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Friday, March 30, 2007

Tom Verducci's lucky day


Recently, Sports Illustrated writer Tom Verducci was granted permission by MLB to umpire one spring training baseball game for an opportunity to experience the pressure, the difficulty and the thanklessness of risking life, limb and public humiliation in front of thousands of people conditioned to dislike you.

Unlike his female counterpart that was mentioned below - it seemed like he had a little more excitment to deal with.

Some highlights:

He claims he missed a balk call from Curt Schilling, but it was no big deal because the whole crew missed it.

He got into a mild argument with Boston rightfielder J.D. Drew (who had no clue he was pleading his case to a sportswriter until Tom told him the next day). (The whole arguement is detailed in the article)

His #1 priority was to remember to get out of the way during infield pop flys so that Miguel Tejada (who would be looking up at the ball) would not plow into him.

Other than that - there wasn't much to get worked up about. He worked each base for 3 innings. His stint at third went by rather quickly because of good pitching by Schilling and O's pitcher Erik Bedard. There were no "did he go" moments with him at third which is always a tough call for an ump to make.

For the privilege of having to be perfect, umpires spend about 200 days a year on the road, hear the same lousy jokes in every ballpark about their eyesight or familial heritage, and routinely get second-guessed by critics watching repeated superslow, frame-by-frame replays in high definition from multiple camera angles. Yet major league umpiring jobs (of which there are 68) open up these days about as infrequently as those on the Supreme Court. What kind of person would love a job in which you get noticed only for your mistakes?

There is no doubt that umps are proud to be umps. But, part of the reason jobs do not frequently open is because it's their job, their career, as mentioned 200 days on the road a year. Just as a sports reporter thrives on the perfect story, or a writer thrives on a perfect story... these guys (and soon girls) thrive on making the right call. What must really get them going is to go back to view the replay and confirm that their split second, could go either way, judgement call was the right call... and fans and announcers actually agreed. Making the right call is what they live for - some of them take it a little more serious than others, take Tim Timmons take on umpiring for example:

"Umpiring is a gift," says ump Tim Timmons, 39, "like the hitter who has the skill to hit that 90-mph slider or the pitcher who can do things with a baseball no human being should be able to do. Those are real gifts, and so is umpiring. You can't teach instincts."

A gift? Like... from God? Although I don't agree with Tim's assessment that it is a gift - I do appreciate his pridefulness on being an umpire. I believe it takes practice, and with enough of it, anybody or their brother could be an umpire.

As for our buddy Tom, I'm actually glad he took the time, effort and practice it took to get this gig. It was pretty cool to read his take on the game from the umpires point of view. It's good for the sport to give the umpires a little publicity. They are frequently ridiculed and mocked by fans who have no clue about what goes on out there during the games. Will fans change? Highly unlikely! But we at least have a little glimpse of what it is like to be out there on the field, with all the pressure of making the right call. However, there is no doubt - we'll always be better than they are.

P.S. - I don't know about you, but I couldn't really tell the difference between Tom Verducci (who not surprisingly is the skinny one in the above picture) and Ria Cortesio.

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