There are few trees at Pioneer Park in rural Middleton, certainly none shading the baseball field from last Sunday's intense sunshine. Each gust of wind deposits gritty dust in my mouth, ears, even the corners of my eyes. I'm hot, thirsty and I have just punched out my 13-year old son.
I should clarify. After showing up early for a Babe Ruth scrimmage, I've been asked to serve as the home plate umpire. While the other dads lounge in their lawn chairs trading tubes of sun block for cold cans of beer, I'm dodging foul balls, continually adjusting an ill-fitting catcher's mask and crouching awkwardly over 250 times.
After watching my offspring foul a couple questionable pitches off, I briefly pause as he allows a fastball to cross the outside edge of the plate. A line from legendary ump Ron Luciano's memoir, The Umpire Strikes Back, echoes in my brain. "You're an umpire, not a fan! The only thing you root for is a quick game!" I call strike three, "punching" him out in baseball parlance.
When Keith Olbermann anchored ESPN's SportsCenter in the '90s, he would often dismiss a struck-out batsman with "You're not good!" and it feels like I have said exactly that to my own kid in front of his middle school pals and their parents. To his credit, he resists testing the fortitude of my catcher's mask with his bat.
For many more reasons than that, umpiring - or any sort of refereeing - is a hell of a job. After my experience, I think it should be mandatory for every coach and parent. When the ball hits the glove, it's either a ball or a strike and there's no do-over if the catcher blocks your view at the last second. It's the best view in the park, but calls get missed and striking out isn't the end of the world.
Right? Please tell me that striking out isn't the end of the world.