was both excited and nervous as I took the field for my first high school
game in late summer 2014. It was my third year umpiring baseball. I had roughly 75 youth league baseball games under my belt, but moving to high school baseball – even if just a freshman game – seemed like a huge leap over those prior experiences.
I had wanted to work the bases to ease into this new level. My partner, who had helped train me through the local umpire association, insisted it would be the perfect opportunity to step behind the plate. I’d have someone experienced working with me, someone who could step in if there was any trouble, which he insisted there wouldn’t be. “You’re ready,” he said. “It won’t be much different from some of the good youth baseball you’ve seen.”
I was pretty nervous about jumping right on the plate for my first high school game, but I went with it. As I donned the plate gear in the parking lot, I took a lot of deep breaths to calm my nerves. Just before the first pitch, I took another deep breath before dropping into my stance. My heart was racing a mile a minute.
It took the first inning before I started to get comfortable. The game was close with both Oak Creek and Wauwatosa East playing competitively. We were cruising along. I was really enjoying my first taste of high school baseball.
When we reached the top of the fourth inning, that all changed.
The batter fouled off a pitch right into my mask. The ball hit me so hard, I almost fell. I remember everything kind of hazy. In fact, I remember the batter swinging, but I don’t remember him fouling it off. For a brief moment, I kept closing and opening my eyes. And I shook my head a little. One of the coaches asked if I was OK. I nodded and put my hand up like I was. And then I got right back behind the plate and got the game back under way.
I quickly realized something wasn’t right. I had a hard time focusing. I was struggling to see the ball clearly, and I called a few balls that should have been called strikes, but nothing so egregious that it called obvious attention to the situation.
I didn’t feel right. I actually felt nauseated. I didn’t say anything to my partner. He later said I didn’t give any outward indication of having issues. It was my first high school game – actually my only high school game that season – and I thought, “I’ve got to finish this.” I didn’t want to be “that guy.” So I struggled through. I arrived at the last out with a headache – never fully realizing the seriousness of the situation.
In a postgame review with my partner, I told him about having a headache and that after getting hit, it was hard to focus. He said I should have told him; we would have switched out. But I thought I was fine.
I remember driving home from the game and my head started pounding worse. I felt horrible. That night, my fiancée said I seemed confused. Her sister, who was a nurse and visiting at the time, said I should go to the doctor because I had probably suffered a concussion. My fiancée was so worried about me that she sat and watched me sleep that night. When I look back on it now, I should have taken things more seriously.
I went to the doctor the next day, and he confirmed I had suffered a concussion. He said I needed to rest for the next several weeks. No umpiring. That meant turning back games.
It took nearly two weeks before I started feeling halfway decent again. The experience made me think about umpiring. You hear about people getting concussions and if you get enough you can quickly have permanent damage. I started to question if I really wanted to do this.
I didn’t get back on the field for several weeks, finishing up a few youth games at the end of the season and I mostly worked the bases.
I didn’t take any additional games that season and I didn’t send in my renewal with the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association to work high school games. As spring 2015 approached, however, I started thinking differently.
I love baseball. All my computer screen savers are baseball. My cell phone’s text notification is the sound of a ball hitting a bat. My ringtone is Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s On First” routine. I don’t want to give up umpiring.
Next time, if I do get hit and it affects me, I won’t hesitate to talk with my partner. Your judgment can get clouded. You don’t know how bad it really is, but with everything we now know about concussions, you shouldn’t mess around.
Despite the shadow hanging over my first experience with high school baseball, I’m still looking forward to this season. I’m ready.
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