One of the largest complaints from softball umpires is games take too long. And while we can’t control the score, whether a pitcher throws strikes, or if a team properly fields and catches the ball when it is hit, there are several things we can control when it comes to time. Following is a list of those things under our purview and some tips and techniques to keep the game flowing.
Start on Time
One of the most important elements to keep games moving is to start them on time. While some things will make this impossible — bus arriving late, weather, field conditions, prior game goes extra innings — when none of those issues occur, there is no reason for a late start. We should make sure we arrive to the field in plenty of time and get on the field with time to take care of our pregame duties. We should give ourselves ample time to walk the field and check equipment (if that is required by the code we are working that day). Once those duties are taken care of, we should have a quick pregame meeting with the coaches. Remember, this is not a rules clinic. Umpires should take the lineup cards from each coach, verify the information is correct on the cards, go over ground rules and conference rules and move on. If your pregame conference with coaches is taking more than a couple of minutes, it is too long.
Keep Teams Moving Between Innings
All four rules codes have a time limit between innings. NFHS, USA Softball and USSSA allow one minute at the start of each half-inning for the pitcher to throw not more than five warmup pitches. In NCAA, teams are allowed a maximum of 90 seconds between innings. At the collegiate level, a lot of scoreboards have a timer, which makes umpires’ jobs easier. At the other levels, we aren’t so lucky. However, you know when a team is taking more than a minute. If a team chooses to take its time to come out of the dugout and take its defensive positioning, don’t allow it extra time to make sure the pitcher gets in five warmup pitches (unlimited in NCAA). When you tell the catcher to throw down on the second or third pitch, eventually the coaches will get the idea they need to hustle out if they want to have enough time to throw all their allotted warmup pitches.
The same goes for offensive teams. If they are slow to get batters to the plate when the defense is ready to start the inning, tell the coach they need to hustle. Do not allow teams to waste time huddling and then make the defense wait for the batter to get ready. All four codes allow the umpire to call a strike on a batter who delays the game. In NFHS, NCAA and USSSA, a batter has 10 seconds to be in the batting position after the pitcher receives the ball or after the plate umpire says, “Play.” In USA Softball, the batter has 10 seconds to get into the batting position after being directed there by the umpire. If a batter fails to meet this requirement, call a strike. This will prevent a team from delaying.
Taking Lineup Changes
One of the most important jobs of the plate umpire is keeping track of lineups. And one of the things umpires often struggle with is taking lineup changes quickly. This doesn’t mean you should rush through the process and miss something. However, you should have a lineup card holder and a system of tracking changes that is efficient. If you are constantly fumbling to find the lineups in your ball bag or having to fold and unfold lineups, you need to find a better way to track changes. One of the easiest ways is to use paper clips to attach the lineups to your holder. Then you can simply open the lineup card holder and the lineups are there to write on. Take the changes from the coach, verify the change and then report it to the other team. While coaches sometimes give a large number of changes at once and you can’t help it, the majority of time a single change is all that is offered and it shouldn’t take more than a few seconds to note it. No one wants to stand around and wait on the umpire to document a simple change and you most likely will draw the ire of your base partner(s) if you do.
There are times when umpires need to get together to discuss something that happened earlier in the game. However, limit those conversations. There is no reason for the umpires to huddle up together and have a conversation after every half-inning. Odds are if you do, you will take more than a minute between half-innings and nothing looks worse than teams waiting on the umpires to get into position. If you need to get together between innings, be brief and be mindful of the time. Conversations can be a huge timewaster and the majority of them can be had postgame or avoided altogether.
The same is true for conversations with coaches. If you need to relay a message through a coach, do it quickly and get back to your position. There is no need to go over to the dugout and have a conversation with a coach every inning. Only do so when necessary and keep the conversation brief to not delay the game. Multiple or drawn-out conversations will draw the ire of your partner(s) and the opposing coach and players who may think you have a personal relationship with the coach.
Other Time Wasters
Between innings, it is perfectly acceptable for an umpire to get a drink to stay hydrated, replenish game balls, sweep off the plate, check the time left in a game (if working a game with a time limit), towel off on a hot day, etc. However, be mindful when doing these things that you are ready to go when the time between innings limit is reached. Quickly take care of your business and get back to your position. Again, teams should not have to wait for you to get back to your position. If you are taking an inordinate amount of time to take care of these things, teams will be in no hurry to get ready to start the inning. You set the pace and teams will follow your lead.
Control the things you can control and be mindful of how much time you waste during a game. Get into a rhythm and develop a pace and it will make the game much more enjoyable for the players, the coaches, the fans and especially the umpires.
Brad Tittrington is an associate editor for Referee. He umpires D-I softball and officiates women’s college and high school basketball, college and high school volleyball and high school football.
Double the Runners, Double the Fun
The two-umpire system creates some tough decisions for umpires. One of these scenarios is when there are runners on first and second and there is either a steal, double steal or pickoff attempt (as shown in the MechaniGram on p. 29). The base umpire must read and react quickly in order to cover these plays.
First, let’s look at a pickoff attempt at first base. The base umpire, who is over near the shortstop, is a long way from the play at first base. The base umpire must decide which direction to move to get an angle to see the potential tag at first base. The best option, most likely, is to take a step or two toward third base. Moving toward second, in most cases, will cause the base umpire to be straight-lined to the play at first. The base umpire also needs to read where the runner on second is and where the shortstop moves. The last thing the base umpire wants is to have either of them directly in the line of view of first base. It is important for the base umpire to quickly read the movements of these two players. The base umpire should then read the play and give a signal. Unless the base umpire is 100 percent sure the runner is out, the base umpire should rule safe. The plate umpire should clear the catcher and get an angle to see the play and be ready to offer assistance if asked. If a coach calls time and asks the base umpire to get help, the base umpire should get together with the plate umpire to get more information as more than likely, the base umpire will have doubt and be too far away to clearly see all the elements of the play. The base umpire will then make the final ruling.
On steals, the base umpire has to be ready to make a decision at either second or third base, depending on where the catcher throws the ball. More often than not, the catcher is going to try to get the lead runner going to third. However, if the runner on second is fast and the runner on first is considerably slower, the defense may try to get the out at second. The base umpire must get out of the set position quickly and read which base the ball is going to and then move to get an angle and close down the distance. On the steal play, the base umpire should be able to get close enough to make a ruling and should only go for help if requested and the base umpire is missing a piece of the information. No matter where the throw goes, the plate umpire needs to clear the catcher and then get an angle to see the play. The plate umpire must be prepared to move to take any secondary plays at third base and all plays at home plate. The plate umpire must communicate when moving up to third for a secondary play to alert the base umpire to prevent multiple umpires making calls at the same base. Both umpires should be alert and focused on the runners until the ball goes back into the pitching circle and all runners are stopped on their respective bases.
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