Here’s a sequence of games that I worked recently. Most of you will recognize the dilemma:
- Saturday afternoon: 14U Pony game
- Saturday evening: College summer league game
- Sunday morning: Adult men’s league game – older division (old farts, like me)
On all three I had the plate (long story why). Saturday’s Pony game went well. No arguments, no problems, only a few groans. That evening, however, I had the plate on a college summer league game. On the very first batter I called a high strike. Not very high, but high for this level. And I sure did hear about it. That’s the thing about calling college ball – the guys know their shit. High strike and everyone (but everyone) sees it. And “comments.”
The thing is, that strike call would have been just fine in my Pony game earlier that day. It was about a ball under the letters, definitely the top of the zone at any level 12-and-over, but acceptable. Except when you get to 17-, 18-year-olds. That’s where the top of the zone goes down to about a ball above the belt (maybe half a ball), although get two umpires together and it’s hard to get agreement on this.
So I called a high strike on the first batter, heard plenty about it, recognized my error (and it was my error), and of course I adjusted. Because that’s what we do. We adjust.
But this kind of adjustment is not always that easy. Let’s stay with pitching for a moment. Saturday evening I had awesome pitching from the college players. Great control, tremendous velocity, wicked movement on the breaking balls. Two of my pitchers that night were hitting upper 80s, low 90s. They popped the catcher’s glove like gunshots. But once I had them dialed in, calling the game was (relatively) easy.
Next morning I’m on the plate again, this time for the senior division of an adult baseball league. In this case, “senior” means the old guys – as I say, like me. These games are fun to work because the old guys are out there having fun, making fun of one another, not taking anything but their own mortality very seriously. They’re striving to win, but not that hard. They don’t run fast, they commit a lot of errors, and the pitching is … well, lets call it spotty. For the most part, the pitches are floaters, coming in like a 12-6 curve ball, but they aren’t actual breaking balls. They’re just slow tosses that gravity brings over the plate like falling water.
Judging these pitches is more difficult than calling the vastly more competent college pitchers. Sounds counter-intuitive, I know, but it’s true. The trajectory
of a well-thrown pitch makes tracking the pitch from release point to catcher’s mitt much easier than that of a floater that cuts into the strike zone from … well, from altitude. And making that overnight adjustment from bullets to puff-balls is difficult.
But probably the biggest difference between the play of college kids and that of mere mortals is the speed of the game. Not only do pitchers often have tremendous velocity, but runners are extremely fast (really fast), and defensively the ball moves around the infield like a rocket. Stay focused, Blue, or you’ll lose the ball. And if you lose the ball, you’re screwed. (Been there, done that.)
The speed of the base runners can really test you. This is most noticeable when, with no runners on base, you’re in the “A” position (on the foul line but back of the first baseman). If the first baseman is playing deep, you’re a long way from the bag. And then, on a ball hit to the outfield, you need to break to the infield, pivot to see the base touch, and then stay with the runner if he goes for second. (Take a look at the rotation here.)
The challenging part is the first phase – the foot-race to get inside and pivot before the batter-runner gets to the bag. When the ball is hit you go suddenly into motion. It’s a long run, and a fast one, because you’re effectively racing the batter-runner (a nineteen-year-old college athlete) to get position at first base. And if the hit turns into a triple, get ready to really run.
We do this all the time, don’t we … adjust to what the game brings us. Every game. All of it. The whole wide frickin’ world of it. Adjust, adjust, adjust. Adapt or die.