Nice Game, Blue
A Very Short Story by Phil Barber
As I heard the umpire call the pitch a strike, I was struck with
disbelief. It wasn't that the pitch was not over the plate, but
instead, the ball was much too high. These kids had a hard enough
time making contact with a ball smack in the middle of the strike zone.
With a pitch that was shoulder level (or higher in this case), they
simply had no chance.
You could hear the quiet muttering and questioning from the small
crowd. This wasn't the first questionable call from the
umpire. To say that he was amateurish would be kind. Even
he knew that he was having trouble. The slight pause after close
pitches gave away his uncertainty. After the call, you could see him
fidgeting and glancing around to see who would openly disagree.
Thankfully, unconcealed irritation never made an appearance.
The worst the umpire had to deal with was the confused looks from the
batters and the pitchers. The poor kids were having a very
difficult time figuring out where the strike zone was from pitch to
pitch. But everybody kept their thoughts to themselves or at
least to their neighbors. This was, afterall, a (rookie) little
league game on a beautiful day. Nobody wanted to make trouble and
everybody accepted the under-trained and inexperienced umpires as a
fact of life.
As the game dragged on, my initial thoughts were for the woeful
state of the game. But then I looked closer and I couldn't help
but feel a certain amount of joy. All the stories of misbehaving
parents and their spoiled brats that get headlines seemed difficult to
believe. None of the parents were yelling or threatening the
umpire. In fact, between innings they encouraged him and gave him
gentle pointers on how to do a better job. Plus, as crazy as this
may sound, it might have been good for the kids. We all know that
even the big league umps don't always get the call right. These
kids were learning how to deal with bad calls early. The pitchers
had to take what they were given and adapt the strike zone to what the
umpire saw. The batters learned to protect the plate and not
count on getting a walk.
Finally, the home team was down to their last strike. The
pitcher reared back and threw a beautiful pitch right through the
center of the strike zone. With no small relief I yelled "Strike
3" and walked off the ball field. Feeling a little more empathy
for little league umpires, I prayed that when my kid's team had their
next game the regular umpire would show up. Even if he didn't, I
was pretty sure that nobody was going to suggest that I call the game