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Umpires strike, columnist walks

May 02, 2006|By TIM ROWLAND

A journalist has to be flexible and willing to go the extra mile ? so Wednesday when I was sitting in the office throwing darts at the putting green and I got wind of a breaking news story, I sprang into action with my gazelle-like speed.

I learned that the Hagerstown Suns were playing a rare, 10:35 a.m. baseball game, and that Major League umpires were going to show up in support of striking minor league umpires.

Of course, no way did I want to pull myself out of the comfort of my dark and musty writers garret for the blue skies, green grass and sunshine of a baseball game, but I knew going into this profession that there would be sacrifices.

Donning my fedora with the PRESS placard, I burst into my boss' office.

"Trouble brewing out at the old ball yard, sir. Major scoop. You sit tight and rest easy; I'm on it."

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Sensing the urgency of the situation, he left me with the words that many wise editors have handed down to their cubs over the years:

"Don't eat too many hot dogs."

And to be totally up front about this, it was sort of a dual mission. Along with covering the event, I wanted to show my solidarity with the common working man. I always support laborers throughout society, mostly because I fear that if they didn't work, I might be called into service. And I'm not sure I could handle that.

So I tidied up some loose ends in the office, and by "loose ends" I mean "donuts," and Fred Sanforded my way out to Illyway Aysmay Stadium.

Got there at 10:35 on the button, to find ? no umpires. Instead, I ran into our photographer, Yvette May, looking as if shooting umpire labor action might be her 758th most favorite thing to do, right between having lunch in a biker bar and dropping a bowling ball on her foot.

She informed me I'd missed the show because ? having actual work to do later in the day ? they had to leave early to make it back to their Major League cities. They did have some memorable chants, she said, which went along the lines of "something something something, you're outta here!"

I was crushed. It didn't seem to me that leaving before my arrival was the proper way of demonstrating a good work ethic. But being the dedicated professional that I am, I decided to watch the rest of the game, just in case they came back.

But they did get their point across, because I hadn't even noticed that the minor league umps were on strike. Speaking of which, it does seem they could have worked the word "strike" into their chants. Perhaps they thought it too trite.

Or maybe not clever enough. After all, it must be tough trying to gin up public sympathy for baseball umpires. First, as jobs go, it's not exactly the Matewan coal mines. I can't see Mother Jones showing up to chain herself to a chest protector.

And all these years, we've been trained to yell, "Kill the ump!" Now we're supposed to yell "We want equitable pay scales, a comprehensive benefit package that includes a 401(k) and dental plan for the ump?"

I can't imagine they're complaining about the working conditions, but in my job you can never assume, so I ? call me thorough if you must ? checked out the concession stands, the emerald field and made notes on the birds singing in the trees beyond the outfield wall. I graded them as acceptable.

I can understand it's not easy being second-guessed and screamed at all the time. Welcome to my world. And then if you get promoted to the majors, you have to suffer the chuckleheads in the booth who, after watching a replay 27 times in ultra slow motion, pronounce you an idiot for getting the call wrong. But if you want roses, you don't become an umpire, you become a ballerina.

It's times like these that I wish I had a standing army or 2,000 people at my disposal, not for any actual warfare, but just to perform little social pranks here and there.

I would have called my army to action, to show up at Oscar Gamble Stadium with signs and banners in support of the umpires. The umps' chants would have been greeted with lusty cheers and calls of support and gratitude for the fine job they do on the field.

Then the umpires, not knowing the cruel truth that it was all a gag, would all have gone back to the cities in wonderment and awe saying, "Wow, the people in the heartland are really on our side. This is a great day for our profession indeed."

Of course, with me as general, the army would have shown up too late and there would have been nothing left to do but eat hot dogs.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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