Filler Ump Slump

What Better Way To Get Through Tucson's Most Trying Season Than To Work A Little League Game?
By Tom Danehy

I PRETTY MUCH hate this time of year. The weather sucks, there's nothing on TV, and the only sport out there is the Great American Past-Its-Time.

Danehy The NBA playoffs were a major disappointment, the Olympics are still a month away and the other day I was so bored I almost (almost!) watched golf on TV.

I spend my summers inside gymnasiums for the most part. Summer basketball camps, high school summer leagues, adult leagues. And when I do come out, it's only to coach Bobby Sox softball, and that's at night. This way I maintain the creamy white skin tone that my Grandpa Danehy brought with him from Ireland.

I don't want to become a whiner, at least not at this stage of my life. I'll save that for my 60s, when all the Baby Boomers are screaming bloody murder for government services and threatening to bring about the revolution they promised, but backed out of, in the 1960s.

A cousin of mine, Danny DiMarco, lives in the grotesquely misnamed Apple Valley, Minnesota, a suburb of Minneapolis. I once asked him if he barricades himself in the basement all winter, and he told me he gets out and does stuff all the time. Why choose to live in a place with harsh winters if you're going to complain about them all the time? Why, indeed?

Toward that end, I've decided to expand my horizons. Instead of complaining about the summers, I'm embracing them, trying to find new ways to participate.

My first step was to volunteer to umpire my son's Little League baseball games. If there are any grad students out there wanting to write a paper on masochism, I'm available for interviews.

The first thing you have to know about baseball is that everybody is aware of just enough of the rules to make the game a living hell for everyone involved. This, of course, is not their fault, seeing as how baseball has more rules than the Environmental Protection Agency and the Internal Revenue Service combined. And most of them were written by the lawyers who managed to drag out the AT&T breakup proceeding for so long that the government simply gave up and gave away the store.

I probably know more of the rules than most people, but that's only because I'm weird. I'm like that episode of The Odd Couple where Felix and Oscar go away to a monastery to escape the pressures of modern life. While leading a simple existence for a week is cool for Felix, Oscar sneaks away at night to read the label on the toothpaste tube by candlelight, just for some intellectual stimulation.

I once hacked my way through the entire Baseball rule book and concluded that most of the rules were written by people who had never played the game. Did you know there's a thing called a "false fourth out?" What is that?

Anyway, it took me forever to get through the book. By comparison, when I read the entire Bible at age 15, it seemed like a breeze. Of course, when you're a teenager, all that begattin' kinda pulls you through the early chapters.

I know a lot of the rules, but I'm not even sure I know a majority of them. What I am sure of is that I know more than the fans who show up for these games do. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

There was one guy the other day who shouted at me to invoke the infield fly rule. The only thing was, there weren't any runners on base at the time.

(That's a funny bit for those who have a working understanding of the infield fly rule. For those who don't; I'm sorry. Trying to explain that thing in a small space is like...trying to tell a stranger about rock and roll and the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and the plot of The Usual Suspects.)

One guy wanted to know why I shout "Foul ball!" but only point when the ball is fair. How should I know? That's just the way it's done. I may not be a big fan of the game, but I'm going to do it right. Heck, for all I know, that's what kept Communism at bay all those years. It certainly wasn't the CIA.

Coaches are always looking for an edge, too. One guy was having his runners at third base creep down the line towards home plate on each pitch. Then if the pitch got past the catcher, he'd send them home. One time, the coach got so excited, he gave the kid a little push in the back to send him on his way.

I sent the kid back to third and the coach went nuts. He demanded that I show him the particular rule in the book that prohibits that action. I told him I had no idea what rule it was, or if such a rule even exists. It just didn't seem fair for him to have done that.

"Fair!" he shouted. "What does 'fair' have to do with baseball?"

I have to admit he had me there. Baseball does have a long history of winking at cheating. But hey, I hate cheaters. So I invoked the catch-all "detrimental to the integrity of the game" clause. That froze him in his tracks. We paused, joined hands, sang a chorus of "Cumbaya," and the game continued.

After a couple games of umpiring, which included asking trivia questions between innings to those fans whom I hadn't yet angered, I thought someone else could get a chance to stand in the noonday sun, clutching a chest protector that doesn't and taking a few foul tips in and around the mask. But darned if there were no takers.

Actually, it's been fun. It's always fun knowing there are legions of people out there who know less than you do. Even if it's about Baseball.

And besides, if I hadn't been umpiring, I'd have had to be sitting there, watching. And biting my tongue when the umpire made a mistake. TW

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