Meltdown Happening

January 10, 2010

So the last week and a half have been one whirlwind after another for me. With classes soon approaching, I have no idea what classes I’m taking, much less at what school, much less in what state. In the last 72 hours, I’ve gone from everything being taken care of to go to McNeese State in Lake Charles to now taking an impromptu trip to Tyler, Texas tomorrow morning.

So things are a bit hectic.

The last month has been busy enough as it is. I researched apartments, visited with advisors, arranged my financial aid, scouted various local sporting teams. Things were going well.

I spent all day Wednesday driving around Lake Charles and learning the different areas. You couldn’t get me to rent on the 5th avenue area for my life. Cars were on blocks. A hooker was outside one of the complexes with a cardboard sign. I ran a stop sign to get out of the area.

Closer to campus was a bit more friendly. I found a complex that I fell in love with, even if their idea of flooring is sealed concrete. It actually made it that much more interesting. As I continued past campus, I visited the high end apartments. Faking interest in them just to look around was a great waste of my time.

In the end, I sent in my application for housing to the one right across the street from campus. The building hadn’t even opened yet, but the community seemed close, and the buildings were all brand new. By Friday at 2pm, I had my application in and the deposit ready to go in the mail.

But then fun started. I’m not sure if the University of Texas at Tyler intentionally mailed their acceptance letter to me in an attempt for me to get it on my birthday, but if they did, I want to beat that person over the head with a baseball bat. While I’m sure that wasn’t their intention, I received the acceptance letter in the mail Friday at 4:30pm.

At first hearing this, you may say, well, you’re probably past the point of no return right? McNeese move in is a week from this and classes at UT-Tyler start this upcoming Monday. There’s no way you’ll be ready to go to Tyler in just 3 days.

Yeah, no. I spent the next 30 minutes of my Friday afternoon calling every office that was still open in Tyler. Admissions tells me I can’t register online and that I’ll have to late register on Monday at my advisor’s office. Great.

So I call my advisor’s office at the civil engineering department. The lady’s response to my telling her my story, "Oh, well, dear."

I told her, "I know," and she went to get the advisor’s office hours for Monday. Apparently he doesn’t have normal office hours on Monday so she had to set up a tentative appointment at the end of the day Monday.

So I’m driving up to Tyler, about a 5 hour drive, on Monday without any idea what’s going to happen.

Friday night was all about calming my nerves. Being my birthday, my two best friends took me out to Sherlock’s in Clear Lake and totally "alleviated" any concerns I had. After 8-9 drinks, I was just where I needed to be to forget all about Monday’s impending last-minute life decision.

Yesterday’s hangover didn’t help the situation, but it at least distracted me from thinking about things too much. Today, though, I’m hitting the googles hard trying to sort out a life in Tyler. I’ve gone through every academic information I can muster.

The good news is most of the classes I need and can get into still have a few openings, so I should be able to get into them – I’ll be attempting to at least sit through some of them tomorrow. The bad news is my transfer credit leaves me with a few oddly placed classes. I took a senior level course as a sophomore at Michigan (just differences in different schools’ teaching order) and I’m missing one course, Statics, that I really need to move on. Statics is basically a prerequisite for everything and I haven’t been able to take it since leaving Michigan.

More good news is that the couple of other courses I REALLY need to get out of the way are offered in the summer. There’s at least 2 classes I’ll be taking this summer, and that should get me caught up to graduate AT LEAST one year quicker at UT-Tyler over McNeese State.

The one year difference between out of state tuition fees and a year of tuition could save me over $20,000 dollars in debt. This is why I feel like the point of no return on going to McNeese hasn’t passed. So while things like having a University of Texas degree might be more valuable than a University of Louisiana (McNeese State is part of the UL system), just the overall cost saving and time saving measures make this headache well worth the initial mental suffering.

The rest of the day is going to be spent researching housing options around campus and even the greater Tyler area. My head is going 1000 directions and close to exploding. I’m just glad I’ve stopped yelling F@#$ every time I think about Monday.

More on this soon.


The Girlfriend Returns

August 7, 2009

The last nine days have been awesome. The girlfriend made her second documented visit, which went equally as pleasant as the first documented visit, if not better.  We did a little bit of traveling, plenty of finer food sampling, and few couples events that have me feeling way old.  This particular visit was particularly special, as it marked our one year point as a couple.

