11/19/06 1:25 AM ET
Experience leads to newfound respect
MLB.com's Steve Gilbert spends final day at Umpire Camp
By Steve Gilbert / MLB.com
LONG BEACH, Calif. -- Today was the final day of Umpire Camp, but for some of my classmates, their umpiring education is just beginning.
A handful of them will head to one of the two umpire schools in January, and if they are among the top 50 or so out of about 300, they will head off to the rookie and short-season leagues on a long, slow climb to the big leagues. I wish them all the best. They worked hard this week and welcomed an interloper like myself with open arms.
While they moved on, I had just one last day of work behind the plate and on the bases before I move back up to the security of the press box where the game moves far slower than it does on the field.
That being said, I felt far more comfortable on the field today than I did yesterday. Now, I didn't say that my performance was better, just that my comfort level was higher. The first time I went behind the plate I was very unsure, but today I knew what to expect.
It was a relatively uneventful half-inning. I called a guy out on strikes, but that was about it. Speaking of which, my strike calls were not emphatic enough during the game, which is important because as I learned this week, presentation means so much.
If you go out on the field with bad body language, if you look or sound meek when making calls, you may still get the call right, but your chances of having people on the field believe in that call are not good.
The bases were pretty quiet as well. I certainly felt a lot more confident in terms of where I was supposed to go and where my responsibilities were.
There were no simulated arguments during the week, but ejections and dealing with irate managers and players was covered in the classroom. Veteran umpire Larry Young was asked about dealing with a pitcher that stares in after a pitch he thought was a strike instead was ruled a ball. Young said that rather than angrily confront the pitcher, he often times tells the catcher to go out and talk to his pitcher about it.
Of course there have been some legendary manager-umpire confrontations over the years, but at the Major League level these days, the umpires are far less confrontational, or as Young put it, "As an umpire, you have to be above that."
The training for that begins in the Minors, where umpires are not allowed under any circumstance to swear during an argument with a manager.
We wrapped up the classroom portion of camp in the morning with a presentation by former Minor League umpire and current financial planner Jack Oujo. Jack explained all the different expenses that amateur umpires can write off on their taxes, as well as some do's and don'ts when it comes to preparing for retirement.
Looking back on the week, they really packed a lot into it. Everything from the two-man umpiring system, to health and fitness, to how to handle ejections to financial planning. It's hard to imagine that they could have provided a more well-rounded education in such a short period of time. I know my classmates that are headed to umpire school will have a huge advantage over everyone else.
As for me, I was thankful for the opportunity to be at the camp and learned to look at the game from a completely different perspective. I wish all fans could have this type of experience and get to know some of the big-league umpires. If they did, I guarantee that while they would still boo them -- what fun would it be if you couldn't, right? -- they would certainly see them differently.
After all, these are guys that have slogged through the Minors for little pay and lots of headaches. And we're not just talking about a couple of years or even five, but in a lot of cases, 10. And once they make it to the big leagues, they are evaluated every game, whether by Questec or supervisors in the stands. Imagine a camera sitting just above your chair at the office watching and critiquing your every move.
And then, when you think about all the time they spend away from their families during the season and the physical grind of squatting 300 times in a game and having to be on top of your game on every play, you start to get the picture.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying you should have sympathy for these guys, because it's the career that they have chosen. Just a little well-deserved respect would go a long way.
Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.