Start Off Perfect. Get Better From There

There are a few running jokes in the fast pitch softball umpire world. One I used to tell all the time is “All change ups are strikes.” I stopped telling it because a young umpire took me seriously and said that to a coach as justification for his strike zone.

Another is that fans have the best angle on every play all the time. I’m pondering developing a mobile app whereby parents and coaches can quickly vote on the outcome of close plays. It’s democratic and will make everyone happy. Right?

The funniest and most truthful joke I hear about my profession as a multi-sport official is being a referee (umpire) is the only job where you must start off perfect and get better from there. I know you are laughing right now because even after 17 years in fast pitch softball working all levels from youth recreational leagues, all levels of club travel ball, community college, and Division 1 it still makes me laugh.

What I do on a yearly basis is absurd on so many levels. Everyone knows it and doesn’t care one bit. Parents all want the plays called right and for a fair and level playing field. That is until the call goes against them and the rules are stupid.

Perfection is expected from the beginning because every parent KNOWS their child is the next (insert famous sports personality here). Even if they don’t say it, parents really expect their child’s ability (or lack thereof) to pay for a good education, and that’s the true source of the vitriol spewed at me on a regular basis.

The truth is I get it. Life is difficult and expensive. Children are the center of your universe. I’m just the dumb guy in the funny shirt, and in reality, they’re really just mad at the shirt. Combine that with having a fence between me and them along with a hot summer day full of wide swaths of emotional swings, bad ball park hot dogs that cost nine dollars, tournament entry fees in the thousands, the cost of equipment and travel, and it’s a recipe for plenty of anger and irrational ranting. Youth sports parents are as rational as four-year-old kids who can’t find their bubby.

In my 17-year career, I formed many great relationships. I learned much about the human condition and the desperation behind drive for a good education. The funniest part is when I get out of my gear and put on regular clothes, people are genuinely interested in my career. I get many fascinating questions about travel, pay (or lack thereof), moving up the ladder, the funniest things I’ve ever heard or said, and we share great stories.

There’s the rub. Once I get out of my monkey suit, I’m a person just everyone else. I have a mortgage, kids, cars, utility payments, and opinions on Game Of Thrones. I hear your uninformed ranting from the top row on a hot Sunday afternoon when you just want to go home a watch football. I’m not supposed to respond to you, but trust me. You’ll be a topic of conversation at our post-tournament pizza party.

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