Commonly asked questions about umpire school.

1.  Did you have fun?  Oh, hell yeah.  Umpire school is one of those all-encompassing vacations where you’re engaged both mentally and physically.  It isn’t relaxing, per se, but it is calming to focus on only one thing every waking moment.

2.  Are umpires required to vocalize ball and strike calls, or is a hand signal enough?  The answer is a very lawyerly answer — it depends.  Most of the time, we vocalize both.  However, we often will not vocalize if it’s very obvious or would embarrass the player. Like, if the hitter makes a big obvious swing and miss, I don’t need to vocalize that’s a strike because everyone in the Western hemisphere just saw him come out of his shoes.  Likewise, if a pitcher really airmails one.

We always give both a voice and a mechanic(1) for called strike threes, though, and those are usually pretty loud and dramatic as we are selling to the crowd and players that we saw it, we know what it was, and we don’t want to hear any shit about it.

3.  Will you umpire again?  I haven’t decided yet.  Honestly, it has nothing to do with how much I like umpiring, but the logistical barriers to it.  I have come to the conclusion that, if I want to umpire with any regularity, I’m going to have to have pants made, and I’m not sure if I want to wrangle all of that at this point.  But really, it’s too early for me to make this decision.  I still sometimes feel my shin splints!

4.  Will you be going back to complete the course next year?  No.  Not because I didn’t like it, but because I don’t think it would be fun at all to be dropped into the middle of a class of people (dudes) who would have already bonded and try to ingratiate myself(2) while handling the pressure of live innings and cages and all the other new skills.  I think it would be lonely and miserable and since I don’t have a passion for umpiring (yet) it wouldn’t be worth it.

I would totally go back from the beginning, though, and do the whole course.  I just don’t want to start in the middle.

5.  Do they encourage you to find your own umpire voice?  Yes, but with caveats.  As beginners, we weren’t given a lot of leeway with regard to personalization of the calls.  We were expected to execute the techniques properly and aggressively every time.  However, there were certain moments where we were allowed to express ourselves more, like when we’re explaining what just happened(3) or pointing runners to bases.  As you move up in the minor leagues, though, you’re allowed more personality, and of course the Major League guys get to do what they want.

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1. That’s the official umpire term for the hand signals — mechanics.

2. From the reports I get from my friends who stayed behind, the guys who came in in the middle are pretty much non-entities.  No one knows them and no one has the time to know them.  Add on to that me being a girl, and the social barriers to entry are too high for me to bother.

3. Example: close play at first, and the runner is safe because the first baseman’s foot moved off the bag.  The voice is “SAFE.  OFF THE BAG” but the mechanic is the safe mechanic, plus a very dramatic sweeping motion indicating which way the fielder was off.  That was super fun.  I also liked calling balks and scoring runs on time plays, which involves a lot of pointing and shouting “THAT RUN SCORES, THAT RUN SCORES, SCORE THAT RUN.”

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