Balls and strikes
Jerry Crawford and Richie Garcia were everything I had heard … and then some. They were blunt, honest, hands-on, and they learned our names. But what struck me was their attitude toward the campers and toward instruction. They focused on the basics but didn’t make an umpire feel like a complete idiot.
My group worked with Jerry on Friday and Sunday, and Richie on Saturday. Jerry focused on what was appropriate for the umpire. For some guys, he emphasized locking into position. In fact, for most of the umpires in my group he spent time teaching them how to lock in consistently and set the “tripod” in the same position for every pitch. For those who already had a good, consistent locking mechanism in their stance, he would work on other major problems.
Aside – The instructors used the camera metaphor frequently throughout the camp. Getting set was referred to as "setting up a tripod"; "seeing the play" was the equivalent of taking a picture. They are good metaphors and extremely accurate in describing the events that occur.
I was extremely impressed when Jeff Marts and another 16-year-old beginner received as much attention from the instructors as did the other students. Heading to camp, I had an unspoken apprehension that Jeff might get somewhat lesser instruction since he works only “small ball.” That was not the case. Richie actually took extra time to work with Jeff, who learned how to get locked in. He did an excellent job tracking pitches all the way into the glove, even better than I did.
I don’t have a problem getting set, largely because I use a bastardized version of the GD stance. I noticed several other umpires using that stance. By bastardized, I mean that I place my exposed arm across my belt line and keep the other arm behind the catcher, locked and resting on one knee. That modification satisfies my only major problem with the GD; i.e., a fastball can easily snap an exposed forearm. That quasi-GD stance feels good. I am able to relax, and I feel comfortable. Now I focus on calling my game, not playing dodgeball.
Editor's note: We all wear a chest protector ... and shin guards ... and face mask. The chest protector has attachments that protect our shoulders and upper arms. Yet when I announced in The Forum that I wear forearm protection (because I, too, use the GD stance, and I, too, don't like to get hit), the laughter was loud. And ignorant! Modifying the set position, as Alan describes, mitigates against the major advantage of GD, which is the umpire locks in at the same spot using his skeletal, not muscular, structure. Hey, Alan: Wear forearm guards, and you'll be ok.
Another guy in our group, not from Arkansas, also used a version of the Gerry Davis stance because, he said, “I saw it on ESPN one day during an MLB game and decided that I could get better stability that way.”
I did get some good tips on head height/position and depth behind the catcher. Calling ball with poor catchers taught me to set up deep in order to give me maximum time to protect myself. The instructors argued that was a bad habit that contributed to inconsistency. I set up so deep that I couldn’t see the outer half of the plate.
While those were great tips about things that I needed to work on, I feel that one of my greatest weaknesses is I tend to get tunnel vision. I expected a tip or correction of some type during the pitches that I didn’t track the ball. Unfortunately, I didn't get any such instruction.
Only two students in the class did not use the box stance; instead, they used a brutally ugly form of the scissors. Their stance looked much like one of those two-wheeled scooters that are all the rage with the kids. As for their balance, I’ve seen more steadiness at a frat party on Friday night after the keg has been floated.
Richie and Jerry both harped on this point: “If you are going to use the scissors, do it correctly.” Then they both worked with those students to get them balanced, focused, and working properly.
If you go to the 2006 camp, take your videotape. Each umpire is offered the opportunity to have his cage work taped by the camp staff. Do it! It will cost you around $30. But it will be well worth it.
Jerry and Richie wear mikes, so the instruction you receive is recorded on your videotape. Monitors and VHS players are available if you want to review your tape from day to day. I didn’t look at my tape until I returned home; and when I did, it proved a great refresher for me. I also noticed something that Jerry didn’t point out. My open elbow (left for a right-handed batter) was exposed because I wasn’t tucking my arm in tightly enough. Leaving that elbow exposed like a chicken wing will get me more time on the DL.
Our association intends to make a highlight video of all the umpires in our group and use it for instructional purposes.
Expectations vs. reality
Talking with several members of our group on the way home, I discovered the consensus was: We all enjoyed and learned from Jerry and Richie, but we expected more instruction on plate work.
Brian commented: “I was disappointed that we didn’t get any direction on tracking the ball, nor did we receive any kind of demonstration of proper plate mechanics before getting in the cage.”
I agree with him. I received great help on getting set. And yes, I do know that most amateur umpires struggle with that problem. But the plate instruction concentrated on the things that "look" wrong, like head height, depth behind the catcher, and locking into position. But just "looking professional" won't help you track that pitch from the release point to the catcher's mitt.
Even with that caveat, we agreed that Tony and his staff are doing good things. Jerry and Richie seemed to fill a novelty role at camp; their war stories kept us constantly amused. However, they did take an active part in the instruction.
Join me next time for a wrap and more final impressions from the group.
Alan Roper, a relatively new official, has been calling baseball and football since 2001. He tells us he is constantly seeking to learn new things and help others avoid his mistakes. When not on the football or baseball field, you can usually find him standing over a grill cooking for friends and family. You can reach Alan at firstname.lastname@example.org
Reprinted with permission from officiating.com
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