The Best Seat in the House: being a strike umpire
7 October 2015
Game management is the most important aspect of being a good umpire.
The ability to call an effective strike zone is another very important aspect of being a good umpire.
Some of the best advice I received early in my umpiring career when it comes to establishing a strike zone is this:
A good strike zone is made up of three things.
Something that the players will accept;
Something you are comfortable calling; and
Something you can call consistently.
This approach to establishing a strike zone is relevant from local Under 12s through to the highest level possible.
A philosophy I use in many aspects of umpiring including establishing a strike zone is:
Umpire what the game ACCEPTS and what the game EXPECTS.
In understanding this philosophy ‘the game’ is never an individual or group of individuals. ‘The game’ is the collective group of all participants.
From here, how do we be a strike umpire?
Being a strike umpire requires the right mental approach.
Don’t be afraid to call strikes, particularly strike three.
The game expects strikes to be called and the game is better off for it.
So firstly, we need to establish a ‘full zone’ early. Establishing a ‘full zone’ requires us to call all of the edges and corners; and everything in between. Seek out the opportunity to call those edges and corners early in the game.
Now we are establishing a ‘full zone’ and we must maintain it. All of those strikes we sought after to call early in the game should remain strikes throughout the game.
Call as many pitches that are strikes – "STRIKE" and call as many pitches that are balls – “BALL”. This is the consistency that the game expects.
Nobody is perfect and umpires are human just like the players. If you are going to err on a pitch, err on the side of calling – “STRIKE”.
This will mean that every pitch that is thrown for a strike is called a “STRIKE”.
Maintaining a ‘full zone’ for the duration of the game is a challenge for all umpires and a test of focus, concentration and endurance.
So now we are establishing a mental approach that will allow us to be a strike umpire.
Several other philosophies and phrases I value in establishing a mental approach for being a strike umpire are these.
“The pitch that takes your breath away”. Don’t get frozen by that pitcher’s pitch. The pitcher wants to freeze and deceive the batter, not the umpire. Call that pitch a – “STRIKE”.
“Every pitch is a strike until it does something to become a ball”. When we are working a plate, step back and relax between every pitch, re-focus and want that next pitch to be a strike.
“Look aggressively into the pitch”. This is a combination of a mental process and complemented by our plate stance. Positioning ourselves to see every strike. A little bit extra ‘lean’ in our stance can give us the feel of aggressively looking into the pitch.
“Ball four slows down the game”. This doesn’t mean we should change our already ‘full zone’ when there is a ball three count. It means be a strike umpire throughout every count.
“The pitch that is too close to call”. Should be called a – “STRIKE”
To finish with a philosophy of Jim Evans:
“Work hard every pitch of every game. That pitch means something to somebody”.
Should you take the philosophy of being a strike umpire into every game?..........