Monday, May 5, 2008

Game Four Remains The Toughest Officiating Assignment

Any official worth the stitches in their britches will tell you what they think is the toughest assignment in the officiating circles they work within. Having worked football, basketball and baseball, I think it's Game Four behind the plate of a collegiate conference weekend.

It's the toughest game of the weekend with the least resources available. The teams are tired. The coaches are tired and the umpires are tired. Both teams are down to their fourth or fifth best pitcher at the start of the day and it's the game no one can afford to lose. One team is down 3-0 or 2-1, making Game Four a must-win situation for the team trailing the series. The difference in splitting a four-game series or losing three of four is huge, just as salvaging one of four as opposed to being broomed is a huge swing.

In high school baseball, schools play what I think is an archaic, backward rotation of games in terms of importance. High school teams play their more important league games during the weekday and leave the weekend for non-league doubleheaders and tournaments. Often times issues like weather, drive-time traffic and school-related conflicts interfere with the league game played mid-week.

Unlike football or basketball, where the speed and emotion of each play is like a wave crashing upon the shore over and over, baseball is more akin to a slow, simmering pot, one that you're never really sure if or when it's ready to boil over and flip it's collective lid.

This past weekend Oakland University hosted Indiana-Purdue at Fort Wayne (IP-FW) in a Summit League conference series. Save for one inning, a frame resumed after a 30-minute rain delay where Oakland blew a close game apart, each school played each inning of the four games with no more than a two-run difference and most of the time the difference was one run or tied. Oakland took three of four but IP-FW could have just as easily split of taken three of the games. The game Oakland dropped was a 2-1 decision in the nine-inning opener Saturday afternoon.

When I first entered umpiring, I can honestly say I didn't have a strong appreciation for just how great it is when you can work a weekend series or a mid-week doubleheader without anything or anyone going sideways or ballistic. It's taken some trial, error and a healthy does of failure to acquire the appreciation I have for being able to walk off the field without feeling like you've stepped through a mine field.

As an official, one of the worst things you can do is look to make a call that is borderline just to prove you can make a tough call. There's plenty of opportunity to make tough calls without trying to cut a piece of hair in half just to prove you're that good. It's the many games that allow you to walk off the field with little or no incident that make you thankful for the handful of times you have to jump onstage and make a call that doesn't get questioned, scrutinized or ridiculed for no other reason than it wasn't a popular decision.

This season, more than any I can remember in a long time, there hasn't been a lot of discussion about this ruling or that decision, which is nice. It means either the games have long been decided or that the teams in the area of metro Detroit and the Great Lakes as a whole, both at the collegiate and prep level, are taking care of their own business by making plays instead of needing an umpire's call.

~T.C. Cameron is the author of Metro Detroit's High School Football Rivalries, due August 25th, 2008 from Arcadia Publishing

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