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Jocko

The stars aligned

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Sunday I had one of the best games I've had in a long time. You know the feeling when you're seeing the plays in slo-mo, your timing and positioning is spot on, the plays unfold before you and fall gently in your lap like a linen napkin at a 5 star restaurant? Yeah. THAT kind of game. I had 2 whackers at 3B, A worm burner to F4 catch and double up on R2, 3 whackers at 1B, and a 3-2 final score. Was a GREAT day to be an umpire. Had a good partner (2 man crew), great field conditions, beautiful day, and one of those games where all was right with the world.

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I had the same thing in a 1-0 game Sunday.  One play kid thought he hit a game tying single to RF but kid came up firing and just got him in a banger at first.  Head coachh got loud and I thought he disagreed with the call but he was yelling at his kid for not busting it right out of the box.  Love those games that the players do what they are supposed to do.

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You know that ying-yang zen thing, @Jocko? For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction? To everything, turn turn turn? Nature abhors a vaccuum?

Yeah, while you were having one of your best games, and no sh!t could touch you, it all flowed up north here and rolled onto my field last night...

• U13 Standard (they lie, and call it "Select"), the most difficult age level to coach, umpire and/or observe. 
• The Crap-Left-Over-As-An-Afterthought Field: Full-size 60/90, with a skinned, multi-purpose infield that must be used for tractor pulls during the Town Founders Days, or some Kiwanis events, or something. The dirt is packed as hard as concrete, sun-baked, with a fine dusting of sandblasting pebbles atop it. The mound is just a pile of sand. Literally. When I say it's full-size, I mean it's gotta be 350' to the corners and 400'+ to dead center. The backstop must be 30 yards behind the plate, or sure did seem like it. Reason why? It shared fencing with the varsity field, so the varsity 1BL fence and this field's 3BL fence were one-and-the-same. Oh, it gets better... The varsity visitor's dugout was a fenced in area that protruded into the 3BS foul territory, and was shared with the home team for the field we were playing on. So, naturally, the dugout itself was DBT, but there was a significant amount of space before it and after it wherein a fielder could catch a pop-up. By contrast, the 1BS fence was a long, continuous extension from the backstop, with only two interruptions: One was an off-set pass-through to access the field, at the point where the backstop "ends" and the 1BS fencing "begins", and the other was a good 20-30 feet past the 1B bag, as... you guessed it... a doorway with a long, beaten, fixed bench behind it, and another ten-foot long (wide) by seven-foot high fence behind that. This defined the visitor's dugout. Were there lights? Glad you asked!! There were lights! In some crazy feat of engineering, four towering wooden light posts were planted around the field, in addition to the four beyond the outfield fence. The two on the 3BS housed lights for the varsity field as well as this field. Now, since the varsity field was the prettier of the two sisters, and the two fields shared a common side fence, can you guess where the light posts were located? Yup, you got it. In foul-ball territory on our poor field, approximately ten feet on either side of that protruding, shared dugout. And not to be asymetric or unbalanced (no, gosh, not that), the two posts on the 1BS were, too, in foul ball territory.

I'll let that sink in...
• Full NFHS rules, with modification for continuous batting order and no courtesy runners. Which means, all balks are ON.
• The VTHC is just the most sociable of the four dads who compose the "coaching staff". Congenial, but lightly equipped in baseball knowledge (as we're soon to find out).
• Obscure start time. Most games in our region start at either 5:30pm (if unlit) or 7:45-8:00pm (if lit). The start time of 7:00pm was odd, and the follow up notification by the coaches that they had agreed to start "some time after 7" was puzzling... 
• The varsity field was in the midst of a heated inter-conference battle, so there was the usual chants, cat-calls, whoops all going full-throat.
• The HTHC is... well, the guy that turned up at the plate meeting looks rather plain. When we ask him to "take us around the field" for the ground rules, all he notes are the two fence gaps on the 1BS and the one on the shared 3BS dugout fencing, and is particularly proud that there isn't any gaps under the fence on the backstop that is in another zip code behind us. This leaves my partner and I to "fill in the gaps" in his presentation with how we're going to have to potentially rule on throws over the dugout (from backstop to 3B, if it comes to it) and how to play the light posts (batted ball touches it, ball is dead immediately; thrown ball, played as if it was fencing).