Early in the visit, we did plenty of traveling.  Day one saw a return to Galveston and its West Beach; we had visited during the previous trip.  This time the island appeared to had really cleaned up the place. In March, during her previous visit, there were still boats randomly placed along side streets in the center of the island.  There were traffic lights that were still off with temporary construction stop signs placed between lanes.  Even the beach showed signs of disrepair as the sand along the seawall was three feet thick and dropped in a steep step at the water’s edge.

This time the streets were clean and all of the signals we passed appeared to be going fine.  The bars along the beach all appeared to be reopened.  Even the sand had worked itself into a nice sandy slope.  It was nice.

The weather also played in our favor.  The temperatures outside were in the high 90s with heat indexes in Houston reaching about 103.  The wind at the beach, however, was blowing hard and steady, probably in the 20 to 25 miles per hour range, offering a nice break from the heat.

West Bound I-10

DSCN0001The following day, we made the trek west to San Antonio and its Riverwalk.  On the way, we made a stop in to the K. Spoetzl Brewery, home of Shiner beers.  The beer “fresh brewed with an attitude in a little town called Shiner” has one hell of a brewery. The place looked like the cleanest chemical production plant I had ever seen.  The best part of all of it, the tour is free and includes 4 free samples.

I heavily sampled the new Smokehaus variety, which is made by malt that was smoked bbq style behind the brewery.   The smoke flavor was very light, and the girlfriend could hardly taste it.  I thought it was a good summer beer, not too light. I just wonder if I wasn’t supposed to drink it at a slightly higher temperature for more flavor.

We both picked up a souvenirs.  I got a pint glass, one of the last 5 available to the public to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the brewery.  The girlfriend got a sweet fleece blanket that will show up later.

From the brewery, we headed back across US-90 and cut up TX-183 to Luling, home to the original Buc-ee’s.  I grabbed a Dublin Dr. Pepper, a bbq sandwich, and some jerky.  It was like heaven.

Night on the Riverwalk

I made the mistake of getting a hotel too close to the riverwalk.  It was way too expensive.  The hotel charged for everything they could get their hands on.  I get there and immediately they tell me they’re charging $16 dollars to my room because the valet is mandatory.  FTW!

Despite that, the rooms were damn nice and we were less than half a mile from everything.  We took the quick walk upon our arrival and walked the stretch of the river with the restaurants.  It helped clear up some space in my stomach.

After making the walk, we decided on a place for dinner.  She chose a Mediterranean style place that had some interesting dessert choices that were quite enticing.  Too bad we got the name mixed up.  Instead, we ended up at a faux-Mexican style place where we were way overdressed.

The service was horrible.  After being seated, it took 15 minutes for our waiter to even acknowledge us.  After that, we ordered drinks that took 30 minutes to make it 5 feet as we were just next to their kitchen where the bar was located (not a walk up bar). Another 30 minutes later we had to demand our check so we could leave.  I caught my waiter spitting ice out of his mouth and into his bare hands as he went to deliver drinks to a table.

The hour and fifteen minutes left us both so disgusted we decided to just head back to the hotel.  So on the way home, we stopped in at a Texas Wine store and picked up a bottle.  We got back to the hotel, had wine and turkey jerky, and honestly, it was probably the most awesome way to spend our one year recurrence (I won’t call it an anniversary).

Saturday in Gruene

The next morning we headed up I-35 to Gruene, Texas, home to legendary Gruene Hall, the Guadalupe River, and the Gristmill.  We arrived a little early to be seated for lunch so we made the rounds of the town of Gruene, taste testing all sorts of jellys and spreads, looking at ridiculously overpriced antiques, and smelling delicious delicious candies.

After an hour of building up hunger, we headed back to the Gristmill for lunch.  The place was still pretty empty being before noon, but we were able to grab some great seats inside where we could look out over the lower levels.  The restaurant is in the ruins of an old cotton gin facility, built into a hill overlooking the Guadalupe River.

The food and service were awesome and it really made up for the night before.  If you’re ever in central Texas… Gruene should be one stop you shouldn’t pass up.

