by C.A. Phillips
I shared recently in the Over the Hump devotional that I have taken up umpiring. I know, I know…I can hardly believe it myself! When I tell people I am an umpire now, I am immediately met with wrinkled foreheads and furrowed brows and even blank stares. I get it!
Believe it or not, there IS an art and a science to umpiring. On the artistic side, you have the ability to develop your own flair for calling outs in the field, or everyone’s favorite, the punch-out from behind the dish on a called third strike. I’ve been coached to borrow ideas from other umpires, but to “make it your own” and use your own personality. Pretty cool!
On the scientific side, there are certain dos and don’ts for umpires. For example, do your best to get a 45-degree angle on a bang-bang play at a base. Or, mirror the signals the home plate umpire displays for the number of outs; or if the infield fly rule is in effect; or, if there’s a runner on first or second with two outs to be sure that the field umpire vocalizes an out at 2B, in case a run is crossing the plate at the same time a tag is being applied on a runner. Makes sense, right?
As many written and unwritten rules of umpiring that have been documented and taught, one of the nuances of being a great umpire (not just a good one) is to pause prior to making a call. For example, when the ball crosses the plate, don’t call “strike” as the ball is hitting the catcher’s mitt. Or, don’t yell “safe” and bring your hands out as the tag is being applied on a stolen base. Instead, pause for one second, allow your brain to process what has transpired, then make the call with conviction.
That sounds easy enough, but I have found myself so certain on calls that I am belting them out far too soon. And, it gives me little or no wiggle room for changing my call, or even confirming whether I actually made the correct one to begin with.
I can remember a few weeks ago when I was umpiring behind the plate when I made a premature call. The count was 1-2 on the hitter. Bases were loaded with two outs. Here comes the windup…and the pitch…waist-high on the outside corner of the plate. Instead of pausing, I quickly exclaimed, “Ball!” and waved my hand to the right to indicate that the ball was off the plate. I immediately knew that I messed up, and vowed not to be so rash. The next pitch was fouled off, and with a 2-2 count on the cleanup hitter, the pitcher threw a meatball on the inside half. The batter crushed a gapper to right center and cleared the bases. Instead of getting out of the inning with a goose-egg (if I had rung up the batter), the defensive team gave up five runs. As you can tell, I am still beating myself up over it (if there’s a silver lining in it, that team didn’t score the rest of the game, and got run-ruled. So, I’m off the hook).
When I think about what’s so essential to becoming a great umpire on the field, I can’t help but draw parallels in real-life off the diamond. What happens when I don’t hit the pause button in life? I react and utter hurtful words rather than taking a step back and considering where someone else may be coming from. I honk the horn, instead of making a decision to let it go. I click the SEND button on a text or an email without looking down the road to the ramifications of my reply. I demonstrate everything BUT love and kindness to watching eyes in my home.
James, Jesus’ step-brother, had something to say about pausing. He got to see first-hand how Jesus operated and responded.
Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.
James 1:19 (NLT)
So, he’s saying the only thing we should do quickly is to listen. Speech and anger should follow far behind. Most of the time, we get the order completely backwards. We get angry, then we speak in haste, and we only listen after we’ve crammed our thoughts and opinions down others’ throats. And, we’re only listening at that point to find fault in others.
Take it from me…or from James…or from Jesus himself, who was never in a hurry to do much of anything, except to offer grace and forgiveness. Press the pause button, and just see what happens in your mind, your heart, and your actions.
After all, we don’t get the benefit of instant replay in the moment to see whether we’ve made the right call.
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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