Saturday, December 8, 2012

A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again

I'm trying something new here...using titles of David Foster Wallace works to title my blog posts in an effort to direct misguided souls to my blog through search engines.

I can't do that with a good conscience. So for those of you who came here looking for DFW's article by that name, here it is. I do like that article. Next to his essays on Roger Federer and Consider the Lobster, A Supposedly Fun Thing is my favorite thing DFW wrote (I'm no fanboy. I couldn't get through Infinite Jest and dumped it on my oldest son so that his bookshelves can be all hipster looking).

I digress (although I will be writing about books in the very near future). This post isn't about books or reading. It's about another baseball thing (the first being fantasy baseball) I did this year that seemed like it might be fun (it's baseball after all) and just wasn't.

This spring I was a Little League umpire. My youngest son played and there was a lack of people who were willing to umpire. The league had had a good set of umpires for a while but the kids aged out of the league and their father's left with them.

If there's any way to get me to do something, it's to let me know that no one else is interested in doing it and that there will be absolutely no way to make a dime from taking part in the activity (see being webmaster for a children's choir, heading a historical society, serving as a stream monitor, being a small-town public librarian and literally dozens of other endeavors throughout my lifetime. When it comes to secrets of being broke, I have all the tips). No one else wanted to do it. I know baseball. I was going to be at my son's games to watch him anyway. I agreed to umpire my son's games if they found that they didn't have someone else to do them.

Well, that turned out being almost every game in which he played. That wasn't bad in theory. Again, I was planning on being in attendance. Also, these were 11 and 12-year olds. They can actually play the game. It looks like baseball. It feels like baseball. Some of the good pitchers are fun to watch.

That was a big key for me. I love watching good pitching. My son's team had two good pitchers so most of the time, they were fun games to do. As a matter of fact, the whole team was really good and they went a long time before they lost a game. And no, you cynics, it had nothing to do with my being behind the plate for them. Over the course of the season I received many kudos (versus maybe two or three criticisms) from all the teams, coaches and parents for my umpiring.

Sounds good so far, right? Why wasn't it fun? Well, in addition to every game of my son's, there was also that two-day tournament to open the season that also involved younger kids' teams which they tried to have two umpires for each game. I umpired six games over the two days, five behind the plate. Then I found myself filling in for other games, including the younger kids. Those games aren't as much fun. The pitching distance is a little more challenging and so there's a lot more pitches and a lot more walks and a lot more squatting.

My right knee has some loose bodies in it and squatting during the tournament left me in pain with swelling for some time. I changed to a lunge for the rest of the season which was much easier on my body and also made me better able to get my 6'4" frame into the 9-10 year old strike zone better.

But it wasn't the physical aspects that made it a lousy experience either. The knee problem went away after a couple of weeks. The sunburn didn't bother me much. People approved of my performance. What made it so bad?

I hate calling kids out. They're all trying their hardest. They're trying to learn the game. I've been around a lot of these kids for years between baseball, school activities and working at the library. One of the few complaints I had came when I called a kid named Caleb, one of my favorite kids in the world, out on a play at the plate (in a younger age group game). Caleb is well-mannered, works hard, and is a heck of a ballplayer. I've rooted for him. But he was out. His Dad, who I thought highly of until this play, came down from coaching first to argue that he was safe. The only way I would call Caleb out would be if he was out and he was out. I hated to do so. He had hustled his way down the line to make it a close play but he was out.

In another game of the younger kids, a kid tipped a ball that slowly rolled down the first base line. The kid, trying to be helpful, went over and picked up the ball before it had stopped rolling. I had to call him out as it still had a chance to roll fair.

And then there was my son. My son who shows tremendous patience at the plate without having a strong sense of the strike zone. I had to ring him up on strikes with a full count in the final inning of the championship game which his team lost 1-0. I was sick. I was thinking the whole time, "Do not look at the pitch. Swing no matter where it's at". He didn't. It was a strike. He was mad at me forever.

I hated close plays. Not because of the possibility of getting it wrong but because you had two kids trying hard to make the out/be safe and someone had to lose out.

So despite getting to watch some ball games from a great location, I just can't do it anymore. I could possibly see myself umpiring adults but I have no desire to umpire Little League games ever again. Even if no one else will do it and I have to pay for the privilege of umpiring, they're still not getting me to do it.

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