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David Martin: Umpiring proves rewarding, fun as you field insults

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David Martin

"You're the worst umpire I've ever seen," a ballplayer once told me.

Most umpires hear something like this at one time or another. We are tempted to reply, "Well, you haven't been around much." But we don't. That could be considered disparaging to fellow officials.

While umpiring adult slow-pitch softball in Denton and all over Texas, I have heard lots of disparaging remarks such as, "You need to read the rulebook." Usually, the person saying this doesn't even know the color of the rulebook. Umpires actually do read the rulebook -- many times.

Another player once told me, "You cost us that game." Not surprisingly, this was after his team lost by 10 runs. Obviously, these players had not read the words of Joe McCarthy, Hall of Fame Yankees manager, who said, "Don't fight with the umpires. You can't expect them to be as perfect as you are."

Umpires have heard it all.

"You can't be serious!"

"You blew that one!"

"Call it both ways!"

David Martin
David Martin

Again, we are tempted to respond, but don't. For example, when our eyesight is questioned, we would like to say, "The sun is 91 million miles away and I can see it perfectly." (An old umpire joke.) And one of my favorites, "I would like to agree with you, but there is no point in us both being wrong." Better left unsaid.

Umpiring is a fun avocation. And the players have fun. Most of the time. Ever seen a grown man have a temper tantrum? I've seen it more times than I can count. I have received a "belly bump," had a rock thrown at me, been cursed at, been insulted, had dirt kicked on me, had complaints filed against me, and been threatened with bodily harm. Yes, all for a game that is supposed to be played for exercise and fun.

I once saw a player execute a perfect slide into second base. When he stopped sliding, he was about six inches short of the bag and was tagged out easily. I had to signal "out" quickly and walk away so he wouldn't see me smile. Oh, well. As they say, "The older I get, the better I was."

We joke that one of the worst things an umpire can hear is, "I've never played catcher before. Where do I stand?" In this case, we don't have a catcher. We have a retriever. (They miss the ball, then retrieve it from the backstop.)

Some of my fellow officials have done and said things that I will always remember with a smile. Once, I noticed an umpire working a game in his house shoes. When asked about it, he said he usually left his umpire shoes in the car but forgot them this time. Another showed up at the ballpark, reached into his backpack and unrolled his uniform shirt. It looked like he had slept in it (several nights).

Once, I heard a player yell, "Hit it here, man. Hit it here." This player happened to be a Special Olympics athlete. This enthusiasm is fairly typical of these athletes who give 100 percent and are models of sportsmanship. I have had the privilege of officiating dozens of Special Olympics tournaments all across the U.S., and it would be hard to find something more enjoyable.

I have been a registered USA Softball (formerly ASA) umpire for 39 years and been involved in many national tournaments, but the Special Olympics (national and international) tourneys have been the most rewarding. I encourage everyone to be involved in this organization every chance you can.

Umpiring has allowed me to make a lot of friends, travel to places like Yale, Notre Dame and UCLA, and meet interesting people, including an occasional celebrity. I once had a great conversation with Walt Garrison as we were waiting for an event to begin. In 1987, I umpired a celebrity game with players John F. Kennedy Jr. and Mary Lou Retton, among others.

There is a great need for umpires and referees at all levels. If interested, contact your local parks and recreation athletics director.

But remember, as National League umpire Ed Vargo once said, "An umpire is supposed to be perfect the first day of the job and then show constant improvement."

Amateur umpires don't usually officiate for the pay and certainly not for the prestige. We do it to give back to the game and to help others play safely and fairly.

DAVID MARTIN has lived in Denton for 35 years and umpired softball for 39 years. He has volunteered for 40 years with the Special Olympics. You may email him about officiating or the Special Olympics at sbumpire49@verizon.net.