When I was 18 years old I stopped by the ball diamond to watch one of the youth group kids play summer baseball. The field, located beside Farmland’s Lion’s Club, was the perfect place for the fierce competition that occurred each summer. In fact, as a young boy I spent many summer nights on this same field. I wasn’t very good but, just like every other boy in town, I played summer ball.
I played (really it was more like I stood around) in right field because this is where the worst players were positioned. I didn’t know the rules, I couldn’t swing a bat and I wasn’t fast on my feet. But if you needed a place to hang out, the Lion’s Club was the spot. And on this day, under the hot sun, it appeared that everyone had turned out to watch the game.
Everyone but the 1st base umpire.
Apparently, they were short one ump. And for some reason that continues to elude me to this day, the coaches thought I would make a good Replacement Ref. Despite my strong protests and enthusiastic objections, they finally pulled me out onto the diamond. They explained that it was really very easy. All I had to do was watch the bag when a ball was hit. If the boy was safe they I would make that call by waving my arms to an outstretched position and yell, “SAFE!”. Or, if the boy was NOT Safe, I would jerk my thumb up in the air over my right shoulder and yell, “OUT!”. Very easy. Nothing to it.
However, with the first crack of the bat and the cheer of the crowd, I realized I was in over my head. I watched the bag. I caught site of the runner as he sprinted to first base. The short stop threw the ball like a bullet. In a flash, the runner’s foot hit the bag at the exact same time the ball hit the 1st baseman’s glove. Without even thinking and with all the gusto I could muster I threw my arms out to their full extent (the sign for safe) and yelled at the top of my lungs, “OUT!” (the call for out).
The boys stopped and stared at me. Coaches rushed the field. Parents threw things. Children cried. Dogs howled. And I walked away, thanking them for the exciting opportunity to serve my community and reminding them that I didn’t want to do this little gig in the first place.
Replacement Ref’s have it rough as evidenced by the NFL this season. And I feel for the guys (and one gal) who just tried to help out. They, like me, were in way over their heads. They didn’t ASK for the jobs. They were just trying to help out. And so, from one Replacement Ref to all of those who worked the games during the first three weeks of NFL football; Thanks for doing your best.
But don’t ever do it again, okay? Thanks.