The story below pertains to a junior baseball umpire in the USA. Unfortunately though past experience has proven it could easily be attached to any sport. Hopefully the impression gained as a result of reading this TRUE AND TOUCHING story will assist all of us to not only keep junior sport in it’s proper perspective, but in fact, sport at any level.
Donald Jensen was struck on the head by a thrown bat while umpiring a junior baseball game in Terre Haute, Indiana. He shook off the blow and finished working the game. That night though he experienced head pains and as a result went to the hospital where it was decided he should stay overnight for observation. While in his room that evening, he wrote the following letter to the parents of the junior baseball league he umpired in…………………..
I’m an Umpire. I don’t do it for a living, but only on weekends for fun. I’ve played, coached and watched baseball throughout my life. Somehow though, nothing takes the place of or gives me more joy than umpiring. Maybe it’s because I feel deep down that doing so allows me the opportunity of providing a fair chance for all the kids to play the sport without disagreements and arguments. In saying this though, there is still one thing that really bothers me about my ‘job’. Some of you parents truly don’t understand the real reason why I’m there.
Some of you feel I’m there to exert authority over your child or children. For that reason, you often yell at me or even encourage your child to do the same when they feel I’ve made a mistake. How many of you really appreciate that I try as hard as possible to be perfect? I do my very best not to make mistakes.
I don’t want your child to feel he or she got a bad deal from the umpire. Yet no matter how hard I try, I’ll never be perfect. I counted the number of calls I made in a six inning game today. The total number of decisions on pitches (balls and strikes) and also on safe or out calls on the bases came to 146. I tried my very best to get them all correct, but I’m sure I missed some. I may have missed eight or ten in total but that still left me getting well above 90% of the calls correct. In most occupations, such a high percentage would be considered excellent.
Let me tell you more about my game today…..There was one close call that ended the game. A base runner for the home team was trying to score a run on a passed ball by the catcher. The catcher chased the ball down and threw to the pitcher who was covering home plate. The pitcher made the tag on the sliding runner and I called the runner out.
As I was getting my equipment to leave, I overheard one parent comment “It’s too bad the kids have to lose games because of rotten umpires. That was one of the lousiest decisions I’ve ever seen!”
Later, at the concession stand, a couple of kids were telling their friends, “Boy the umpires were terrible today. They lost the game for us.” Well, I heard that and admittedly felt very disappointed. Those same kids had made numerous mistakes that ultimately cost their team runs.
A parent or adult leader who lets a child blame his failures on an official (umpire in this case) is doing the worst kind of injustice to a youngster. That irresponsibility or lack of accountability undoubtedly is bound to carry over for the rest of that child’s life.
As I sit here writing this letter, I am no longer as upset as I was this afternoon. At one point, I had even contemplated during the game of quitting umpiring behind the plate because of a junior pitcher pantomiming his displeasure at any close call which went against him. One could sense that he wanted the crowd to realize he was a talented young player who was doing his best to get along even when the black hearted villain (myself) was working against him. They continued on in this manner for two innings not only with disdainful mannerism’s against myself, but also yelling at his team mates when they made errors behind him.
For those two innings his team’s head coach watched this. When the kid returned to the dugout to bat in the top of the third inning, that same head coach called him aside. In a voice loud enough for me to over hear he said “listen son, it’s time you made a decision. You can be an umpire, an actor or a pitcher. You can only be one at a time though when you’re playing for me. Right now it’s your job to pitch and to be honest, you’re doing a poor job of it. Leave the acting to the actor and the umpiring to the umpire, or you won’t be pitching here anymore!”
Needless to say, the youngster chose the pitching route and went on to win the game. When the game was over the same young man followed me to my car. Fighting back the tears, he was sorry for his actions during the game. He said he’d learned a lesson he’d never forget.
Although that was a lesson well learned by this particular young man, I can’t help but wonder how many other youngsters are missing their chances to develop into outstanding young players and people because their parents encourage them to spend their time disputing the umpires decisions, rather than working harder at playing the game correctly.
(The following morning, Donald Jensen, part time junior umpire, died of injuries to his brain resulting from the blow he incurred from the thrown bat)
With thanks to Mike Young, current fielding consultant to the Proteas (South African) cricket team and previously with the Australian national cricket team.