Saturday Night Concert

After coming home for a few hours to recuperate, we headed back out again to the north side of Houston to the race track for a concert.  We showed up just on time for the concert, grabbed some beer (they ran out of the only not-so-shitty-non-light-beer… RABBLE RABBLE), and headed to the infield to the concert site.

The headliner for the show was the Counting Crows.  I like their old stuff, and their new stuff is okay.  They opened up with a few songs and had their opening act (Augusta) play songs peppered throughout the show.  Through the portion of the show we stayed for, I recognized two songs.  One was by Augusta.  The other was Long December being played after we were in the parking lot trying to avoid the many soon to be drunk-drivers on the road way.  I was a bit disappointed so few songs were the ones I knew.


The atmosphere was actually pretty sweet.  The infield was a huge improvement over how the race park used to have concerts.  The infield is much bigger than their sidelines, and the beer booths DSCN0086were much more accessible.

As far as the people at the concert, it was way different than my usual crowd at the race park.  Normally I go to Texas Country acts which draw the slight red-neck, beer drinking, cigarette smoking crowd.  This was a lot of couples mixed from 20 to 45 years old.  They were much more mellow.  Oddly enough, there were a lot more cops at this show than any of the previous shows I’d seen either.  Weird.

Sunday Night Couple’s Dinner

Here’s where I start to feel old.  On Sunday, the girlfriend and I spent the evening having dinner with a high school friend of the girlfriend – and her husband – and her baby – at their house.  It was weird.

While it was fun playing with their baby, it was so weird to know I’m old enough and involved enough with someone to be having the types of dinners where you go to another couple’s house.  It’s not a bad thing, just weird to be actually having them.

We did get a bottle of wine out of the trip though.  We brought the couple a housewarming gift (luckily not wine), and the couple decided to return the gesture by dumping a bottle of wine on us.  The couple doesn’t drink alcohol and was given it as another housewarming gift.  So bonus: give them some finer food, get some finer wine!

The Last Few Days

The weekdays brought less activity, mainly due to my class being right in the middle of the day.  We did manage to get out of the house on Wednesday though, including a trip to the Houston Zoo.

It hadn’t been to the zoo since I was probably 12.  It’s changed quite a bit.  No longer do they have rhinos, pandas, hippos, penguins, or nearly as many animals in the still existing exhibits.  I was really surprised at how little there actually was.

We spent most of our time in the reptile house and the “natural encounters” exhibit.  Both of those were air conditioned; it was ridiculously hot out and the Yankee girlfriend just couldn’t hack it.

Check out some of the pictures at the Photo Album above.

After the Zoo, we headed out a seafood dinner.  I guess it’s also worth noting that before dinner, we stopped at a Barnes & Noble across the street from our restaurant.  We found out the store is closing and about 85% of the merchandise was 40% off.  THIS WAS AWESOME.  I picked up 4 classic literature books for $20.  I could have bought the whole store if I had the money.  So if you’re in the Houston area, head to the B&N on S. Sheppard before everything disappears.

As for dinner, we did Pappa’s Seafood, which is just the right balance of casual and classy.  It’s a place you can go in casual clothes, but get the high class service and specialty seafood to make it feel well above a Chili’s or Olive Garden.  The girlfriend chickened out on having the lobster that was on special for $9.95 a pound (less than half the normal cost).  Apparently she felt the throwing of live lobsters in boiling water was just too weird.

As for me, I had the fried catfish and shrimp plate that was delicious.  The seafood menu was too limited at that particular Pappa’s that night.  Too many items were either blackened or nut crusted.  I prefer my fish grilled or pan seared, not blackened or baked.  It was delicious though.

Now the Wait

Now that she’s left, it’s going to be another 2-3 months before we get to see each other again… which sucks a lot.  If anyone needs a part-time intern in the Houston area, I’m definitely for sale.  I need money and work hard.  Hire me!  Please!

I’ve got a couple other articles to catch up on soon, including a mgoblog post or two.  Those should be out this weekend.

Today Sucks a Little Less

May 18, 2009

Two things made today better.

