As I’ve grown over the years, I actually look back at early times in my career and laugh. Many times, when enforcing rules, “winning” discussions and when the inevitable ejection occurred, I simply got louder. Today, that is no longer the case. Yes, there are times when we need to be loud. There are times when we have to be that umpire and enforce something no one likes to, or for that matter, wants to.

Those times are few and far between, but a notable example of being quietly big is checking rosin bags to begin the game. A quick check of the bag prior to the inning starting lets us know it is legal, and if we determine an illegal substance is being used it’s a quick and easy fix to remove at that time. Often, I’ll have pitchers bring them to me and have me check them on their way to the circle. Unfortunately, there has been a time or two when the pitcher, the coach or the parent in the stands doesn’t understand the rule. Those are the times when we just have to be big and remove the foreign substance.

What exactly does being quietly big mean? I’m grateful for the recent change in the NFHS jewelry rule, but we have had to enforce players not wearing jewelry for years. A few years ago, I began asking the coach to identify the team leader. I will go to that player and simply ask her to check her team for jewelry so we do not have to address it during the game. I’ve never had a player tell me no, and usually they look forward to it. I actually had a player at the collegiate level (I had called many of her high school games) come up to me and smile, tug on her earring and say, “I can wear them here!”

Being quietly big has a lot to do with being aware of the game. Understand when a pitcher or catcher, while batting, has safely achieved a base and glance to the coach to see if time will be requested for a courtesy runner or pinch runner. A simple look of acknowledgement can keep the coach from having to holler to request time. It’s a small thing, but how often have we seen a coach have to request multiple times due to the umpire failing to even realize the coach is trying to get his or her attention?

Awareness of the game also helps us when a conference may be about to happen. When the pitcher has walked a couple of batters, chances are the coach may want a conference. We often see an umpire take out the plate brush and start cleaning the plate while the coach is exasperatedly trying to get said umpire’s attention.

Being comfortable making changes on your lineup card, having an indicator you are not constantly looking at and using ball bags that will hold your gear so you aren’t fighting with them are all small things that can not only make us more proficient, they also help ensure we aren’t drawing unnecessary attention to ourselves. Nothing is more irritating to a fan base on a time limit than seeing umpires struggle to find a pen, dig around and take what they deem to be forever when writing down a conference or a lineup change.

Sometimes a coach approaches even when you’re doing everything right. You’ve got a great game going, game aware, great positioning and you just nailed a perfect call. But sure enough, here comes the coach and he’s not happy. A good friend and I discussed this response, and I’ve actually used it a time or two: “Hey coach, did you have a substitution for me?”

The misdirect with the question can at times cause him to forget why he’s even out there. It may not be the best approach to take, but is most definitely a far better approach than loudly stating, “That’s a judgment call, coach! Get back to your dugout!” It is also a better approach than “appeasing” the coach by going to your partner every time the coach disagrees with you.

When we have enforcement of a rule that only happens once in a blue moon, that’s the time to find that team leader. “Hey catcher, can you help me speed up your team between innings?” goes a lot farther than hollering out to the coach to hurry up between innings. The catcher will often even take it to heart and it becomes her responsibility to hustle her team up. Building a solid working relationship is vital. While we don’t want to ever make it a full-on conversation with players, sometimes a few words get their attention and will allow us to fix small issues. “Hey, 21, can you make sure coach remembers to keep the bucket in the dugout?” Again, small things that, when taken care of quietly and collectively, become big.

Let’s not forget the ejection. Occasionally, we do have to remove a player or disqualify a coach from continuing to participate in the game. It is at this point we have two options. We can calmly address it with a coach. Let them be the purveyor of bad news to the player. I had one last year when a catcher did not like the strike zone. She turned to me and dropped a not-so-nice four-letter word on a ball four with the bases loaded. I waited until the run scored, called time and approached her coach. I said, “Coach, I’m removing your catcher for use of profanity toward an official. I need a replacement player please.” He looked at me a bit shocked, asked what she said and I told him. He turned to the bench, pointed at another player and told her to gear up. Then he went to his catcher and informed her she was no longer allowed to participate. I’m not saying it was the best way or the only way. I’m saying I quietly took care of business in a big way. We cannot allow the players to dictate behavior like that.

I learn as much as I can from each umpire I work with, and I’ve used quite a bit of it over the last several seasons. A couple of seasons ago I was working a game together with someone I’d never worked. It was at a preseason tournament using three-person mechanics, and we pregamed for several minutes beforehand. This game sticks out because we had two pretty good teams, three pretty decent umpires and good weather conditions. In all likelihood, this was a game that would take care of itself. Lo and behold, during the middle innings, one of the specific things we went over happened. U1 chased a ball to the outfield, I as U3 came across the diamond and the plate umpire came up the line. We had an attempted diving catch in right field, a throw to first base and it was a banger of a play.

I was probably as pumped up as the team was as the plate umpire rang up the out on the appeal at first base for leaving early. Why? Because the three of us had talked about this situation, it had occurred and all three of us were doing exactly what we were supposed to do. Perfectly executed by the third team on the field. And what could the first-base coach say? We were all quietly big.

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