It was a coach pitch All-Star tournament for 7 and 8 year old players. One of the grandsons was playing, so it was double fun!
But between mamas letting their little boys loose, daddies holding their tongues, and coaches reliving their Little League glory days, drama and emotion can quickly ooze into the games.
It’s usually from the coaches and parents more than the kids. Boys like the competition, but at that age, the biggest concern for most of them is what flavor of snow cone to get after the game.
And the poor umpires? They often get blasted from both sides! This day was different though. This game had a short, stocky, 40-year veteran umpire.
In the first inning, I heard him tell someone while rubbing his head that every gray hair he had was from umpiring. He winked adding, “I was 6 feet 7 inches tall when I started umpiring, but I’ve been chewed on so much over the years, I’m only 5’ 7” now! “
Someone asked his name.
“Just call me Ump”, he said with a smile, “but Chump works too.”
His experience, knowledge and people skills were soon apparent!
Our coach was getting the outfield ready while their coach was warming up his pitching arm. A really tall kid from the other team, almost as tall as Ump, was waiting on deck.
Ump ambled over to him and stood eye to eye with the boy. With a straight face he loudly asked, “Are you 17, or 18 years old?”
I couldn’t hear the boy’s response, but Ump disregarded it saying, “13?!”
The boy adamantly said, “No sir! I’m 8!”
Ump smiled big and said, “Hmm, you must be a really good player then!”
The boy flashed a missing front tooth grin.
A moment later his first swing was a foul ball that went over the backstop.
Instead of yelling “Heads up” or “Look out”, which is what most of the crowd hollered, Ump yelled, “Foul ball, y’all!”
For a Texas Little League game, it was perfect!
From then on, for every foul ball he’d watch fly over the fence, he would yell, “Foul ball, y’all!”
In the second inning, there was a close call at home plate that went their way. Instead of ignoring the crowd, Ump turned and walked to a group of parents on our side sitting in lawn chairs behind the fence.
With one eye brow up and a twinkle in his eyes, he asked, “Don’t you people have homes to go to instead of sitting out here in the heat?”
One mother immediately spurt out, “Yes! But it’s dirty and I have lots of laundry!”
Ump laughed and quickly answered, “Yep! That’s why I only change clothes once a week!”
A few minutes later, during a lull of the game, Ump pointed at an older unhappy looking, mostly bald man watching the game.
“Hey!” Ump took his cap off stroking his shaved head. “You need a haircut!” The unhappy man didn’t answer, but cracked a little smile of amusement.
The game sailed on, steady as she goes, with Ump at the controls.
“Foul ball, y’all!”
A good umpire, at any level of baseball, has good control of a contest, and you don’t even really know he’s there. The game is the focus, not the umpire. In fact, when the umpire is the focus, it’s usually not good, and things can get heated.
Ump, however, skillfully worked the coaches, players and crowd with his magic. He was so well liked that even a bad call would be gracefully, for the most part, accepted by all.
Once between innings he bent over with his whisk broom to brush dirt off home plate. He just stopped when it was clean and said, “Oh no! I don’t know if I can get back up!”
When he stood up, he stepped over to the boy in the batter’s box and started brushing the top of his batting helmet. He finished it off with the heel of his hand, as if to get it squeaky clean.
Another close call at first base was appealed by the other coach to the first base umpire. As the head umpire, Ump stood by and let the first base umpire handle it. He already knew the call was right, but our coach started walking out.
Ump nodded at him as if to say all was good.
Still our coach continued to the mound. Ump was trying to look intimidating, started moving his head side to side like he was in a boxing match, and pointing his finger back toward the dugout.
Our coach kept walking and Ump changed his expression, like he was mad. He began mimicking a Major League Umpire by shuffling his feet while making mini hand gestures as if he was throwing him out of the game.
Ump broke out in a smile when our coach stopped, laughed heartedly, asked a question. Ump gave him a reassuring nod and the game went on.
“Foul ball, y’all!”
A few minutes later, the other team’s coach was pitching to his players and started throwing inconsistently. The coach got a bit flustered and ended up hitting his own player in the shoulder.
Ump immediately looked at the 7-year old boy batting and spoke loudly enough for everyone in the stands to hear, “That pitcher hit you! Charge that guy on the mound!”
The kid didn’t understand, but the stands and coaches did, as everyone erupted in laughter!
Near the end of the game, a player from the other team slid home. Dust went everywhere. Ump called him safe. Good call. The play was over.
As the boy got up out of the dust, Ump, like a mischievous kid, began sliding his feet back and forth toward the boy kicking dirt on his shoes like he was angry with his own call.
The boy just laughed, then stuck out his chest a little more when Ump told him his slide was “major league”, then gave him a high five before the dust covered boy ran proudly back to his dugout.
The game ended in a close finish. We technically lost, but really, everyone won.
Sometimes baseball games and life are similar. Life can throw curve balls our way. Sometimes we get hit with life’s pitches, or miss the ball completely in the field. We strike out, make errors, and trip while running the bases.
None of us have a perfect game in life. We make mistakes, blow it, need redos. We get scrapes, cuts, even scars in the game of life.
Sure it doesn’t always go our way, but don’t slump to the dugout and give up. Stay in the game!
We know we have today, at least this moment, but who knows about tomorrow.
Make today grand slam good, because that’s no foul ball, y’all!