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I am a high school and college baseball umpire. I work with one or two other umpires to officiate games and ensure that the games are played according to the rules.
My partner or partners and I typically arrive at the game site 30 to 60 minutes before the first pitch. We determine who’s working as the home plate umpire and who’s working the bases. We also have a detailed pregame discussion about our respective responsibilities for the day.
Then we get dressed to work. For the plate umpire, this includes shinguards, a chest protector, a mask, and specially designed, hard-toed plate shoes. Base umpires wear a standard umpiring uniform.
We then step on the field, meet with the two head coaches to discuss lineups and ground rules, and officiate the game. If we have a doubleheader, we change positions for the second game and do it all over again.
A typical day involves one or two games that, depending on the level of competition, are between seven and nine innings. They can last from 1 hour and 15 minutes to 3 hours each. Unlike some other sports, baseball has no clock to help determine a typical game length.
We have administrative tasks, such as working with our assignors (individuals or companies acting as liaisons between umpires and teams) to provide our availability so they know when and where we can work.
We also may have paperwork related to the games themselves. If we have any unusual circumstances in the games—a disputed rule, an official protest, a player or coach ejection—we report them to our assignors and conference coordinators because there may be consequences that come with those decisions, such as the need to suspend a player or coach for inappropriate behavior.
The basic requirement is that you understand baseball and want to work. After that, it’s all real-life training, studying the rule book, and being able to put it into play on the baseball field. There are camps and clinics that are an important part of the educational process, and there are testing requirements to work at certain levels.
But any umpire will tell you that the training is ongoing. We never know it all. State umpiring or officials’ associations typically request that umpires have a certain number of training hours. In the past 11 years, I’ve attended hundreds of hours of association-conducted meetings, classroom trainings, and on-field clinics to remain sharp and to learn new things related to my umpiring.
Good umpires are not just good play-callers. The quality they need most, that many people don’t realize, is that of being a good communicator. You need to be a “people person” and be able to deal with all different types of personalities. You’re working in stressful situations in which people may view you as the enemy, as opposed to an arbiter who is there to help the game remain safe and fair.
For many, it’s a chance to remain part of a game they love. Some are former players or former coaches, and this is a way to stay involved.
For others, it’s the camaraderie of working with other like-minded people who love baseball: the opportunity to work with teenagers and young adults and be a part of their education process.
I first umpired baseball games when I was 13 years old. Then I spent two or three summers umpiring Little League Baseball games so I could have some spending money.
I played high school, college, and professional baseball. Once I finished my own playing career, I stayed involved in sports by covering games and writing about them for newspapers. When I switched to news reporting and editing, I was able to stay in sports via umpiring.
I got serious about umpiring and began working high school games 11 years ago and college baseball this past spring. I contacted a local assignor who scheduled me to work some games, and I started to learn on the job while I was also attending classroom sessions offered by a local umpires' association.
I truly enjoy getting to be around and work with “baseball people.” I love feeling connected to the game, and umpiring is a way for me to tap into my baseball passion. As much as I love umpiring, I love baseball itself even more.
When we walk off the field, one team will have won, and the other will have lost. It’s only natural for the losing team to point fingers, and those fingers are often directed at us. That’s frustrating, as we have no vested interest in who wins or who loses.
We watch baseball games with our eyes and try to make proper rulings based on what we see and our knowledge of the rules. Players, coaches, and fans participate in baseball games and watch baseball games with their hearts. They have an emotional attachment that is much different than ours. So that can lead to some tough situations when they feel a call didn’t go their way.
Also, it’s difficult having to deal with people who, quite simply, don’t know the rules and want to argue based on their misperceptions as opposed to what the rules actually spell out.
Find a mentor you can count on to help guide you through the process of becoming an umpire, because there will be bumps along the way.
Don’t get discouraged the first time someone yells at you. Realize they are yelling at the shirt, not the person.
Last, but not least, have fun! If you aren’t enjoying it, you shouldn’t be doing it.
I hope to continue to advance in the college ranks. I figure I have between 15 and 20 years remaining before the physical toll of umpiring—injuries from foul balls and from pitches taken off the mask for plate umpires, coupled with all the bending over and running that base umpires do—will be too much for me to continue.
There are schools geared toward umpiring professional baseball, and most professional umpires get their start soon after high school. But the odds of making it as a Major League Baseball umpire are less favorable than making it as a Major League Baseball player. That’s just reality. So I will likely never umpire any level of professional baseball, and I’m OK with that.
If you have any interest in umpiring, I encourage you to give it a try. If you give it an honest shot, and train and study to the best of your abilities, I honestly believe you will fall in love with it and will have trouble imagining your life without it.
Patricia Tate, "Baseball umpire," Career Outlook, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, July 2019.