Balls and Strikes
The difference between a ball and a strike is whatever the umpire says it is. I now know this firsthand.
The boy’s little league team was scrimmaging with another team, so there was no official umpire. Our coach asked one of his assistants if he would umpire. “I don’t think I can,” he said. “My son is on the mound.”
I saw the coach’s eyes shift towards me. I looked at the ground. “Maybe he won’t notice me sitting here,” I hoped.
“Can you call balls and strikes?” he queried.
“I can try, but…”
He handed me a clicker with which to keep track of balls and strikes as he said, “You can stand behind the backstop if you want. We don't have a mask or pads for an umpire.”
I never played organized baseball. The only baseball I ever played was on the playground at recess, where they usually asked me to back up the left fielder. (For those not familiar with the intricacies of the game, backing up the left fielder is like being told to just stay out of the way.)
What had I gotten myself into? I wasn’t even sure where the strike zone was. I sauntered over to one of the assistant coaches and said, “I can’t remember. In this league, is the strike zone between the shoulders and knees?” I hoped no one else heard the question.
“That sounds about right,” he said.
“About right.” That’s how I called things. About right.
I called for the first batter of the game. My heart raced. Everyone would soon know that I had no idea what I was doing.
The first pitch came. The catcher reached over his head to grab it. It went over his mitt. The ball was heading for my face. I ducked in time. “Ball 1,” I said.
Maybe this was going to be easier than I thought. I have good reflexes, and can duck when I need to.
Unfortunately, not all of the calls were so easy. I called one pitch a strike. The batter looked back at me and said, “You have to be kidding. That was over my head.”
The pitch was not over his head, but it was probably a little high.
“Don’t argue with the umpire!” called the coach.
“Yeah,” I said, “don’t argue with me, or I’ll eject you.”
“No you won't,” he replied.
He was right. It was the boy, my boy, who was up to bat.
He swung at the next pitch, even though it bounced off the plate. He looked at me and said, “Might as well swing. You’ll call it a strike anyway.” He smiled.
On the way back to the car after the game, I said, “You were right. The first one was a little high.”
“I know,” he said.
“Why on earth did you swing at the second one?”
“I don’t know,” he replied. “I just got nervous.”
“So did I,” I said. “So did I.”
I have been a priest for 16 years. I spent the first four years in Minnesota and Wisconsin, six years on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, before becoming the pastor at Advent Episcopal Church in Westlake in 2010. If anyone would find it interesting I have a son and daughter, which I refer to as a matched set, a wife, a dog, and a cat.