DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES – I haven’t waxed romantic about the-once-national-pastime in a while, but as we get into the dog days, baseball’s pretty much all to herself. As many of you know, I play in an old guy league and that goes for some of the blue [umpires] as well.
One of the old timers is Charlie. With his distinguished, bushy gray beard and aviator sunglasses, he’d be as at home on a jazz cruise as he is calling a game. Everyone knows Ol’ Charlie well…and it’s not always fondly; there’s usually a groan that goes around when he walks out of the parking lot and onto the field. Charlie’s going to call his game…and you’re up there to swing. Today our pitcher races across the dugout waving his arms. “Shut up, shut up…me and him are good, don’t piss him off.” He rushes out on deck, prostrates and bows as Charlie walks up smiling and attaches his thermos of cold water to the chain link fence.
It’s hot time summer in the city downtown, the hazy air thanks to the original four level stack interchange nearby, and on my way to coach first, Charlie gives me a fist bump; me and him are good too. Personally, I’m a fairly passive player, it’s a big reason why I’m a terrible base runner, but it also plays well with a guy like Charlie. This isn’t everyone’s game, of course…and Charlie don’t truck to a guy who starts heading to first on a full count, ringing them up with a “Hooowaaaaah!” It also doesn’t fly if the catcher leaps up and heads to the dugout as the pitcher throws a two strike bullet, only to hear an indifferent “Ball.”
That happened to our catcher today. His next time up a big curveball (an Uncle Charlie) bounced off his helmet…so he starts trotting to first only to get called back for not doing enough to get out of the way. Our man was incredulous, to say the least, and when he got plunked again three pitches later, he turned to pointedly ask if he could now take his base. That may be a righteous showing-up, but it’s still showing-up. Charlie was still explaining as I warmed up the pitcher before the next inning.
“He ducked right into it.”
“But Charlie, nobody wants to get hit in the head.”
“I know that,” he admits, but there’s no room for conflict in an umpire’s mind and what’s done is done.
“You’re gonna get an ear-full,” I warned as the catcher approached, still furious.
We had a nice lead at this point, but that next inning was Charlie not in his “swing” mode, but “throw a strike” mode, and our pitcher’s pre-game bows were but a distant memory. The other team hung a seven on us that inning, and made it a game. Charlie’s point was made.
We hung on to win, so this is all just a funny anecdote for my post.
Grote2DMax with Grote’s Gripes, tomorrow.