Senior Call – By Pete Davignon – Umpiring for seniors
By Pete D'Avignon
Now that the Senior Softball season is in full play we start to hear the annual complaints about the game, the field conditions and the umpires. The most frequent gripes are about umpires. I do not sympathize with umpires who do not know the rules or become arrogant while calling a game. Umpires are paid to know the rules and to apply them with certainty and equally to both teams. Anyone who has umpired more than one game knows they will be the target of jeering and be challenged at every turn.
The umpire should understand that softball is a game, and part of it is the player or manager disagreeing with a call or just being obnoxious. An umpire can best control the game by ignoring most challenges to his eyesight and just keep the game going. No umpire is going to change a judgment call, right or wrong. Most missed calls are not a game factor, and when they are, they still hold.
Many complaints against umpires address their knowledge of the senior softball rules, which have some differences or additions to the regular slow-pitch softball rule books.
We need to consider the umpires we get to do tournaments. Most of them come from recreation leagues and work most weekday evenings, doing two or three games a night.
It is difficult to get these umpires to work the weekend tournaments. The senior tournaments for the most part have eight games on a field on Saturday and seven games on Sunday. Those umpires with families do not very often work weekends. The majority of umpires I see are single men or seniors. We ask them to come to the park and be ready to umpire at 8 a.m. After eight games, it is probably 6 p.m. before his day is over and he is expected to be back at the park at 8.am Sunday morning for a seven-game stint.
Now lets look at his day. He works eight straight games without more than an occasional five or ten minute break between games. If he didn't bring lunch, he makes a break for the concession stand while the grounds crew preps the field. The most any team is on the field is for two back to back games, about two hours. Even then the players get a chance to relax in the dugout every inning. In contrast, the umpire is standing behind home plate the whole day.
He is a victim of the elements. Cold weather, winds, blowing dust, brutal hot days, he must stay his post for the duration of his shift. By midday the cold or heat starts to work on his stamina. His concentration becomes less acute by late afternoon and he is more easily distracted and may start to miss some calls.
Games later in the day become more important as teams battle for first place. The players are hyped-up and umpires are worn-out. This is when you get missed calls, lack of concentration from umpires, irritability and short tempers from the players. Harassment of umpires is part of the game and most umpires know this. It's when players attack umpires in anger and frustration that things start to deteriorate.
The first remedy is to remember that we play for relaxation, camaraderie and love of the sport. The umpire is a necessary part of the game and we want umpires when we play.
It may be time to set up an organization to deal with umpire problems. The rules of senior softball, variations in the rules of different organizations, attitude, punctuality and other issues could be emphasized and a handbook for senior softball umpires published. Many organizations now qualify umpires for senior tournaments. A standard pay per game could be established to attract more umpires to work senior games.
Since so many senior tournaments are held each year, there should be a central point for tournament directors to communicate ideas and solutions, such as a website.
Ball field conditions range from superb to terrible. Fields that seniors play on should be well kept. Injuries are a big part of playing on ball fields where the infields are not level, birms exist between the infield and the outfield and where outfields are more like gofer hole condominiums. Pulled muscles, twisted ankles and knees are common injuries to seniors who play on these fields.
Other areas that need to be addressed are lack of access to restroom facilities and no concessions available at the park.
Senior softball is one of the largest recreational sports in the U.S. We should all contribute to the betterment of the game. Voice your opinion at association meetings, get involved in senior softball projects, serve on committees and encourage your fellow ball players to do the same. Senior softball evolves continually and you can be part of the progress. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org