The first thing was getting back out on the volleyball court.  Volleyball has always been a weird fixation for me.  I thoroughly enjoy women’s volleyball as a spectator… who can beat a group of girls in spandex?  Men’s volleyball is awe-inspiring.  The height those guys get up to, and the ability to slam the ball so quickly much less dig it so quickly is impressive to say the least.  I’ve played volleyball non-competitively for about 8 years now and it’s probably my favorite sport to play now that my baseball days are over.

Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball, as close to porn as youll find in an XBOX game

Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball, as close to porn as you'll find in an XBOX game

I’m fairly versatile when we play pickup games.  I’m probably one of the better back row players out of my friends, including a pair of scholarship women’s volleyball players (in their defense, they are middle blockers/outside hitters–not DS’s– for their college teams).  I even played about 3 months of competitive volleyball in a men’s league. It was weird, 85% of players were homosexual. I did alright as a right side hitter. It was fun if not really awkward to hear my teammates’ stories about their night life. Definitely awkward.  They left me and the other straight kid on my team alone for the most part, and it was definitely welcome behavior.

The other thing that made today suck a bit less was booking a flight up to see the girlfriend.  It’s been 2 months since we’ve seen each other and its been a whole lot of suck in that time.  So Saturday I’m headed to New York state for some quality time with her.  Just knowing I’m going relieves so much stress.



The one problem I already see coming up is me missing the NCAA regional in Rice if it were to happen.  The way things fell apart for Rice last week, it may not.  I may try to catch a Syracuse Chiefs game though.  The Chiefs are the Triple A affiliate of the Nationals and has quite a few names I recognize on it.  Mike McDougal, Jorge Sosa, Lastings Milledge, Ryan Langerhans, and Pete Orr all ring bells from major league seasons past.  And can I say how awesome it is that their pitching coach is a backup catcher?

Excellent Thursday Night

March 19, 2009

Everything turned up roses tonight. We’ll take a quick run through the events.

Michigan Basketball

Winners.  First time in 11 years. It feels so good.  As a converted Wolverine fan around the age of 10 or 12, I was just learning about the Michigan teams in 1998.  When it comes to basketball, that was about the last time Michigan really meant something to college basketball.  Today, things changed.  Michigan not only made the tournament this year, but they started it off by upsetting 7 seed Clemson.

I missed the game, for reasons soon to be discussed, but I was obsessively checking in with ESPN mobile for score updates.  When the clock finally struck ZERO and the game was over, I got quite a few crazy looks from people around me.  I couldn’t keep that kind of excitement in me.  Michigan had won.  The ships are burned.  The boys are leaving nothing on the court.  It’s win or die for the rest of the tournament.

Headed on Down to the Rodeo

Rodeo season is still in full swing in these parts.  We’re getting down to the semifinals for most rodeo events now.  Last 4-8 guys in each category were competing for the final showdowns next week.

Bronco Riding

Bronco Riding

I had made one of the early rounds last week with the girlfriend, but I had missed out on the actual rodeo events.  Instead we did the ag thing, looking at animals, touring the shops, winning orange monkeys for playing ski ball… normal non-rodeo rodeo events.

This time it was all about the rodeo and the post-event concert.  My sister and I got to Reliant about 20 minutes early and hit up the BBQ and roasted corn aisle of the food tent.  Delicious stuff there.  From here we went into Reliant Stadium, home to the Texans and the Houston Rodeo.  We only missed on event, individual calf roping.

Hi, my name is Howdy Cloud.

Hi, my name is Howdy Cloud. I ride bulls.

The events went pretty well outside of team roping and bull riding.  In both events there weren’t enough competitors qualify on the leaderboard, so the placing for the semi-finals was left to money making.  The competitor who has earned the most money over the “Super Series” gets the benefit of the doubt to advance.  That seems like a pretty crappy rule to me.  If he gets a 0 for a score, but that’s good enough to tie for 4th, they should have some sort of a ride/rope off.  Match up the cowboys in a ring of fire to rope each other.  Last one standing advances.  That’d spice it up right.

Howdy Cloud advances despite not qualifying.  He's made some money previously.

Two guys advance despite not qualifying.

