By Jon Bible
Doubleheaders (DH) can be the bane of an umpire’s existence. At the most basic level, a DH just means two games instead of one, whether of the seven- or nine-inning variety or a combination thereof. But there are times when it can seem we’ve been out there for 10 games instead of two by the time the festivities have ended.
When I started in college baseball, there was no limit on the number of games that an NCAA Division I school could play in a season. Spring break featured DHs from Monday through Saturday. As the corps of umpires eligible to work college non-conference games then was small, I usually worked about half of them, to say nothing of the other DHs in the non-conference season.
It’s important to take a particular mindset to be in a position to work a DH effectively. We can’t let ourselves engage in negative self-talk beforehand — thinking about how long and bad the experience could be — because that is self-defeating. The more we dwell on the negative aspects of working a DH, the more we poison the well before we start, that will make the day seem to drag on endlessly. It can also cause us to lose focus while working and be more susceptible to screw-ups.
It’s like a golfer facing a shot over water. If he thinks about hitting it into the water, he likely will. But if he takes the “What water?” approach, goes through his regular pre-shot routine, and then takes dead aim, he has a better chance of succeeding. Same with working a DH. If we approach it thinking nothing more than that the day will be a little longer than usual, things will be more tolerable.
For the physical aspects of working a DH, much depends on the umpires’ conditioning. DHs can be quite draining if we’re too heavy and not in good shape. But the older we get, the more I believe we need to prepare for them carefully.
Today, with the physical conditioning of sports officials being a point of emphasis, many umpires work out religiously, even on game days. But I’d like to suggest, especially as we move into our 30s, 40s and beyond, we skip workouts when we’re slated to work a DH that day. We just never know what might happen.
I worked a Division I Regional tournament with an umpire who prided himself on his conditioning. He ran eight miles every morning, no matter how many games he was scheduled to work that day. And he was well into his 40s at the time. The weather was brutally hot and humid. The umpire was scheduled to work two games with the second game behind the plate. The time of the second game went 4 hours, 45 minutes. I noticed in the middle innings the umpire was so fatigued that the strike zone became very erratic. After witnessing that, I’ve not done anything more energetic than lifting a knife and fork to eat breakfast if I have a DH scheduled that day.
Other things that the umpires should do the night before working a DH are to not to go out drinking, be sensible in eating habits and get a good night’s sleep. Eat smaller meals the night before and the morning of the games, and before going out on the field. If an umpire eats a full meal, it can leave the umpire feeling bloated and exhausted.
Drinking a lot of water, the day before and the morning of the DH will help keep the umpire hydrated during the six or more hours of the games. That is especially important if it is hot and humid. A long time ago, it was taboo for umpires to drink water during games. Not anymore. There should be game managers or certified athletic trainers to bring umpires water every two or three innings, and if there aren’t, I would ask coaches for assistance.
During the games, umpires need to conserve their energy. Don’t loaf around; we owe it to the participants to give them an honest effort and to follow the prescribed mechanics on every pitch and play, but don’t do anything extra in terms of moving around. While working the bases, don’t sprint or waste steps getting together to talk with your partner(s), unless it’s something important. Every step umpires can save means that much more energy they’ll have in hour six. A few steps here and there may not seem like much, but over the course of two games they add up.
In summary, approach DHs like an athlete does a competition. Don’t engage in negative self-talk, for it can offset the physical preparation done, it will put the umpire in a bad mood from the start and make the whole experience much more painful. From the physical standpoint, focus on getting a good night’s sleep, fuel with good healthy foods and get plenty of water for hydration. If umpires do all that, they will be better equipped to survive and perform well, especially if the DH goes far longer than expected.
Jon Bible, Austin, Texas, is a veteran umpire who has worked six NCAA Division I College World Series.
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