Softball Junkie

The game of softball is played several different ways. From competitive ball, to guys drinking a few beers and just playing around. There are teams that travel the state and others that even travel the country. There are teams of men, teams of women, and even a combination of both. There are Junior Olympic teams that compete. Kids playing that are 10 years old and younger. In any town across the country, chances are pretty good you can find a softball game going on any day of the week. You may even see a seniors game being played. Folks at the ripe young age of 65+ are still swinging at that big yellow ball. You can find that ball in a 11”, 12”, 14”, and even a 16”. Point is, no matter how old, or young, no matter what your skill set, the game of ASA softball has something for you.

The game of softball is much more than 10 individuals on the field. It’s far more complicated than just throwing and hitting. It’s more rewarding than hoisting a trophy or plaque. When played properly it teaches you how to communicate. If batter one comes up and fielder 6 knows how he hits, fielder 6 will talk to his pitcher and let him know. The pitcher then signals to the rest of the defense to let them know. This is something that happens quickly so the game also teaches you how to think fast. Communication is incredibly important in this game. How many times have we seen two outfielders chasing down a ball and it lands right between them? This happens because the 2 aren’t communicating. If one of them yell “GOT IT” or “BALL” this issue doesn’t occur. I’m sure there are careers out there that don’t require communication but I have to believe they’re not that many. In my everyday job, I talk on the phone with customers all day long in a sales atmosphere. Granted the information that is being communicated isn’t the same, but the game has taught me to think quickly while communicating clearly. This is a skill set that the game has sharpened for me.

Softball is all about the game played between the white lines. The players make the game. From diving catches to a throw deep in the hole that is dug out with a flawless stretch. Without the players, the game doesn’t exist. People come to see the players play. That being said the game couldn’t be played without the “Boys in blue” either. The unsung heroes of the great game. I have the pleasure of being both a player and an umpire. After umpping countless games, it gave me a better appreciation for the game. Who in their right mind wants to be an umpire? The job title should read as such. “How would you like to be yelled at daily? Are you interested in making split second decisions that will upset 50% of the people involved? If you said yes to these 1st two questions AND you are willing to be underpaid, then I have a job for YOU!!” Umpires are a necessity in the game. The keep the flow of the game going. They make the obvious calls such as balls, strikes, safe, and out. They are also making the ruling on a play that you’ve never heard of before. We are calling obstruction on a ground ball. We are taking the time to explain the rules to the game that you love. We have to be able to communicate with the players and coaches so they better understand the specific rules of the game. We are also communicating with each other constantly. We are discussing the previous play in between innings. We are talking this rule over while pointing out correct mechanics. It may be more important for an umpire to communicate than a player. With all this communicating going on, an umpires perfect game is to not be noticed. An umpire will never make every call correct in an game. You may miss a strike here or a ball there. Point is, we as umpires try to make the game about the player and not us.

The definition of confidence is “a feeling or belief that you can
do something well or succeed at something” If you are playing the competitive side of the game, you better have confidence. The game has taught me how to be confident. Playing any position you have to want the ball. You have to want to make that play to end the inning or rally. Do you have the stones to come up with the bases loaded with 2 outs down by 1 and come up with a single to tie, or better yet win the game? How will you react when the ball is hit on a liner to your glove side and if the ball gets by you, you lose the game? The game can humble you quickly. As a player, if you don’t have the confidence to come up with a play, chances are you won’t.

