This afternoon was the league-wide championship for the local 11-12 year old Little League, and I was selected to be the home-plate umpire. It is without question the highest honor that can be bestowed on an umpire at this level.
However, I was not my “best self” today, as some like to say. Last night I had to attend a family member’s high school graduation, and to no one’s surprise, I was invited to the post-game field party. You could really see the looks of awe on the current graduates’ faces as I mounted the keg in my letter jacket time and time again to show them how to do a proper keg stand. The downside to that is that I woke up this morning was a horrible hangover, and to try and work through it, I went to Beef O’Brady’s before the game and had a couple of double Fireballs on the rocks.
So I was both hungover and very buzzed when I showed up to the game in my umpiring uniform, black LA Gears, black wraparound counterfeit Oakleys, and a determined look. Making matters worse was the fact that it was hot as hell out there, and I was honestly concerned I was going to pass out or suffer a heat stroke. So I knew I needed to call a lot of strikes to make the game go as quickly as possible.
Now I normally have an Atlantic Ocean-sized strike zone, but today I took it to a new level. If the catcher was able to catch it cleanly, I was calling a strike. I would guess I called no more than 8-10 “balls” the entire game. As I’m sure you can imagine, the coaches and parents were whining like complete babies when I would call strikes on balls that bounced in front of the plate or were throw in the other batting box, but I didn’t back off my approach. I ejected one entire family and personally escorted them off the premises because their 7-year old daughter was complaining about my showstopping strike three call (which involves a 180 degree turn and this move like I’m cranking an aging Snapper lawn mower) being “too loud.”
By the time we went into the bottom of the sixth inning, it was still 0-0, both teams had double digit strikeouts, and neither team had gotten a runner past first. I realized my plan of ending the game quickly would backfire if the game went into extra innings.
Thankfully, fate intervened. In the bottom of the sixth, the team batting got a runner to first, and then with two outs, the batter hit a ball in the gap that I thought would score the winning run. So I started walking toward the exit with the idea of leaving after the runner scored to avoid the inevitable angry mob of parents. Unfortunately, the guy on first was slow and hell, and by the time I got past third base, I could tell there was going to be a close play at the plate. I knew that it was my moment to shine and give the fans the memory of a lifetime. As the runner rounded third and started heading home, I likewise began sprinting back toward home plate. The throw was also coming in, and it looked to be ahead of the runner. I’m not sure what came over me at that moment, but I did a head first slide past home plate, and saw the runner lower his shoulder and run over the catcher, who held onto the ball.
Now technically, that’s an out, for two reasons. First, it was actually an out. And second, it is illegal to run over the catcher. It’s supposed to be an automatic out and an ejection. But if anyone thought I was going to extend that game one more inning and pass up the chance to be the center of attention for the most dramatic championship game in league history, they were sorely mistaken. After I completed my head-first slide, I immediately popped up and did a theatric “He’s Safe!” call, complete with spreading my arms open like a bald eagle and a volume level that was probably heard in the next county. It gave the team batting at 1-0 victory and the championship.
Pandemonium ensued. Players, coaches, and parents of the winning team stormed the field. I chest bumped the runner who scored, and then ran over to the cooler of the losing team, picked it up, and gave myself a Gatorade bath. Normally, I would have hung around and basked in the glory of the moment, but the parents of the losing team were already protesting to league officials and trying to get the call overturned. So I just sprinted to the parking lot, got in my Ford Thunderbird that I recently paid straight cash for, and tore out of there.