Refresher course helps umpires prepare for baseball season

March 25, 2002|BY TARA REILLY

Mike Hyatt pays no attention to the angry screams from parents telling him in other words to go fly a kite.

As a Little League umpire, he says he has no choice.

"You got to ignore it," Hyatt said. "The last thing you want to do is start a war."

Hyatt, umpire-in-chief of the National Little League, and about 15 other umpires, managers and coaches gathered at an umpires clinic Sunday afternoon at the National Little League field just off Frederick Street and Commonwealth Avenue.

Children ages 9 to 12 are eligible to play Little League. The 60-game season begins April 13.

The clinic was held by District I Little League Umpire Consultant Denny Hockensmith as a refresher on the rules of umpiring.

Hyatt said overzealous parents unhappy with calls, while often in the minority, are usually what drive volunteers away from umpiring.

"Parents just scream and holler sometimes. It's amazing," said Hyatt, who's been an umpire in National Little League for about four years. "Thank goodness most people aren't like that."


Despite the stories about upset parents, David Knode said he attended the clinic because he'd like to become a base umpire.

"I don't know that I'd want to jump behind home plate right now," Knode said. Knode most recently has managed Little League.

Hockensmith said during the clinic the calls that cause the most displeasure from the crowd and coaches happen at home plate.

Hyatt and his peers said they put up with the pressure from parents to give kids the opportunity to play baseball.

"There is pressure, but it's fun," said Jim Rux, umpire chief for Federal Little League. "It's all part of the game."

Rux, who has been an umpire for 15 years, said he gets so involved with the youngsters during the games that he doesn't take notice of the parents in the stands.

"Umpiring Little League baseball is for the kids," Rux said. "You get so involved with the players that you don't even hear the parents."

Hyatt said there is one positive thing about fans who let their tempers flare: "It usually calms down. Give them five minutes and everything's back to normal."

He said parents who take the time to understand the role of the umpire and the knowledge it takes to become one are often more understanding.

During Hockensmith's clinic, umpires learned the basics of the role, such as how loud to yell "strike" and also the more complex rules of umpiring. Those include what calls to make based on the foot placement of batters and what to do if the catcher blocks the view of an umpire during checked swings.

Hockensmith also offered tips on how to lessen the amount of flack from coaches and parents over calls.

"Don't wear a watch during the game," he said. "Bury the watch, get rid of it, hide it. It will catch you. It's going to nail you."

He said one look at a watch during a game by an umpire will give onlookers the perception that the umpire has someplace else to be and isn't involved in the game.

He also cautioned umpires to limit the amount of conversation with people in the crowd to avoid the perception of favoritism toward one particular team.

Hockensmith stressed to the umpires that one of the most important rules to keep in mind is to be consistent with calls throughout the game, especially when calling strikes.

Strike zones should be established for balls thrown across the plate between the armpits and the top of the knees of the batters, he said.

"Once you have established a strike zone, live with it," Hockensmith said. "Be consistent."

Once umpires have learned the many rules of the game and how to deal with unhappy parents, Hyatt said they're better able to enjoy the job's big payoff.

"We get a free sandwich after every game," he said. "It's called the 'Umpire's Special.' It's real thick."

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