thrust of her fist. The crowd groaned and the New Mexico coach jogged out to discuss the matter, but everybody seemed to accept that the call was a good one.