As an umpire you better have confidence in your call. If you give a soft out call on a bang bang play at 1st, you’re going to have 11 players down your throat. They are like sharks smelling blood. Players aren’t stupid, they can see doubt. I’ve heard players say “Are you sure? Are you telling me he’s out, or are you asking me?” You better have the confidence in both your mechanics and your voice when making that call. If you call a strike at 11’ tall in the 1st inning, are you going to have the confidence to call that same pitch a strike in the 7th in a one run game? You better! If not, you’ll hear about it. Confidence can be used in all facets of life. In my job, if I don’t exude confidence, my customer will hear this and whatever leverage I had is now gone completely. The game teaches you how to be confident. If you are standing out in Right Field with your head up in the clouds, all it takes is one guy to go that way and the flood gates will open. It’s very easy to find that one guy out in the field who looks “shaky” and the other 9 or 10 guys will go to that exact same spot, over and over. Same in my job. If my customer sees or hears I lack confidence, he’ll continue to try and negotiate a lower price. He can hear the lack of confidence and he will expose that.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is the game can be more than a game if you allow it. I was in a job interview last year and the following dialogue occurred.
Him: You’re an umpire. I’d imagine in that line of work you deal with a lot of adversity. How do you handle that?
Me: To be honest, I haven’t really dealt with a whole lot of adversity while umpiring.
Him: So you mean to tell me that you make every call right every time?
Me: I certainly don’t. However, the calls I do get wrong I sell them good enough to where they think I got it right.
The game can teach you as much as you want or as little. I choose to be a student of the game. I’ve passed this love on to my oldest. My family is a softball family. 7 days a week during the months of May through August we have softball. I ump or play. My kids play the game. My bride loves the game. At some point I’d like to give back to the game as I feel the game has given me so much. Part of my way of giving back is getting my kids involved as much as possible. My oldest is a sponge. He is with us ALL the time during ball events. He listens during every discussion and soaks up all that info. I see him use that info on the field when he plays. I’m very proud of him while he flashes those leadership qualities. He’s a warrior on the dirt. Proud dad moments happen frequently with him.

The game has taught me sportsmanship. How to act like a professional in an amateur sport. June 29th 2013 we are playing in a tournament out of state roughly 4 hours away. In our 1st game at 7:30 in the morning I broke my arm. The ball came up the middle and hit our pitchers leg. He attempted the throw from his back. As I went to scoop the ball, the runners shin collided with my arm and it exploded. Our left fielder heard the snap of my bone breaking. The other field heard it break. As I sit on my butt grasping my arm against my chest, I’m fighting back tears. I’m trying to be the “tough” guy as I don’t want my wife or sons to be worried. Hind sight being 20/20, they knew it was broke and I could’ve let those tears fly. As I’m laying there grimacing through my mouth guard I feel hands on my shoulders. I hear voices of concern. I see sorrow on faces of players. After what seemed to be an eternity, I finally got off the field and headed for the hospital. Upon returning to the field I was welcomed with questions, smiles, and hugs. My teammates took my sons with them for breakfast. They grabbed all my gear. They took care of my family because they knew we needed their help. They went above and beyond. They were amazing! Even after their well wishes and what nots, what happened next surprised me even more

After getting back to the complex complete with sling and medication, I was roaming through the area with my bride and some teammates. Standing at the concession, the manager of the team we were playing when I broke my arm approached me. He reached his hand out for a firm handshake and followed it with “How are you doing” as he glanced down at my arm. I informed him it was broken. His reaction to this day gives me goose bumps. He shared his condolences as tears welted up in his eyes. He shook my hand and gave me a hug and walked back to his teammates who were sitting at a picnic table. Keep in mind I’ve never met this man before in my life. I only know him from playing against him for 3 innings in a softball game. I glanced over as he delivered the news to his team. One by one that team came over to me and greeted me with a handshake and hug. I’ve never witnessed that display of sportsmanship in my life. I’ve been a part of several heated confrontations while on the field. I’ve seen a lot of ugly while umpping and playing. All that negative is outweighed by that team. It amazed me the compassion they showed to a complete stranger. His wife later came to me with an email address and told me to keep in touch. I remember telling my team, and more importantly my sons, that’s how you act. That’s a perfect example of how to be professional in an amateur sport.

To some the game of softball is a recreation sport to just hang out and “gives me something to do”. To others it’s a way of life. To me it’s an important part of my life. Through the game I’ve made connections all across the state in a short span. I hope to expand those connections each year as I never know where the game will take me. I’ve made lifelong friends that I’ve played against or with for years. I’ve learned from older players who are on their way out. I’ve listened to Hall of Fame umpires share the plethora of experience they have. I’ve sat in hotels near the pool and shared laughs with teammates as some idiot does a cannonball into the shallow end of the pool. I’ve sat in restaurants on the other side of the state with 10+ umpires from all different cities as we share stories and give our umpire in charge a hard time. While the people, location, and setting may all change, the once constant is the game. It always gets back to the game. When summer rolls around, it’s the game. The game takes care of family and friends.

