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While "Discussing" the Strike Zone with the Umpire this Weekend...

I was coaching my kids' 10-12 game yesterday afternoon and we were short one player, so I had my youngest daughter play (She's 8 and technically has 2 more years in her current league which is all pitching machine). In the 10-12 league, the first 3 innings are kid-pitch (with a paid umpire) and the last 3 innings are the machine. Obviously there is quite a difference in the speed and accuracy of the machine v.s. the pitchers. Not to mention the fact that balls and strikes are called when the pitchers are out there and then with the machine, everything is a strike and they must swing at everything. The kids are doing a great job staying in against the pitchers and learning the difference between a ball and a strike. However, when they switch to the machine in the 4th inning, I have several kids taking pitches (the machine is not always accurate and these pitches were balls). The pitches are called strikes and the kids are confused. Not sure how to answer the kids other than to tell them that those are the rules we're playing by.

In any case, back to the 2nd inning ... In her first at-bat ever against a live pitcher in a game, my younger daughter took one healthy cut at a strike and missed. However, I was very proud of her that she stayed in against the 12 year-old pitcher. Having never played in a game where she had the option to not swing at balls, I wasn't sure if she would take any pitches. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw here leave some pitches that were way up and she drew a walk.

In the second inning the umpire (~50 year old guy) called a few very low ankle high pitches for 3rd strikes and my players just looked down at me with looks of confusion as they walked back to the dugout. I just told them no biggie and sometimes the call doesn't go their way. I do realize that it's just 10-12. The next inning however, 3 more batters go down on called 3rd strikes at the ankles ending with my younger daughter. Now these pitches were not even close. Now, I wasn't concerned with the score at all; I just want my players to know that they're doing the right thing not swinging at these pitches and they should have reached base and not been back in the dugout. Sooo... from the 3rd base coaches box, I mentioned to the umpire, "C'mon blue, they can't swing at those pitches. They're at their ankles." He didn't even look up but just held his hand at the level he thought the pitches were at. As I walked back towards the dugout I said, " No, they're nowhere near there and it's not right to call them out on those pitches when they did the right thing not swinging. That's horrible" (in a normal voice). I thought it was over and I started helping my catcher when he started yelling (yes - YELLING!) that I was being warned for unsportsmanlike conduct and would be ejected if I continued "yelling" (I and everyone else at the park can assure you that I was not yelling at all). I walked over to him and continued talking to him about why I was concerned with his strike zone and how we're trying to teach these kids, but he just continued to yell. At this point I just walked back to my dugout. Now, I can assure you that I am not the type of player or coach to argue with an umpire. I have never been thrown out of a game and can count on one hand the amount of times I've even had a comment for an umpire as a player or a coach. Everyone at the game (on both sides) was surprised and agreed that I had not "yelled" anything. I was talking in a normal voice the whole time.

At the end of the game, I did go up to the umpire and shook his hand and discussed the situation with him. He had cooled down, but still said that I was yelling. I told him that I wasn't but that next time, I will walk over to him instead of discussing the situation from the coaches box. It ended on a cordial note. I was just surprised to see such a short fuse on a 10-12 umpire. I was really just concerned that the kids (at least 5 called 3rd strikes) weren't getting rewarded for not swinging at bad pitches)

Did I deal with this incorrectly? How would you have handled it? Do you have any similar situations that you were involved in as a player/coach/umpire?

Views: 226

Comment by russell dean richardson on May 10, 2010 at 10:31am
First let me apologize. I'm sure you know not all umps have that large of a chip on their shoulder. I work High School and College games but also help out with the local little leagues where my sons play. It sounds like this guy had somewhere else he wanted to be so he thought 'ringing 'em up' would be the best way to get out of there. To answer your question it sounds like you handled it pretty well. My advice would be to speak to league officials and request that ump not be scheduled again.
Comment by Jon Crouch on May 10, 2010 at 11:02am
Great comment Russel.

I feel you pain Kyle, I think you handled it better then I did last week. Nornal travel game, The ump was calling my kids pitches balls ( high ) the catchers glove never moved , so I asked the ump how many grand kids did he have on the other team? he did not like that of course. Really nothing you can do , but to reassure your players they did nothing wrong, Keep positive thoughts. ( We did call the umpire group and found this ump has already got 7 complains from other coaches, we asked for our game fee to reimbursted and never to use this guy again )
Comment by Kyle Grucci on May 10, 2010 at 11:10am
LOL... Jon... you had me laughing with the grand kids comment...

Thanks for the comments guys. Like I said, I realize it's 10-12 and a couple times are fine... but when 5 of my players who are learning the strike zone get rung up on pitches that aren't even close? I had to discuss it.
Comment by Mark Cassler on May 10, 2010 at 12:29pm
This is tough dealing with kids this young. I do mostly College, Legion and High School.I have umpired 4 state little league championship games and both my sons were 12 year old pitchers on State Championship teams that I coached.

