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 again.