A Rookie's Perspective

After I signed up for the NHBUA Baseball Umpire Development Course in 1999, I received a letter welcoming me to the program. I looked at the schedule and saw that the course consisted of six Sunday training meetings with class time ranging anywhere from four to five hours. There was to be a weekend field evaluation test in late May and a "written test by invitation only" the first week in June. What caught my eye was that it wasn’t mandatory to attend every class.

"Piece of Cake. This should be a breeze." I’ll attend a few classes, but why should I have to attend every weekend?" After all, I’ve been around the game of baseball all my life. I played the game at the varsity level in a big city school; coached and umpired in Little League then saw the "real action" in coaching and umpiring at the Babe Ruth level.

"Yeah," I thought, "this should be real easy." Wrong!

The first thing that I will tell all Apprentices is to check your egos at the door! If anyone has a sensitive ego, then I strongly suggest you remain a coach or fan of the game and leave the umpiring to someone else. In order to make it through this course, you have to be prepared to work hard and take constructive criticism, direct and truthful. To successfully complete this course, you have to purge your brain of any preconceived notions of what you think umpiring is all about. Umpiring at the high school level in the Federation program can be challenging. The two man umpiring system is unique and requires hours of repetitious work. Mastering the "pivot" from the "A" position; watching the ball on a steal from first to second in the "B" position; watching the runner from the "C" position or calling a balk at any position. How about the proper "step and turn" technique on pick-off attempts when in the "B" and "C" positions? How do you work with your partner as the base umpire or the plate umpire? These are just some of the procedures you must understand and master in order to successfully complete the course, and that’s only the "tip of the iceberg".

 "Chest to ball…. Chest to ball" Keep your eye on the ball!" You’ll hear that a lot in the course. Sound simple? Wait until the action starts to fly around you. Learn the importance of "timing" when making an "out" or "safe" call. If you can’t master the timing of your "out" and "safe" calls on the field, you’ll have trouble passing your final field evaluation test. Everyone will screw up the timing of calls the first few times in live action. Don’t let a quick call embarrass you. Learn from your mistakes and put your field mistakes in perspective. It will only make you a better umpire. Remember that your apprentice games are all part of the training process, and the feedback you’ll get is designed to help you successfully complete the course.

Not everyone makes it through the course. You will make it through the course if you are prepared to work hard. I recommend you attend every class. The instruction is excellent and the umpires teaching the course have years of experience. Every instructor wants to see you succeed, but you’ve got to work hard for it. You’ll have the opportunity to umpire at least ten Junior Varsity games. If you have the opportunity to get more games from your Regional Assignor, get them. The more games you umpire, the more opportunity you’ll have to work on your field mechanics. A Field Evaluator will come to at least two of your games and give you a follow up verbal and written evaluation. The Field Evaluator is hired specifically to see you in action on the field. The Field Evaluator’s job is to pick apart every aspect of your field mechanics. Remember what I said about being sensitive? Well, this is the time to "zip your lip" and take the constructive criticism for what it is meant to be: "TO MAKE YOU A BETTER UMPIRE!"

You’re not alone out there. There are a terrific bunch of guys out there in the field ready to help you besides your field evaluator. Those guys are the umpires that are already certified and have great empathy for what you’re going through. They know the challenges you’re faced with because they were "rookies" once too. Every one of the members of the NHBUA wants the Apprentices to make it through the apprenticeship program. Seek their help during the game and listen to their suggestions after the game.

There is one last person out there who will help and guide you. That will be your "Big Brother". Apprentices will have a "Big Brother" assigned to them. Your "Big Brother" has years of experience. Take the time to watch him and his partner or anyone for that fact, in action at a Varsity level game. The more games that you attend observing experienced umpires in action, the better you’ll become.

Learn the rules. Federation rules are unique. Pay attention in class. You’re given plenty of opportunity to learn the rules. I recommend not only going through the rulebook, but also the casebook. Not only will it help you for your rules review test, but more importantly give you the confidence to make the right decisions on the field. Remember that you are the individual who’s expected to know the rules. Becoming the expert in the rules will keep you out of trouble and earn you respect from the coaches and the umpires you work with.

The instructors, field evaluators, the certified umpires that will be assisting you in your Junior Varsity games as well as your "Big Brother" are all there to help prepare you for your big weekend. FIELD EVALUATION WEEKEND. At this time, several instructors and senior umpires will evaluate you in two-action packed tournament games. You’ll be evaluated on your plate and base performance. This is "make or break time". Believe me, after close to two months of junior varsity games and classroom training, you’ll be ready for it. Just remember what you’ve learned and you’ll do fine.

Successfully completing your weekend field evaluation test earns you an invitation to take the written rules test the following week. The instructors assess all areas in both the field and written test to determine whether one passes the course or not. The field evaluations are critical and are more heavily weighted than the written test. Then you wait for "THE CALL".

It’s a great feeling when you get the call that you’ve passed. Everyone who enrolls in the NHBUA Baseball Umpire Development Course can successfully complete the course and experience that proud moment of passing. Work hard and commit yourself to the program, and I guarantee you’ll be wearing the proud symbol of the NHBUA.

Good luck, have fun, and enjoy the class.

Bill Jennings    Baseball Umpire Development Course, 1999