My advice to you would be to teach your players that every umpire will have a slightly different strike zone. From what your telling me this umpire was very consistent on calling the low strike. I would let my kids know that a pitch at the ankles would be called a strike today so start swinging. A good 12 year old pitcher will take advantage of the umpire calling the low strike and stay there all day. Move your kids up in the box and tell them to hit the pitch in front of the plate before it get in on them. As for your actions your lucky the umpire didn't toss you. Sorry if I'm not telling you what you want to hear. One more thing. Get rid of the batting machine during games.
Mark Cassler
President Northern Vermont Baseball Umpires Association
Comment by Mark Przybylak on May 10, 2010 at 12:47pm
My first question is... Did the umpire have the same strike zone for the opposing team as well? If so, I've seen plenty of it, and players need to adjust to "his zone" no matter where it is. Second, I would have taken that long quiet walk up to the umpire instead of having your initial "question" and conversation with him from the coaches box. If he could hear you from there, so could everyone else. Since I started doing this practice, I have found more umpires to be more receptive to my questions and requests. This is my 13th year of coaching competative and club baseball as well as Recreational and High School Varsity. I guess it's all in your approach. - Coach Mark Przybylak
Comment by Kyle Grucci on May 10, 2010 at 2:10pm
Thanks guys.

Mark C., I normally agree about adjusting to the Umpire's zone. However, with these kids just being introduced to the idea of balls and strikes, it's confusing to them. With regards to the conversation with the umpire, I assure you I was not yelling. However, I definitely will approach him directly next time so that he doesn't take any offense. As I mentioned, I'm not the type to argue calls. I just felt I had to let him know after 5 kids had been called out on balls.

Mark P. - The answer to your question is "no". The zone was definitely not the same and that was part of my issue as well. But again, I wasn't as concerned with the score or the other team's zone as I was with these young kids learning the correct strike zone. I'll definitely go up to him to chat next time.

Comment by Ted Browne on May 10, 2010 at 2:23pm
This was almost a missed opportunity. Speaking with the ump after the game was a real good move. A few points:

As you've mentioned, next time, between innings, talk to the ump face-to-face instead of talking to yourself on the way back to the dugout. Even talking to yourself is showing him up because your entire team (and apparently the other parents in the stands) heard what you said and how you said it, yelling or not. Face-to-face gets the same point across but doesn't show up the ump.

Second, if you approach the up face-to-face and you're also teaching "Even when you THINK the umpire's wrong, he's right", the kids (and parents) will get a great mentoring message on how to handle disagreements with authority figures in real-time.

Third, while it may be true that the ump had a quick trigger, how many times have we (as parents) done the same thing with our kids? Write it off as him having a bad day.

Ted Browne
Beyond Athletic Life Lessons
Comment by Kip Gross on May 10, 2010 at 2:24pm
I have no idea why but it seems as if the younger the players the lower the strike zone and I have a theory as to why. I believe the untrained ump gives up on pitches way to early and therefore don't see it all the way to the glove whether it be a strike or a ball. It's the only thing I can think of after about 6 years of watching and coaching. One of the reasons I say this is because quite often the ump will flinch or even back up on certain pitches because they don't want to get hurt. Next time you see a game watch to see if this coincides with the calls being made. The good ones stay in there while the bad don't. Or what's even worse is when the ump stands about 5 feet back of the catcher. The good umps always move with the catcher. BTW, you handled yourself great. I would tell the ump every pitch if I think it's not good.
Comment by Kyle Grucci on May 10, 2010 at 3:02pm
LOL... I think telling him every pitch would get me tossed. Thanks for the support, Kip.
Comment by Norine aka A Real Live Pink Bat on May 10, 2010 at 3:08pm
I film a lot of little league and all too often see umpires with very loose strike zones for the kids. The best way I see coaches handle it is by directly talking to the umpires between innings. A lot of times the umpires will then work harder to do a better job with their calls.

Coaches in the league I film for who complain during the game or mutter to themselves in their dugouts in front of their players only serve to irritate the umpires even more.

Little league umpires already have one strike against them just by being umpires. It's a thankless and many times a disrespected position in the game. But the umpires who try to do his or her best especially after a coaches discusses his or her complaints in a civil manner to them generally do improve on their calls.

Umpires are not perfect machines. But they can't improve their umpiring skills if we coaches, yes I coach mens baseball too, don't show some respect when we complain. Umpires rule the games at all levels. It's up to us coaches how we present ourselves at the games that determines how well the umpires will work with us to give us their very best umpiring skills.

And yes there are umpires who are totally jerks just like there are coaches and players who are total jerks too. They are the exception thankfully and not the rule or majority.

Of course we want the Blues to be perfect for OUR team during OUR games. The best way to achieve that outcome is the way we talk to them in front of everybody at the game. Because there will be a next time we face that umpire and that umpire WILL definitely remember us and how we were the last game to him or her.


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