Behind the Mask
by C.A. Phillips
What has become of me? Have I become a bizarro version of myself (obligatory Seinfeld reference right there)? Have I really gone to the Dark Side?
For 15 years as a player, and another 15 years as a coach, I gave umpires grief. Now, I’m one of them. Move over, Lt. Frank Drebin. I’m behind the plate now!
And, as they say, “I’m getting what’s been coming to me.”
As a coach, I couldn’t understand how an umpire could miss such blatantly obvious calls. How can the ball at the kid’s shoelaces be a strike? The runner clearly got under the tag – how can he be out? Of course that kid checked his swing – how did “blue” not see it?
Now that I am part of the club, I see it’s not so easy. Sure, I took training classes; I did field work to get acquainted with positioning and technique; I took a 30-question test to determine if I had the necessary knowledge to suit up. But, when you are ten feet from the bag on a bang-bang play that can go either way, life suddenly gets extraordinarily difficult. No matter what call you make, half the people are going to despise you – and vocalize it!
And, what makes if doubly challenging for me is that I have a perfectionistic personality. I am my own worst critic. So, when I make a call, I want it to be correct! I want to be able to defend the “out” at first, and the “strike” on the inside corner. But, the truth is this: no matter how often I am in position to make the call, there will be times I don’t get it right. The good news/ bad news is that there is no instant replay!
As an umpire, I’m seeing a new side of something that God offers me freely each day: GRACE. I need the grace of coaches, players, parents, grandparents, and fans when I take the field in my pressed gray slacks and official umpire attire. Do I always get it? Nope. But, I am thankful for the situations when I make a close call, and the coach doesn’t throw a fit. And, because I desire that grace, I have found that I am more willing to extend it when coaches challenge me between the lines. Trust me: it isn’t easy!
I’ve always explained to my kids that sports are an avenue we use to learn about life. What’s applicable on a baseball field, football field, track, tennis court, or basketball court is equally applicable in your home, your business, your school, and your community. So, what’s the lesson for me? I am thankful for the grace God gives me each day, despite my flaws and shortcomings; and, if I need His grace so desperately in my life, I need to offer it freely to others who may have a bad moment…especially when they least deserve it and least expect it!
For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.
Romans 3:23-24 (NLT)
C.A. Phillips is a lifelong sports enthusiast and youth baseball coach, and currently serves as the Communications Pastor and Director of Men’s Groups at NorthStar Church in Kennesaw, Ga. He lives in Kennesaw with his wife, Amy, and his two sons, Chaz and Chandler.
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