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The plate conference is more than an annoying pre-game ritual we have to go through each game; It sets the ground work for your game management. You can earn huge credibility points here. It’s sad to say that this critical part of the game is done so poorly by so many guys its frightening. Most disappointing of all, it’s easy. Being slack here can let coaches think you will be slack through the game and now you have lost a portion of the control of the game before the first pitch. As umpires we need to stay in full control from the moment we step on the field.
First, many times your coming fresh on to the field have a crisp, clean uniform with freshly polished shoes – you look the part. Easy enough.
Next, take proper positioning. I hate too sound remedial, but I’ve seen it done incorrectly so many times I feel it needs to be said; Plate ump behind the plate, base umpire(s) across from the plate facing him. This is part of your job, so do it properly. Even on the small diamond.
As the coaches arrive exchange introductions, as a tool to help me remember their names I write their names on their line up cards. I make every effort to address each coach by their name. It’s a matter of courtesy and professionalism. I also try to make sure they use my name as well.
I recommend developing a few scripts to when conducting the plate conference. I have two I use. One for Rec ball and one for scholastic.
Here’s an example of my script for a high school game from after the introductions and exchange of the line up cards:
“Coach Smith, Coach Jones, we are playing a 7 inning game with no time limit under federation rules and the 10 run rule will be in effect after 4 ½ or 5.
I then give any quick remarks about the ground rules the field. Such as:
· The light posts being outside the fence
· Face of the dugouts being in/out of play
· Anything else needing to be noted
· Some games and fields there won’t be anything to add
Note: I have edited this since I first posted it. Originally I mentioned getting the home coach to take us through his ground rules. I no longer suggest this. Coaches will take you over every nook and cranny of the field and take too long. My new suggestion is to meet briefly before the game with the home coach get his ground rules then you as an umpire make note of the important ones and share those at the plate meeting.
I continue my script, “Gentlemen, are all of your players properly equipped?” Note: You must get a verbal affirmative response here. Don’t let a non-answer or head nod slip by. I continue (if necessary), “Keep in mind of our sportsmanship obligations, and let’s have a great game.”
The major difference in my script is that for Rec ball I start immediately behind the plate and go clockwise covering every aspect of the field where I think a ball may get out. For big boy games you don’t need to cover any nook and cranny of the field. Doing so would make you look inexperienced, and therefore diminish your credibility with the coach.
Base guys , at the plate conference you have 3 very important duties:
- Look sharp
- Introduce yourself
- Listen to the ground rules
Please note, other than the introduction, none of the above items require any talking on your part. The only conceivable time you may have permission to speak is during the ground rules. Anything said by the base umpire should be asked directly as it relates to a ground rule the coach lays out. This meeting should be quick to the point and still professional.
I see and read about umpires with a number of bad habits at the plate conference such as issuing warnings, putting their own ground rules into effect, bring up history or other such ridiculous things. This is highly unprofessional and just plain wrong.
If you find yourself in a situation where a AD, Tourny Dir., or some other person is asking you to issue a warning before the game I would suggest asking them make such warnings before the plate conference on their own. This sets a bad, confrontational tone and things can only get worse from there because the coach(es) will be immediately put on the defensive and will now see you as a bad guy.
We also do not bring up history at the conference. History is just that, history, in the past. More likely than not you would eject a coach who brings up history negatively to you, so don’t do that for them. I’m not saying forget completely about it. These things are useful reminders we should keep to ourselves and use as appropriate, but never mention verbally.
Another bad habit I see is being too friendly with one of the coaches. I don’t care if the guy is a good friend from 30 years back in high school. Yucking it up and being overly familiar to one of the coaches leads the other one to think, ‘oh, they’re buddies, I’m screwed.’ He will be on the defensive and will be looking for that close call that doesn’t go his way. On the field your relationship is professional no matter who the coaches are.
Don’t underestimate the power of a good plate conference. It’s an easy way to show you are in control and gain credibility with the coaches.