We did have a pair of minor injuries, both during steer wrestling.  For those of you unacquainted with steer wrestling, two horsemen race after a calf released between the two.  One guy stays on his horse trying to slow the calf while the other slides off his horse, grabs the calf by the horn, and has to flip the cow off its feet as quickly as possible.  Well, two guys had minor arm injuries for their effort.  One was stabbed by the horn on the bicep leaving a good bruise.  The other slid right off the calf and hyper extended his elbow.  Both cowboys were alright, but neither managed to take down the calf.

That last scooner didn't make the turn.  The Horse ended up alright.

That last scooner didn't make the turn. The Horse ended up alright.

The other event that took a mighty spill was the chuck wagon race.  In this event you have 3 wagons being pulled by 4 horses a piece.  As they go around corners, the wagons slide, but hardly ever flip over.  The wagons in this accident didn’t flip over, but the two horses closest to the wagon did get tangled up and fall to the ground.  The horse to the inside of the turn (on the left) was on the ground for a while, but a team of vets and cowboys were on the spot extremely quick and had the horse calmed within a minute of it being on the ground.  After a 4 or 5 minute delay, the horse was back on its feet and confirmed to be in good condition.

Mutton Bustin' provides great pictures. Just don't try strapping your four year old to a sheep anytime soon.

Mutton Bustin' provides great pictures. Just don't try strapping your four year old to a sheep anytime soon.

It was good for the horse, as I’d hate to think it was going to be headed to the hypothetical glue factory.  The worst part might have been the announcing during the break.  The rodeo itself is broadcast live on pay per view, and the announcers for that are also broadcast over the loudspeakers to the stadium.  To hear them kill 5 minutes was painful.  We got to hear about how infrequent these kind of spills happen, and how vets and pediatricians are the same because neither can talk to thier patients.  It was pretty horrible.

Pat Green

For those of you who don’t me, I’m a big fan of Texas Music.  It’s something of a mix of country, rock, rockabilly, zydeco, pop, blues, tejano, and whatever it is that anyone likes.  It takes a little bit of everything and adds a Texas twang to it.  Particularly, its about the songwriting.  One of the modern legends in Texas Music is Pat Green.

If that isn't a signature Pat Green pose, I don't know what is.

If that isn't a signature Pat Green pose, I don't know what is.

I’ve been a huge Pat Green fan since I discovered his music in 2002.  By then he had been in the business of entertaining Texans for quite some time.  His Three Days album was the first country album I ever bought.  For the longest time, the only thing I associated with country music was Billy Ray Cyrus.  My mother dearest took me to a Billy Ray Cyrus performance at the rodeo when I was 6.  I, to this day, still have trouble wearing plaid shirts or cut off sleeves.  I sure as hell can’t picture myself in boots or with long hair.

Working the crowd from the ends of the stage.

Working the crowd from the ends of the stage.

Pat Green is what got me listening to country music and actually liking it.  He sings songs that speak to me.  He sings songs about Texas.  The state pride goes a long way in these parts.  I’m a sucker for it, no doubt about it.

Today was my first time to see Pat Green live.  Everyone I know had already done it, including my sisters who hate country (my youngest sister is actually starting to even like Pat Green, too).  I’ve always been stuck in Michigan or Chicago during the “Spring Break Stampede” at the rodeo.  Michigan has spring break at least 2 weeks earlier than most Texas schools, and I was working through spring break last year. Even in high school, Pat Green tickets were worth way too much money for me to even contemplate going.  His ticket was always the number 2 seller right behind either George Strait (legendary) and Hannah Montana or the pop sensation of the time.  It just never worked out.

If you're gonna play in Texas, you've gotta have a fiddle in the band.

If you're gonna play in Texas, you've gotta have a fiddle in the band.

Today I’m proud to confirm that everything ever said about Pat Green’s showmanship is true.  The guy is all about playing to the crowd.  Unlike the Trace Atkins concert I saw with my girlfriend, Pat was out on the edge of the stage, he was adding in that extra little line to bring in the fans.  Pat was out their shaking his butt at the crowd just to keep them riled up.  He had the right joke at every right moment.  He played a good mix of new and old songs.  It was perfect….almost.

