Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Integrity, Effort Matters Every Single Day

What we do, as sports officials, matters. How we go about our business and the respect we show to coaches and players goes a long way. In an industry that says you're supposed to be invisible, it seems we're seen for a lot of other things other than balls and strikes.

A young man approached me in a gym last Friday night with the question, "Do you umpire baseball?" When I answered yes he told me he had seen me three or four different times in the gym and finally remembered where he knew me from -- working NAIA baseball at the now-closed Orchard Lake St. Mary's College. Ironically, he remembered me from a game that was anything but memorable for anyone involved. It was a typical March snowflaker in Michigan. 34 degrees, intermittent snowflakes and a fierce wind whipping off the lake. Sun? Try battleship gray for 12 straight hours.

A day so miserable for baseball even the Tigers would have cancelled. A day I couldn't keep the ball-strike count to save my life, my hands so frozen I couldn't control my indicator. I couldn't concentrate on what I was doing I was so cold. Naturally, the St. Mary's coach was irate, and justifiably so. It was just a long day at the yard -- period -- and I was struggling. Yet this young man remembered me from working a ballgame on the most forgettable day of baseball imaginable. It was humbling to realize what we do matters on even the worst of days.

It's important to go about your job without fanfare as an official. Truthfully, it's what you want as an umpire. No whackers or bangers -- that's a close play at the bag. And definitely no boogers -- that's making a controversial call you don't need to make. If nothing notable happens in the game you work? Great! If something occurs that requires you to get after it, then do so and then go back to the business at hand. But everything counts, and that's what humbled me by this young man's statements. He could have not taken the time to introduce himself and make conversation. The fact he did so with some grace tells me I did it right on a day I wasn't right at all.

It all matters. The way we accept humility on days we make mistakes. The way we carry ourselves off the field. A lot of guys in our industry want to tell others how great they are. They get this game, work this conference or had the state finals this many times.

Do you know what I work? JV college football. NAIA basketball. Division Three, Junior College and NAIA baseball. I work high school in all three sports, too. The important thing is I treat the games I work the same as I would treat a game in the Mid-American Conference, Big Ten or wherever. I give the same effort, courtesy and professionalism to every game.

What we do and how we do it matters, no matter what level and no matter who's watching. It's been a long, humbling road towards that lesson for me.


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