Monday, October 10, 2005

Too Stubborn


Some years back, I used to be a baseball umpire. If you love the game as I do, there is no better place to see a great game, than to work it as an official. While you must never let the game play distract you from your responsibilities on the field, later you can review the game in your memory, and truly savor the best plays made at close range. I have been able to see plays that those in the stands never see in detail, because I am as close as the players themselves.

Along the way of being an official, however, I have also encountered that breed of athlete who thinks that because he has a strong will, he is entitled to use whenever and however he likes. I recall a football player who punched a team-mate for what he considered a stupid play; I had to drag over a line coach and tell him what happened, explaining that I would prefer to not have to flag a player for fighting someone on his own side. I recall a team captain who cost his team even before the kickoff: During the hand-shake before the coin toss in a key district game, he looked his opponent in the eye and clearly said, “I'm gonna f--- you up”, and so set his team back 15 yards before they ever touched the ball. But far and away, the most common attitude problem I saw was with pitchers.

Being an umpire, I love catchers. They not only work (in my opinion) the toughest position on the field, they also keep us Blues from getting hit by wild pitches (mostly), and even have stopped foul balls from winging into our heads. An umpire will never deliberately give an edge to one team over another, but we do appreciate a smart catcher. And that means sometimes we tell the catcher where the pitch is, so he can signal the pitcher to correct his aim. Problem is, sometimes the pitcher doesn’t like the strike zone we set up, and expects us to change our zone to suit him. That does not happen, but some of the younger and brasher pitchers take a while to figure that out.

I recall an early game in Kingwood, where the Varsity was trying out a pretty young hand in a tournament game against Bay City. The pitcher was great at putting the ball where he wanted. The only thing was, he was consistently putting it 2 inches outside the plate. And I mean outside. None of the ball was catching the “black”, that rubber outline of the plate which most umps use to mark the outside edge of the strike zone, so I could not call them strikes, because as consistent as they were, they were not in the zone. I mentioned to the catcher, after the count reached 3-0 on the exact same pitch to the first batter, that the pitcher needed to bring them in just a bit, and the catcher sent a signal to the pitcher, but the pitcher made a face, and kept putting them in the same spot. After he walked the second batter on the eighth straight ball in the exact same place, the catcher set up inside to sway the pitcher to pitch closer to the plate, but no joy; before it was over, the pitcher had walked in two runs on six straight walks, and 24 balls out of 27 pitches (three times batters had swung at the pitches). The head coach called time finally, and before he could reach me, boiling at the situation, the catcher had jumped up and run over to explain what was going on. The coach shook his head, and had to actually tell the pitcher he had to choose between staying in the game and changing his aim to something in the zone, or sitting his butt down. The kid actually took a relatively long time making up his mind. In the end, the pitcher starting listening to his catcher and had a pretty good game after that, but the damage he did by his stubbornness sure dug a hole for his team. By the bottom of the first inning, they were down 4-0, just because he wouldn’t listen.

Politics can be a lot like Baseball, as the nomination of Harriet Miers to the U.S. Supreme Court shows. The funny thing here is, there seems to be a lot of confusion about whom, in this situation, is the pitcher and just whom is the umpire.

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