The one thing I still wish the rodeo did better was get fans closer to the stage.  Having the set up in the middle of a football field, a good 30-40 yards from the closest fan is a little bit of a let down.  Pat by far was the best at closing this gap, but it was still noticable.  I hope I may one day catch him at Greune (pronounced: green) Hall or Billy Bob’s Texas someday.  The dancehall shows are supposively a whole different monster in terms of awesome concerts.  Perhaps one day.

As for now, I’ve got to hit the shower.  Preview from IPFW before 3pm is the goal, but I’ve got lunch with the padre tomorrow, so I’ll be rushing it.


Weekend Stream of Conciousness

March 10, 2009

As of 6pm today, the girlfriend has returned to her home and I have returned to my regularly scheduled internet time.  It was a hell of a long weekend, which actually turned out really well.

While most of my time was spent here at home lounging with her, I did make it out to a few different things around town. On Saturday, the girlfriend, two other friends, and myself made the trek out to Saint Arnold’s Brewery on the northwest side of town.  I was surprised by the speed at which the lines were moving.  Last year when I went, I was only able to get 2 glasses of beer.  This year I was able to redeem all 4 beer tokens.  It was great.  I wish I had known that I had to have a Saint Arnold’s mug to get them to fill that.  They have a policy that if you buy one of their mugs, they’ll fill it up instead of the 1/2 pint glasses you get with the tour.  I brought mugs, but since they weren’t Saint Arnold’s, I had no luck.

After the brewery, I made my first trip to the rodeo this season.  This was the first Saturday of the 25+ day event, and Trace Adkins was the performer.  The place was packed, the music was meh, and the food was delicious.  I had some jerky, an onion blossom, and some other candy.  The girlfriend and I had the best time just walking the shops and animal pens.  Watching chickens hatch was her favorite activity, mine was listing all the ways I’d like to eat the animals.

Sunday, we spent a good part of the morning in Galveston at the beach.  There weren’t that many people down there this weekend.  I guess people didn’t want to mess with driving down I-45 since part of it is closed completely for construction.  After about 3 hours napping in the sun, we had to pack it up and head for home.  We did stop and step into the water for a second, it was so ridiculously cold my feet nearly cramped up.  I don’t know how those kids were playing in the water.  Crazy.

The reason we really had to make it home was my mother dearest planning a dinner with her parents and my girlfriend.  I really don’t enjoy spending time with my mother’s side of the family.  They are a bit honery and inquisitive; they just “grind my gears” sometimes.  Dinner actually didn’t go as bad as I (or either of my sisters, as they called me to wish me luck) had expected.  The grandparents didn’t go off on any ridiculous rants or discuss politics (thank god).  They really liked the girlfriend, so hopefully all is well there.

The rest of the weekend was lying in bed watching movies, so it was pretty uneventful.  Did watch the Big Lebowski again; that never gets old.  So now its off to bed.  Tomorrow during the day should be pretty light posting.  I’ve got an exam at 8am, I’m tutoring a friend in physics at noon, and will get home to relax and post later in the day (5pm? later?).  I’ve got quite a bit of baseball to catch up on, plus a preview of Arizona to work on.  Busy day or so.  This weekend looks fairly busy as its the last tournament weekend for umpiring.  My scheduler may have me work 4 games in a row on Friday.  If that happens, I may not be around too much.  Hopefully my writing gets better by the time I start to post more.  I can already look at this post and just tell it sucked.  Well, hope you at least enjoyed reading it… as pointless as it was.

YAY for spring break starting tomorrow at 4pm.

Busy Day

February 26, 2009

Today is a waste in terms of content. I had a pair of mid-day games at Bellaire (who doesn’t have an outfield fence). Summary: Westbury’s sophomore team is awful. They made 4 outs the entire game. Bellaire’s freshman team just let them come in and bat after scoring 10-12 runs each inning. We got 2.5 innings over 2 hours. I think the final was 28-0. Thank god for time limits.

Game 2 was a bit better. North Shore’s JV team played the same Bellaire team. I don’t know what the final score was, but I believe the Cardinals (Bellaire) won by a run or two. The North Shore team just looked pitted against each other. Their short stop was just moved down from the varsity team for poor fielding. He seemed like a poison to the rest of his infield.

