Here in the Houston area, after the high school season is over, the teams send off their seniors, and the underclassmen engage in the Mickey Mantle (16 and under) and Connie Mack (18 and under) leagues to get extra work in. No lineups are kept. Rules are loosely enforced (at least the time out and substitution rules). Everything is supposed to be laid back – supposed to be.
This week was the start of the summer season. I’ll be the first to admit it’s been 2 or 3 weeks since I’ve umpired a game. I was worried I’d be a bit rusty, especially when my first game is at the Connie Mack level where most pitchers were varsity level. I’ve only called 4 varsity level games in my life, the pitch speed is a good 5-8 miles per hour faster. That’s a pretty significant difference.
Monday, the first double header of the week, was hot. Temperatures were in the mid 90s to start the game, plus another 5-10 degrees of heat index on top of that. The field is the hottest field in the district, sitting in a hole in the ground, the wind is blocked by the stands. It was hot. The games went fairly well. I got to do the game with a friend of mine. The guy’s kid played baseball with me at my high school and graduated the year after me. He and his dad are good people. The game went really well. I had the first game on the field, and got to work into a groove early.
The home field fans were sparse, but their coaches were plenty vocal. Luckily, they were vocal in a positive way. These dads were just there to have a good time. One of them is “that old guy that comes to every game for the last 10 years.” He kept me and my partner entertained.
The games went pretty slow, but the good news is summer ball has a strict hour-45 time limit. The kids sure as hell didn’t want to be there, so they tried to rush through things as first as they could. The bad news was the mosquitoes. With the wind being non-existent, mosquitoes were running rampant. I ended up with bites all over me. In the end, the game wasn’t too bad. The home team swept.
Tuesday was much the same, but it was with Mickey Mantle players. The visiting team I had already umpired 3 or 4 times during the regular season, so I knew what was coming when I got there. They were a streaky bunch with a couple of the hispanic stereotype players that dominate the lineup. They had the tall lanky short stop, the short stocky third baseman, the giant first baseman, the scrappy catcher, and the bulldog pitcher. A couple of them will be really good by their senior years as they keep growing. Unfortunately they are all a bit small, especially when compared to the home team.
The home team is your stereotypical suburban baseball power. The kids all play select ball during the offseason, including weekends during the summer high school season. These kids were all incoming freshman, but they played much better as a team than the visiting team of sophomores. The games played close and quick. The wind was blowing pretty steadily during the first game when I was behind the plate. The cool weather (read: 92 degrees with a 10mph wind, which is cooler than it sounds) was great and kept my mind of heat the whole game. The wind died in the second game, but by then, the sun had already set, offering some relief. Mosquitoes made their way to the field when the wind died down. They weren’t too bad, but I did get a couple more bites.
The first game went quick, but the field crew couldn’t get the field set up fast enough for the second game, so started the second game on time. That game went much slower. The visiting team isn’t stocked with pitching and walks started to become way too common. The home team swept again.
Wednesday, well Wednesday happened. I got my truck looked at today, it’ll cost $475 to get it fixed. That puts me at $-195, or is it -$195, of income on the night. I’m somewhat interested if I can claim my truck being fixed as an on-the-job expense for tax deductions. The keying is under investigation by the league and umpire association. I’m not planning on getting it fixed until after I umpire my games in Santa Fe, in case it happens again. If it does, I’m not sure what I’ll do… this sucks.
Thursday was redeeming. I went to the site extra early as I had a errand to run early. I got to the field about an hour before first pitch. I managed to get a parking spot well away from fans (hey Dawson HS, get a clue), and my partner showed up just 5 minutes after I did. We get set, head out to the field to see if we can start early, and what-do-you-know… we start 10 minutes early.
I was behind the plate for game one. This field plays a little hot, but wind managed to infiltrate the stadium and keep me cool. The bigger boon for me was the pace of the two pitchers. The home team pitcher was almost quick pitching, but he paused just enough for me not to call it. The home team also restricted their pitchers to just fastballs and change ups. This means almost everything was a strike. The visiting team pitcher was moving quick too. His command was great until the 4th inning, but that didn’t matter – we had played 4 scoreless innings in an hour. I’ve never had a game go that fast.
The scoring got started late, but the game kept moving. The fifth inning was the fastest 3 run inning I think I’ve ever seen. The home team scored 3 runs and made 3 outs in less than 7 minutes. It was beautiful. The game ended up 8-7 in favor of the home team (acting as the visitors as we switch in these double headers). We finished the game right at the time limit.
After switching gear out, we got the second game started 15 minutes early. This game wasn’t as pretty. The home team scored 6 runs in the bottom of the first off a lefty that I’ve umpired before. The kid isn’t a great pitcher, he quits at the first sign of trouble, but his high school coach thinks he should keep pitching just because he’s a lefty. The coach left him in though, and let him go another inning to give up a total of 8 runs. Those would be the only runs of the game as the home team run ruled 8-0 in 5 innings.
The good news, the last pitch was at 9:01, a whole 45 minutes before a normal time limit would kick in. I got home well before the game should have ended. On top of that both myself and my partner got ample support from the crowd for our excellent calls and strikezones. It was perfect. There wasn’t any negative talking between teams, there weren’t any ejections, my truck is still keyed, but at least there wasn’t anything new. The day was good.