First game of the season yesterday and here in the Seattle area the skies from an otherwise rainy week cleared completely and graced us with a 70-degree day, blue skies, no wind – perfect day for a ball game. It was a Pony game, 13-year-olds, and both teams were playing their own first games of the season (after multiple rain-outs).
Baseball in the spring in the Pacific Northwest is tough. March and April are typically very wet months, and May is frequently not much better (although May can go either way). So when you get sunshine and 70 on March 26th, you’re having a good day.
One downside, though. I was scheduled to work solo. One-man. And one-man sucks.
It’s not so much the extra work. I don’t mind the extra work. What I hate most about working solo is that you can’t give a good game. Not really. You can’t call a close play at second base. You can’t get the pick-off play at first base if the tag is behind the runner. So when there is a close play and the tag is behind the runner, which you cannot see, then your only option is to go by timing. And when you go by timing … well, sometimes you get it right and sometimes you get it wrong. It’s a coin toss.
Complicating the issue is that the first base coach has a perfect view of the pick-off play at first base. So if you get it wrong, the base coach knows it. You’ll get that look. But he’d better be smart and just keep his mouth shut and eat the call. That’s what he should do.
And that’s the main reason that working one-man sucks. It’s impossible to get close plays when the tag is on the far side. You can’t get all of your base touches if there are multiple runners, and you can’t get all of the tag-ups on deep fly balls. You can’t get obstruction away from the ball, and you’re screwed if there’s malicious action going on behind your back. So while the league gets an umpire on the cheap, the kids have a high likelihood of getting a crappy game. Not because the umpire is crappy (although that can happen, too, doubling the damage), but because one umpire can’t do it all. Even with two umpires there are compromises. But one just sucks.
And of course you cover this at the plate meeting. You meet with the managers at home plate and exchange lineups; you go over ground rules, you touch on special league rules (mercy rule, time limits, and so forth), and then you give your one-man-crew speech. You make it clear: if I miss a call because of my position, because I’m judging on timing because I’m blocked, well, I don’t want to hear about it. If you want to appeal a missed base, you’re probably wasting your time. If there was an illegal slide at second while I was getting the call at first, then just save your breath.
But yesterday’s game went smooth as silk. One team was overmatched and we ended on the mercy rule after five full with a score of 17-1. But that’s okay. It was 70 degrees and sunny in March in Kirkland, Washington, and we had no booted calls, no arguments, and everyone seemed genuinely grateful to be playing baseball in the sun.