We did have blood, too. The North Shore second baseman tried a Snoopy catch and was cut along his jaw. He ended up okay, I just think it’s odd that every other game I’ve umpired has had a kid leave the game due to injury. I certainly don’t remember people getting hurt that much growing up. Weird.

College Classic Weekend

Living in Houston does have some perks outside of just having 80 degree weather in February. One of these is the surplus of college baseball in the area. Outside of Rice and U of H, Houston also is the host of the Minute Maid College Classic. This year the 6 team field includes 5(!) top 10 teams. THAT’S AWESOME! I’ve got a couple games tomorrow (10am & 12pm), but as soon as I get out, I’m headed to the ball park to see some of the top teams at work.

Unfortunately, this will put me a little behind in terms of getting my previews and recaps out, but I think it would be beneficial to a future post I have planned discussing how Michigan compares to the rest of the nation. We’ll see.

For now I have a girlfriend I need to call. Catch up with you guys tomorrow.

Formerly Known As: 1st Day of Umpiring

February 14, 2009

After 4 weeks of classes reviewing the rule book and the basic 2-man mechanics, it was time to finally put the class to work today.  While the prospect of a Valentines Day marathon of umpiring was uninspiring to most of the guys involved, the day was just another day for me (don’t tell the girlfriend I said that).

The field work was held at Mayde Creek High School in Katy, way out on the west end of the Houston metroplex.  I had to leave the house almost 2 hours before start time just to make it on time.  I didn’t have much trouble finding the school, but thanks to a pit stop at Barcelona (specialty sporting goods), I ended up taking a wrong turn.  The entrance ramp from Gessner to I-10 doesn’t go to I-10, it goes to the beltway.  Three quarters of a mile and $0.75 exiting toll later, I get turned back around and on my way.

Mayde Creek’s field was really nice.  It’s outfield didn’t have that “this used to be pasture” look, the mounds were steady and without divits, and most importantly, they had prisitine dirt base paths.  You have to admire a field with well groomed base paths.  They are slowing growing less and less common in the high school game as coaches take the easy way out by growing grass between the plate and the bases.  I hated that Coach Pardo brought those to my high school my junior year.  Coach Thompson was all about the baselines, and it may have been one of his most redeeming qualities.

Upon arrival, the Mayde Creek freshman team had just begun their scrimmage, about an hour earlier than scheduled.  Our lead instructor broke us into groups.  My group was sent to the visitors bullpen down the left field line.  Here, the visiting team was coerced into having a pitcher warm up throughout the game.  I don’t blame them if they’d done that anyways, as they were losing by 12 in the 3rd inning.  At this station, we covered basic stance mechanics such as foot positioning, hand positioning, timing, and tracking.  I probably got more out of this station than any other, if for no other reason that it was my first experience behind the plate.  The kid throwing was definitely young and inexperienced.  He had two pitches hit me (yes, I was the only one hit by stray balls in this station), one on the inside of the thigh, the other off my shoulder.  The kid threw so softly that it almost felt as if someone threw an empty water bottle at me.  So it wasn’t nearly as bad as it sounds.  The one on the thigh scared the crap out of me nonetheless.  Anything hitting me that close to the cup tends to send shivers down your spine.

After that station, we went to the plate on the field.  Each umpire in our group was responsible for 3-4 batters.  When my shift came up, it started with a bang:  the bang of a ball hitting my first batter.  I called time, awarded him first base, and everything is going like normal.  Then fun happens.  The defensive coach comes out of the dugout lamenting that the batter didn’t make an effort to get out of the way.

Its important to note that by current NFHS (high school) rules, a batter MUST try to get out of the way of the ball.  The kid in this game strode forward, twisted his hand up in front of his face, and tried to bail.  His reaction was way too slow and he was hit in the arm.  I gave the coach the ol’ “he was protecting himself because he didn’t react fast enough” line.  The great part about using the word “protecting” is coaches can’t argue that.  The current high school game is so protection conscious that it almost detracts from the game.  The coach just muttered “oh, protecting…” and returned to the dugout without any more to say.  I guess he just saw me being one of the young guys on the field and tried to pick on me.  Plan failed.

