Concise Language for Three-Person Crew Develops Unity
By Patrick Keim
Arriving to the three-umpire system at various upper levels is the culmination of hard work, preparation and demonstration of the knowledge and skills necessary to officiate. An example of that is the umpire’s use of the “pre-pitch checklist” as a normal part of his or her game on the field.
The umpire’s “arrival” also indicates a grasping of the greater concepts of umpiring philosophy, an understanding of his or her place in a larger, more comprehensive and coordinated system. Those umpires know that it truly is “the game, the crew and then it’s you.”
Just as “pre-pitch” preparation is vitally important to the umpire’s performance, the “pregame discussion” by the plate umpire can be vitally important to his or her crew as well.
The pregame discussion should foster the idea of crew unity. It should have the effect of coordinating and preparing the crew members coming in from “wherever” to the “here and now” to competently officiate the game together. Through the use of concise language containing the essential concepts of most systems, the plate umpire can have the beneficial impact of cultivating confidence in the crew before stepping onto the field.
There are many ways to conduct a thorough pregame. National staff members, conference coordinators, camp evaluators, mentors and the respective manuals are excellent resources for the elements of a solid pregame. All will insist that one is used. In addition, the following ideas should be useful when formulating an adequate pregame discussion with your crew.
Consider the use of concise language. Employ widely understood key words or phrases to communicate larger situational concepts. The use of meaningful language recognized and used by umpires can be very helpful. Terms such as “chase,” “bracket,” “help,” “standard,” “rotated,” “counter-rotated,” “shoot play,” “full rotation,” “partial rotation,” “delayed rotation,” “V,” “wedge”and many more can be useful in reminding your partners of their duties and responsibilities in certain game situations. Even the term “deer in the headlights” can communicate a possible scenario that may develop on the field.
Concise language has the desired effect of condensing larger ideas into “bite-size” chunks for the crew to digest in its pregame preparation, making the discussion more timely and efficient.
Consider tailoring your pregame discussion to the three starting positions. Those are the three positions that umpires will take at the start of every pitch — standard, rotated and counter-rotated. Guide the crew around the field in a fluid, systematic way. Covering the different positions and fly ball coverage, base runner and rotation responsibilities is a very important aspect of the plate umpire’s pregame with the crew.
The plate umpire’s discussion concerning the rotated position might sound something like, “When we are in the rotated position with a runner at first, Jack (U1) you have the right-field line, Jill (U3) you have the V, and I have the left-field line. If either umpire chases, the remaining umpire has first and second, and the batter-runner to third. If neither umpire chases, we have a partial rotation. Jack, you may want to discuss your tendency on a chase fly ball between you and Jill to straight-away right field.”
Notice the concise language (“rotated,” “V,” “partial rotation”) used to convey the larger concepts. Notice also that the language used should be similar to your partner’s pre-pitch checklist language in his or her position. On the field before the pitch, Jack (U1) should be saying something like this to himself: “I have checked swing, right-field line; if she chases, I have first and second and the batter-runner to third. If she stays, we have a partial rotation.” In turn Jill (U3) might say something like this to herself: “He has checked swing, I have the V, if he chases, I have first and second and the batter-runner to third. If he stays we have the partial rotation.”
In that way the plate umpire’s pregame discussion is effective in helping to formulate the base umpire’s pre-pitch checklist, thereby placing the crew “on the same page” on the field. The same can be done for all of the basic positions and situations the crew may encounter in the game.
Consider focusing your pregame discussion on the particular and peculiar aspects of officiating. What are your particular tendencies on such things as pregame conference at the plate, umpire-to-umpire signals, balls off the batter in the box, hard line drives to the infield, umpire conferences, brawls and ejections? What are your first-base umpire’s tendencies on chase fly balls to straight-away center field (standard position) or right field (rotated position)? What about the weather and ground rule conditions? Those are good topics to cover with your partners in your pregame.
The plate umpire should also discuss the peculiar (for him or her) situations that may develop in each starting position. For example, when covering the standard position (no runners on base) it may be worth mentioning that if the U1 chases, the plate umpire has first-base responsibility, as it is the peculiar instance in which the plate umpire has that coverage. In the counter-rotated position (runner at second) and less than two outs, if either umpire chases a “caught fly ball,” the remaining umpire has the tag-up at second base, but the plate umpire has the tag play at third. That situation is peculiar because it is a different mechanic than ASA, in which the remaining base umpire has the tag-up and the tag play at third.
It is also a good idea to ask your partners to comment on any “particulars” and “peculiars” they feel are important from their unique perspective of the game. The crew as a whole benefits from the experience of each individual umpire.
With the use of concise language, tailored to the three starting positions, inclusive of any particular or peculiar points of emphasis, a thorough pregame discussion normally lasting from 20-25 minutes can be adequately condensed to between eight and 10 minutes.
The game awaits. The teams are focused and prepared. The crew is ready — unified through a well-developed pregame discussion. And you have worked hard to arrive at this moment. Now go out there, hustle and have fun!
Patrick Keim, Coweta, Okla., umpires in multiple NCAA Division I conferences, ASA and NAIA. He is also an NCAA Division I camp evaluator. ∗