RIDGE MANOR — I'm the bad guy.
I'm that blind jerk. Now, you'll love to hate me.
I'm an umpire now. The one who makes the call you don't like, the one who called out your son or daughter in the bottom of the inning.
With the help of Jerry Theilen, a local umpire who has been behind the plate for local youth and adult leagues for 11 years, I took an umpire clinic he was offering. In a short three hours with training from him and the rule book, anyone can become an umpire for the Hernando-Sumter Umpires Association, which will get you jobs at leagues that pay their umps.
These people, all taught one on one by Theilen, can make up to $80 on two games, and he takes anyone — men and women — over 16. that's why I signed up. I wanted to prove I had what it takes to call a game, since, like any other die-hard baseball fan, I've criticized blown calls.
Just about anyone is an armchair umpire.
But I learned a lot from the clinic. Theilen's been there and seen most of it, and if he hasn't seen it, he's heard about it. That's where the clinic comes in handy. It teaches how to handle situations with rowdy, in-your-face coaches, as well as taking care of crowd control if they get too pushy or verbal towards youngsters.
"The most important is you have to have control," Theilen said. "When you are in control, then you have a hold on the game and you have the confidence to run the game."
Though Theilen also stresses another important aspect.
No umpire is perfect.
Call them names, swear at them, shake your fist in an old-timey fashion, but in the end, once you strip down the pads and the umpire's mask, and what do you get?
A person. Another human who can have human error.
"I may have made a bad call, or I'm out of position," Theilen said, "but you can't hesitate either. Coaches will be all over you. Thing is, I tell the coach to get the rule book and prove it to me that I interpreted the rule wrong. I welcome that."
Of course, everyone has a different opinion of umpires. Some love them, that is if their team is winning or pulled off the victory. As Theilen says, most go through games without incident, but, of course, the insults still fly.
And that's the trick I learned. At the clinic, Theilen shows how to handle arguments with coaches and teaches that you have to ignore the jeers and cheers.
Meaning grow some thick skin.
Though I haven't done a game yet, I would probably start off nervous, especially because I scored only a 68 on the 100-question true and false test. However, that's a pass for Theilen. Since he heads up this whole shebang, he works with novice umpires, making them better along the way.
He show you how to sell calls and says being a little theatrical with the hand signals, like a mime on a caffeine high, is quite all right.
"I thought you did fine," Theilen told me. "You have a good grasp of the game and the rules, you just struggle with some of the vaguer rules. Most first-time (umps) do."
Whew. Now I can have a breather.
Theilen said I would probably start off with girl's softball, but, like any other umpire, whether in the minor leagues or doing youth leagues some where, I'd have to work my way up. See, Theilen makes an interesting comparison for umpires. The shot callers, even the ones calling the balls and strikes at the Show, have spent years in the minors, working games in the likes of Montgomery, Ala., and Albuquerque, N.M.
Now, Theilen doesn't have guys moving up like that, but when he looks for new umps each season, he says he feels like a major league talent scout, checking out what the area has to offer.
"We can mold you into a good ump," Theilen said. "That's what we do."
I'm the new guy.
The one behind the plate.
Community sports editor Mike Camunas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 544-1771.