The next station was less structured.  We had one of the old timers walk us through a pregame plate conference.  That lasted 5 minutes.  The rest of the time was the group shooting shit with the old man while we watched the game.  The old codger was quite cool and had some weird stories to tell.

We moved from there to field umpire mechanics.  The guy working this station is generally a bit too serious.  Not like overwhelmingly, but sometimes he just sounds angry.  We discussed how to set yourself up for force plays at first and how to pivot properly when a ball is hit to the outfield.  As soon as the ball is hit, the umpire finds its location then sprints toward the back of the mound.  He must pivot in the infield grass to watch the runner touch first, then prepare himself to reach the half way point between the mound and second base for a potential play there.  There is actually a lot more involved to the field umpire than many give them credit for.  I think I’d almost rather be behind the plate.

I didn’t get to work on my mechanics for runners on 1st or on 2nd though.  Normally there the field umpire lines up on one side of the pitchers mound on the infield grass.  I’m going to have to pay extra special attention to make sure I pick up on that in my next scrimmage.

From this point, we just messed around down the right field line for the rest of the game.  Many of the instructors had to leave to cover other scrimmages, and eventually I joined them.  Two umpires cancelled on a game at Cy-Ridge and the early crew needed replacements.  Another rookie and I headed over and jumped in their places in the 2nd inning.  Some of the parents expressed joy in knowing the current plate umpire was getting the hook.  That made me feel good.  The coaches were really laid back as well, so it made the transition into the game comfortable.

The game was a Varsity game, which will be one of the few I have a chance to umpire this season.  As a rookie, all my regular season games will be JV, sophomore, or freshman level.  I was actually surprised to learn the teams were varsity level after about an inning of calling the game.  All the kids playing were so small.  I should have guessed by the pitching that it was varsity though.  While none of the pitchers blew me (or the batters) away, they were a lot  more consistent than the scrimmage I was taking part of earlier at training.

I was behind the plate for this one.  I figured I would keep working on my strike zone.  While I’m not quite there yet in terms of being consistent, I can already tell I’m getting there.  My partner was a good help.  He tried to point out the things I missed, and for the most part, the two of us did very well.

One coach did start questioning my strike zone in the late innings.  His catcher was lining up off the plate… well off the plate, and the pitcher was hitting his spots very well.  The coach kept asking the catcher where he was lined up, insinuating that I was squeezing the outside corner.  While I admit here that I may have missed one or two, it was really the catcher’s fault.  The stupid catcher kept saying “I’m on the corner.”  Wrong answer Bubba.  You were 8 inches outside.  The coach asked me about it between innings, and obviously not thrilled about it. I told him one, maybe two were borderline.  He bought it.

I like that coach much more than the other.  The other coach got pissed at me when I called time right as the pitcher broke his hands from the set.  I thought I got it off early enough, but the pitcher stopped half way through the motion.  The coach gave me the normal “protection” meme when barking about hurting the kid’s arm by calling it that late.  Like I said, I don’t want to argue the protection, but I thought I got it off early enough.  It’s another thing I’m just going to have to work on.

The game went pretty well.  Both teams had some big innings.  I don’t know what the final score was, but I think Cy Ridge might have won.  It was really hard to tell as the scoreboard wasn’t on and it’s immensely difficult to think about score when umpiring.  It was hard enough keeping up with my clicker for the count.

I noticed at the end of the game I started making my calls before the ball crossed the plate.  I’m going to need to work on this too.  It was predominately on balls that were no where near the plate, but the occasional strike call came early too.  I’m also having trouble working with yelling the correct verbiage on foul balls.  I called a foul tip on a play that I shouldn’t have, and I stuttered over yelling “FOUL!” when I was thinking about saying “FOUL BALL!”  Once I get into the habit of doing just one I should be fine.  Speaking of getting into good habits, I need to work on my strike call… especially strike 3.  I’m not quite flashy enough.  Occasionally I need to sell it.  I’m not doing a good job of doing it crisply yet.  That should come with time.

So that was day one as an umpire.  Day two will come next week as I’m working the Bay City at Angleton scrimmage on Friday.  I may post something if it gets interesting.  I’m going to try to work the field so I can get comfortable with calling outs, timing of my calls,  knowing my positions, and working on angles I take to plays.