Now, on to the game...
• These kids cannot make the pitches and can barely make the throws. The pitches are practically floating in, likely because both pitchers have been threatened by their catchers not to put it in the dirt because they don't want to have to retrieve it from the next county. The HT F2 was particularly annoying because he had been taught (wrong) to set up behind the opposite batter's box when we had reached 2 strikes, leaving the plate and the PU (me) uncovered. Tapping him on the back and muttering to him that the strike zone was "over here" had no effect – this battery had a plan, by golly, and it was whenever we got to 2 strikes, set up extremely outside and F1 will throw the bait ball out there. It didn't work at all, and the first two times it happened, my BU partner would peer in, quizzically, with an apprehensive look as if he's going to watch someone get shot by firing squad. No matter how many times I reminded him, that F2 kept doing it. Each time, the next pitch would come in, straight as a string and get a reaction of "Ooooo"'s and "Nice pitch!" and "Where'd that miss?" from the HT supporters.
• It didn't matter much, because the VT couldn't hit. They only had 1 runner reach 3B the entire night.
• All three (1 HT, 2 VT) F2's were terrible blockers. Both VT F2's must have been afraid to get hit because both were initially positioned nearly six feet behind the plate when we would start an inning. I kept having to prod them to move up, and invariably, during an at-bat, they'd almost be reclining against my shin guards. One kinda absorbed my advice that if he moves up, the low pitch is more likely a low strike, because it's really hard to justify a pitch as a strike when it hits dirt. My shinguards and plate shoes were getting a drubbing all night. At one point, with R3 (yet again) one went 5-hole on an unmoving F2, clanked off my shin guards, and then bounced off the F2's butt, dropping in the dirt. "Nice stop catch!" came from the VT supporters. Both of us – my BU partner and I – turned our heads to peer at the sparse crowd, trying to determine which of these disillusioned parents said that, looking to see if anyone was wearing dark sunglasses or had a Service Dog with them.
• The varsity game has ended, and I start to notice a number of new faces in the HT dugout. As the 2nd inning concludes, I walk over to confirm the number of runs, and discover that the supposed HTHC is actually their book-keeper, and the "real" HC is a young-20-something assistant coach from the varsity team. That doesn't change things officially (to me), because whoever shows up at the plate meeting is who is in my book as the HC. The "coaching staff" has quadrupled in size, though, as not only is Coach Bookkeeper still there, and the real HC, but this guy has also brought the other varsity AC along, as well as two of the older brothers (must have been) of the ballplayers.
• It's the 3rd inning, and I've now, at the endorsement of my BU partner, expanded the zone. It is 0-16.
• Now, during his at-bats, HT #41 has really happy feet. As a pitch is delivered, he almost starts dancing in place, and then jabs his left (lead) foot out. His upper body contorts as he "throws his hands at the ball" (as I hear young-gun coach him on the fly) and then swings. At this at-bat, he's driven the count to 2-2 (whole bunch of foul-offs), and he mis-reads a pitch, and juts his left elbow out into the strike zone over the plate. Of course, the pitch hits him in the elbow. I call "Time!", as #41 recovers and flips his bat towards the dugout to trot off to 1B. I call him back, and declare, "That was a strike, batter's out". Now I start hearing it from HT bench. My mask is off, and I nod out to my partner, just to confirm, "What was the count you had?" "2-2" "Right", I say, turning my gaze back to HT bench, "and that was third strike. Batter's out." "But the pitch hit him!" "While it was in the strike zone." "It hit him in the elbow!" "Which was in the strike zone." "Brandon? Where'd it hit you?" "Right here coach," says Brandon, gesturing at somewhere in the forearm/elbow region. "That's not on the bat, he wasn't swinging!" "The pitch was a strike. Strike 3, batter's out." This entire exchange, however, is happening at a distance of forty to fifty feet, though, because I'm not leaving the plate area (no need to) and I discover that the bulk of the objections are coming from "extra AC", not even from the "real HC" who actually, officially (for this game), isn't the HC. Following along?
• After the half-inning, I again go over to confirm the runs scored, and "extra AC" asks (civilly, but with a bit of an edge), "Was it a strike because he made no attempt to get out of the way?" "It was a strike, plain and simple. #41's elbow was in the strike zone, it's a strike, and it hits him." "Yeah, I got that", Real HC says (Bookkeeper HC is fiddling with the iPad at the other end of the dugout). "Ah good", I say, and make the long walk back to the plate.
• It's now the top of the 4th inning, and VT gets their runner to 3B (finally, but only). Their batter flies out, and R3, who had been very shrewd and aggressive in his time on the basepaths, trots across the plate, fruitlessly finishing the play at least. I say to him, "Well done" in passing, trying to give him some encouragement. He continues on the trot towards the VT dugout (mind you, some 100+ feet away) and belts out, "Line it up guys! We're all done!"
My partner and I corrected him, that we still had another inning (at least) to go, and still had 45+ minutes on the clock.
• We have an IFF. It's a silo-climber, straight up over the mound pile of sand, more or less in the vicinity of my BU partner. It's on its way down, when I realize my partner is taking an awfully long time to call it, so I belt out "Infield Fly!" and hear my partner echo it and complete it, "... Fly! Batter is out!" The F5 has run in and made the catch of it (mercifully), since he realized that F1 and F4 had both froze, looking at it, and F6 went to cover 2B (why, no-one knows). My partner tells me after the game that he waited to call it because no-one made a move towards it. He then gives me the gem of the night – he had asked the F4 why F4 had not made a move to catch it. F4 replied, "I thought you (the umpire) were going to call it."
• It was a miserable 0-22, 4.5 inning game.

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My Sunday was easy breezy. 60 degrees, sun shining. 3 tourney games, easy calls, relaxed good coaches, and just good baseball. No gripes and a good partner. My last game, a regular season 14s, again, easy calls, good pitching, batters swinging, and only one contested call but coach was professional to my, new but good, partner about it. It was a great day to be on the diamond. It made up for my Saturday of hell. 9u's, drizzling and a cold wind. 7s and 8s played up to fill in a slot on a tournament. At least the coaches were relaxed and cool. Seriously, it was not a fun day. My back still aches thinking about it. 

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