Our first compulsory umpiring duty.
Richard and I were the umpires (or “blues”). I was to be plate umpire – the guy who calls balls and strikes. Our teams were Meteors 3 (you may remember them from last week) and the Barracudas (those with long memories may remember them from last Summer).
On my way to the match, I did what I’d done before the first University Challenge match – I took a moment for myself, to be well and truly terrified, and thus got it all out of the way. Well, mostly.
We began with the traditional talk with the captains, during which we defined ground rules (this became important later) and freely acknowledged that this was our first time umpiring (subtext: “please be gentle with us”). I’d forgotten to bring my clicker, but Kevin of Meteors 3 always has a spare, so I borrowed that. Didn’t show any favouritism for it, though.
The cliché is that you just have to be confident, and “call them as you see them”. To an extent this is true. I know I screwed up call after call, and that we must have missed some of the plays. But still, there was a huge store of goodwill, tolerance and understanding from even seasoned players towards their newbie blues.
But still – it was a bit scary. I realised that the blues don’t get the break that players do every half inning. They have to stand there. Alert and ready to make call after call after call. By the end I was praying for either the pitcher to fling the ball short into the mud or the batter to tonk it cleanly to the outfield so I wouldn’t have to make a close call. I also found myself reducing it to the pure mechanics, ignoring the personalities, the teams, the state of the game.
Richard was a great co-umpire. He looked the part making his calls in the outfield, and wants to have a crack at the plate next time.
In the end, Meteors were ahead and due to bat at the bottom of the fifth when bad light and appalling wet conditions made it wise to call the game. So I shouted “ballgame!”, and that was that.
My best call was probably when a ball hit the old clubhouse – thanks to defining ground rules, I knew that unless the ball ended up in the house it was still live, and called it accordingly.
Afterwards I had a beer with Richard, my fellow umpire, and Duncan Devil Stray. He’d turned up to watch us umpire and lend moral support – and also to pick up hints as to how we were going to umpire the Dev Strays’ game next week of course, competitive so-and-so that he is. He was full of praise – said we’d done a “storming” job. So he can’t complain if we call him struck out next game then, right?
I made some woeful calls, but at least they were consistently woeful. And the sides accepted the result without protest, and that’s the main thing. My only worry now is that “be gentle with us – this is only our second game” may not wash as well…