Senior Scene – By Buster Grimm - WHAT IN THE UMPS GOING ON OUT THERE? Part 2
By Softball West
Wayne Darling, an ASA umpire in Boise who has umpired for eight years and is presently a member of the Boise Softball Umpire Association also plays ball and has some interesting insights. "Since I've seen it here in the Boise area, it seems to have gone well and is definitely growing. At first the umpires had problems with the senior league changing rules during the season without informing the umpire association. The umps finally had to get firm and tell them that they had to go by the book, the printed rules that were handed out at the beginning of each half of the season. I was just like the other umpires, it was really hard to not instinctively look for the "normal" call on a play and not remember if there was a special rule in that situation. The Commitment Line Rule is a tricky one to watch for (Discussed later). Good thing we have two umpires out there; usually we're able to get it all straightened out. One of the best rules they've got is the five run rule: A team can score only a maximum of five runs per inning, then the other team gets to bat. It keeps the game in balance and close. Of course the teams can score all the runs they can get in the last inning, so that the behind team can catch up. Pretty smart thinking to keep the game interesting. The one rule I don't care for is the strike zone mat; there isn't any excitement for the umpire in calling that "automatic" strike or ball. Some guys don't mind but I like the excitement of actually determining if the pitch was a true strike or a ball. Overall, the guys are great; they really like to play. And these players know their rules. They appreciate that they can still play and they play well, some of them. That's the most fun, watching them enjoy playing. The camaraderie among them, all of the teams interacting and being such friends with each other is great. This senior game is good for softball and I'm glad it's around. I look forward to umping it and playing it myself the rest of my life.
The Commitment Line rule is one of those special, intricate, rules to watch for. It ties into the entire scoring procedure: It all has to do with there being a force out at home instead of a tag out, which usually occurs. It basically goes this way: Two-thirds of the way down the third base line on the way to the scoring plate a perpendicular line is drawn across the third base line; it can be five or six feet long. If a runner coming home from third touches or crosses this line, he is then committed to go home and can be forced out from that moment by a legal catch (the force) made at the regular home plate. If the runner has not touched or crossed the line, he may return anytime to third at his own risk. This protects the runner from third from being automatically forced out just because he has stepped off of the base during a play and the defense has thrown the ball to home. But with bases loaded, the normal force rule is in effect. This rule, as you can imagine, keeps an umpire alert in these situations and can add some real zip to plays at home. He must be ready to "read" elements of the play which he had never thought of before in regular ball. It is truly exciting for everyone involved when it happens. All Blues need experience to get this one perfected and they all say that they understand it all right, it's just that it's hard to concentrate on it, until you learn to know what to look for…but how do you think that you would do?
Chuck Gary, the President of the Boise Softball Umpire Association, also feels that the strike zone mat used by the seniors is boring for the umpire. "It's just too flat; there's not much to do back there." Even though the judgment element is immensely simplified for the home plate ump (if the ball hits the plate or the strike zone mat, it is a strike, otherwise it is a ball), what it does bring to the plate for the Blue is a certain peace of mind. As a senior ump myself, I am inwardly relieved not only for myself, but for the players also that there is never any need to get heated up over a strike or ball call—it is obvious to all (hey, even the batter) if the ball hit the plate or the mat. I have always appreciated the inner peace of this part of game; many times in regular ball the tension over called balls strikes becomes foolishly stressful and beyond irritating, spoiling a large part of the game. It can actually affect the performance of the batter, and that can't be good. How many strike outs do we ever see in softball anyway? So in this case, a senior rule brings a definite plus to the game for the players.
Gary feels that the future of senior ball looks very good. "The umpires have learned enough about the game now that they can handle it. The players have more or less settled in on the rules and now know that the umpires are not going to tolerate any last minute changes during the game or any other time. They respect us a lot more now and it's just like any other league game—let ‘em play, we'll just call the outs and safes and that's the end to it."
Not only have the senior players come a long way in developing and defining their game, but their umpires have tried hard to stay up with them and done a good job in so doing. It took some years for respect to become mutual among them, but at least here in the Boise area our teams and BSUA have reached this goal. The future looks prosperous for all involved as the leagues are reaching out to other towns in the area. There is plenty of ball offered to be played by the seniors and just as much work made available to the Blues. Local senior tournaments are growing, the various leagues and their divisions are expanding and the solid band of Blues are hanging in there. That's part of their job description: Be consistent, be true, be flexible: The seniors bring all of that out in the guys who stay close with them and keep calling them the way they see them. That's all that the senior players want from their Blues, that and perhaps a little more humor…that fits in best with our game…we can always use that!