The ump’s hot corner: not third, but first

This article from the New York Times sports page about the difficulty big league umps have with making the call at first base reminded of something I hadn’t thought of in years…decades.

I was probably in my early 30s, out for a spring-time run. An old schoolmate of mine was coaching junior high school baseball, and the assigned umpires hadn’t shown up. So he snagged me off the road and asked me to do the honors. For seven innings, I stationed myself behind the pitcher’s mound and called both balls and strikes and all the plays on the bases. Real umpires use a special little counter called an “indicator” to keep track of balls, strikes, and outs. I just scratched lines in the dirt with my shoe. Really pro.

The last out of the game was a dribbler up the first base line by one of the visiting team’s batters. The pitcher came off the mound to field it, bobbled it slightly, then flipped it to first, where it arrived at roughly the same time as the runner. Bang-bang. My arm went up. “Out.” Game over. Home team wins. But I knew immediately that I had blown the call, and I think everybody else did, too.

No arguments, though. I think the visiting coach figured it was about what he could expect from an ump in a ratty crop-top and bright red nylon short-shorts.

Besides, I just would have run away.

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