I am the world's greatest umpire.
This is not a matter of dispute, it is a fact. I have empirical evidence of my prodigious umpirical (not a word) ability. For, you see, in all my long days of pacing the diamond and passing down judgment on the rules of the game, I have never once gotten a call incorrect.
Granted, it's a small sample size -- very small; one, actually -- but I'm claiming it anyway. Take that.
I've always been fascinated by what drives someone to become an umpire. To become the nameless, faceless guy who only ever becomes known if he screws something up massively. I mean, if it weren't for Armando Galarraga's blown perfect game a couple of years ago, nobody would know the name of umpire Jim Joyce.
So, being the absurd glutton for punishment that I am, I decided to take my first step into the umpiring universe, moving right into the white-hot pressure cooker of ... a youth baseball game that, for all intents and purposes, might well have been an exhibition.
Thanks to the folks at the Amsterdam Youth Baseball League, I suited up -- OK, I put on golf shirt and my least ratty pair of jeans -- to umpire the bases for a recent Fall Ball game at Isabel's Field.
My goals for the night were simple:
1) Make it look like I have some idea what the rules of baseball are.
2) Not to get into any soap opera-esque shouting matches with parents or coaches.
3) Not to make a hideously terrible call that would surely ruin the life of the poor 10-year-old I'd so badly wronged.
As neither I nor any of the players left the field that night in a quivering pile of tears, I'd like to think I checked all three boxes.
My immeasurable thanks go to my partner for the night, home plate umpire Joe Bellardini, who kept things simple for me. A veteran ump, Joe let me know exactly where I needed to be in every situation and what calls I needed to concentrate on. He even gave me a convenient signal every time the infield fly rule was in effect.
Thankfully, as Fall Ball is only slightly more competitive than a game of kickball at recess, I didn't need to worry about the balk rule. This was a good thing, as the extent of my knowledge of the balk rule stops at knowing that if a pitcher falls down in the middle of his delivery, that's probably a balk.
Also, these young kids balk 85 percent of the time with runners on base.
I was dealing with plays on the base-paths, and as the particular game I was umpiring consisted almost exclusively of walks and strikeouts, I didn't have that many calls to make. Mostly, I stood on the infield grass hoping that I'd remembered to turn my cell phone to vibrate so that the theme to "Batman Begins" didn't interrupt some poor kid's at-bat.
When the time did come to make a call, I'd like to think I did pretty well. In the top of the first inning, there was a foot race to the bag at first. The first baseman got there a blink before the run, and I made the "out" call.
Not having been hit with a stray soda can or soft pretzel, I settled in for the night.
There were a couple of close plays -- a bang-bang play at first following a long throw from third stood out, but when I made my "safe" call, the coaches threw their heads back in the air, but quickly nodded at me. It was close, and they were disappointed, but they weren't about to throw a tantrum.
Score one for Western civilization.
When the night was over -- Who won? No idea. There was an orange team and a yellow team, and they blended together after about 20 minutes -- Bellardini gave me his assessment. I'd gotten all my calls right, he said, though my instinct looked to be to make the call quickly, rather than wait a second to see if a fielder dropped the ball or stepped off the bag.
I chose not to hear the second part.
Conclusion? I am the greatest umpire in the world.
* * *
ADAM SHINDER is not, in fact, the
world's greatest umpire. Soda cans can
be digitally lobbed at his head over