If it weren’t for my bride, these softball experiences wouldn’t happen. My fondest “softball” experience was July 22nd 2013. Our head umpire calls a mandatory meeting before the games. This does not make me happy as I have to rush home and get ready to be there on time. When I show up,theres nobody there! After mulling over my options I’m feeling greeted by a pack of umpires. After complaining that they are all late, we mosy over to the other end of the fields. I come around the dug out and step into the field to see my entire family there! My whole family and my in laws are standing around the backstop. I glance over to the other dugout and my team is standing across from each other while crossing bats high in the air. My beautiful bride of 13 years surprised me with the most romantic renewal of vows in history! That’s right, we renewed our vows on field 7 right at home plate! Those renewals were complete with sideline chalk and dirt from the fields!! To this day it brings a smile to my face. All aspects of my life were in attendance that night. My families, my players, and my umpire family all there to support us. Home plate at field 7 will always be special to me. My bride is amazing and so is my softball family.

Some people give me a hard time for the amount of time I’m around the game. They ask how I can commit like that. I’ve had people say to me “don’t you want to have a life?” These are people that play the game and don’t play the game. The thing is, I’ve involved my family into the game. My family is my life. So the answer to that question is “I have a life” I choose to give back to the game that has given so much to me by being involved as much as I can. My oldest daughter starts playing this year. My oldest son will start umpping next year. As far as the amount of time goes, it does get to be a lot. At times I do look forward to rain. I’ve spent my time doing far worse things with far worse people. You may play darts, pool, race cars, golf, jet ski, or whatever other activity that you enjoy. I choose to play softball. I choose to get paid (umpire) for being around the game I love. I choose to take as much from the game as I can and use those lessons in my everyday life. While I respect those rec players out there, I urge them to try and get more from the game. The game of softball offers so much and it’s a shame that more don’t take advantage of it.

My summers are full of funny tan lines and long car drives. Long car drives are full of conversations of tournaments past. My summer is my bride in a chair with a mouthful of seeds and flip flops. My kids with wicked sunburns and dirty feet. My summer is shaking off the dry dirt on my sweaty socks. It’s about my hat shrinking in late June. It’s about playing catch with my kids before mine, or their game. My summer is about playing “2 bats” with 3 teammates in between games. It’s about staring aimlessly at the bracket trying to predict the future while telling people not to look too far ahead. It’s about going to the bathroom with a cup on. My summer is about watching my oldest do the coin flip before every game. It’s about my daughters hugging me after a tough loss. It’s about my bride on the fence cheering me on as I step to the plate. It’s about the “ooos” and “ahhs” as I stretch from my first base bag to dig out a ball. My summer is full of cheap hotel rooms. It’s full of sunshine and sunburn lotion. Long days and longer nights is what my summer is about. It’s about family, friends, and ball.

At some point I won’t physically be able to play the game. Some say I’ve already reached that point. At that point I will umpire only. Eventually I will reach the point of not being able to do that either. I hope that time is a few decades away. It’s inevitable though. I hope I’ve done a good enough job with my kids that they share the love of the game. I hope to be standing at the fence giving my kids pointers when I’m older and have more grays. I hope to see a last name on a jersey of a kid and say “Hey! Was your dad such and such” and be able to tell him stories of all the great things his dad did. I hope this gets into the hands of a player who realizes he or she is wasting their talents and get involved more. I hope that someone reads this and decides that umpiring isn’t all that bad and dons the powder blue. I hope that I can do the game of ASA softball justice.

I’m proud to slip my jersey/polo on every day. I’m proud of the things I’ve done on the field. I’m proud that my family is right there with me. I thank the game for giving me the things it has. I’m thankful to the umpires that have shared their knowledge with me. I’m thankful to the players for sharing all these experiences with me. I’m thankful to the game of ASA softball. My family thanks you all. How do you give back to a game that has given me so much? I’m not real sure to be honest, but I’ll spend each summer for as long as I possibly can trying to figure out that very answer.

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