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I'm fine, I'm fine. It's just something in my eye.

in

The day finally came. It came, it came, it came just the same. Our baby is going to Kindergarten! He put up a brave front. Me on the other hand... I could tell he was nervous, but when the time came he went in, hung up his backpack and jacket and took his seat.

I was doing fine watching him stand there, trying to gain a bead on how he was doing. Then the other parents started lining their kids on the wall and some started crying because brother or sister was going to their class. The realization hit everyone that it was time. All the weeks of preparing, of coaching, of worrying and praying and it all came together here. Then I got a little tear thinking about how we got to this point. The early labor. Late night feedings watching West Wing. Putting him back in his crib 57 times in a night. Sending him to daycare/preschool last year and the tears he shed for the first two weeks.

Now he's in "big boy" school with his older brother. He'll have recess and eat in the lunchroom. He'll learn things I would have never thought to teach him. He's growing up and I can't stop it and I can't wait for it.

Behold! I present to you, Arachnid!

Click on the image for its full glory (if you dare)!

After I put the boys to bed last night, I came downstairs to a darkened hallway, but I could just see the not so faint outline of something on the floor. As I approached it scurried away and into the kitchen where I could get a better view. After seeing its full size I had to share it with you, my readers. That is one big arachnid!

It reminds me when we were first married I heard Calliope scream from the other room and came in to find a smaller spider than this one, but big nonetheless. I think I earned my first husband points that day.

Going back further, when we were dating and watching a movie at her place, we saw a comparable spider go across the floor and it looked like it was depressing the carpet

I'm okay picking these guys up with a tissue, but the fear that I'm going to miss and it's going to crawl around on my hand and up my arm is what gives me the willies. I was kind to this one—picked it up and released it outside so it will eat more critters and grow large enough it won't be able to crawl inside again. I can dream!

Game 2: The one where I get schooled!

I was a little nervous going into my second game. For one, the teams playing included the losing team from Game 1 and I always worry there's going to be antagonism toward the umpire for the loss—well, more antagonism than usual toward the umpire. What I was nervous about was that the UIC (Umpire in Chief) for our sister league would be handling the bases and I didn't want to make a mockery of the umpiring profession. Mostly I didn't want him to mock me!

The UIC was the one who led the training classes so you know he knows the rules. He asked me if there was anything I wanted to work on in the game. Rather than say "Everything" I just sort of shrugged my shoulders and game him a "Not really," committing myself to take any suggestions he would give me.

After the first half inning where he tried in vain to communicate with me from the field and I wasn't paying attention to any of it, he said, "Let's work on your signals." I should have been checking with him at least between batters and better to check between pitches just to make sure we were on the same page. Between batters you can communicate the number of outs; between pitches you can communicate the count. Something can happen on every pitch that distracts you from advancing the count so making sure you match your partner saves face when the third strike comes and everyone in the stands the mumbling about whether the batter is out.

At one point I called time so the scoreboard could be reset and my partner later told me not to worry about the scoreboard. It's wrong 30% of the time and it's not my problem as an umpire. I was glad he said this because I had been using the scoreboard as my back up for the count and outs.

We had a play at home where I called the runner safe. My partner coached me at the next break, "The closer the play, the louder the call. You want to make sure nobody doubts your conviction in making the call. You have to sell it." That's a good life lesson.

Later in the game as runs were scoring I would call them safe as they crossed the plate. Usually when the ball was coming in, but not so close the runner was in danger. My partner recommended not doing this. I only needed to make the call when there was a play and to have a play you need three things: a ball, a fielder and a runner. If you're missing any of those you don't have a play and you don't need to call it. He said the other issue to consider is if a runner crosses home, but doesn't touch the base you don't want to tip off the team that they missed it by not calling "Safe" so it's better not to call anything when there's no play and let things unfold.

All the years I've played and watched baseball I thought of the strike zone as a box and in order for something to be a strike it had to go inside the strike zone. After the game my partner told me my strike zone was on the narrow side. As with other lines in baseball the strike zone includes the width of the ball, so even if the ball just grazes the edge of the plate it's a strike. "A pitch is a strike until confirmed otherwise," my partner corrected me. He told me the shortstop had told the runner on second, "What does it take to get a strike?" The running replied, "Yeah, that looked right in there to me." Even the players know the rules better than me!

One of the problems with my view of the strike zone was that I wasn't getting low enough in the slot. My partner kept coaching me to get lower and then around the third inning he said, "I know why you can't go lower in your stance. It's your jeans!" I had the proper umpire gray slacks, but they weren't hemmed so I wore my jeans. He and I were surprised I was able to get the shin guards under them, but they were preventing me from getting low enough in my stance to get a good view of the strike zone.

Before the game starts you meet with your partner to discuss responsibilities for covering the bases and making certain calls. My partner wanted to call outfield foul balls on the first base line when he was in the 'A' position. Sure enough, we had a ball go far foul and I forgot he was going to call it, so I also called it. Fortunately we agreed. In our training he shows a picture of two umpires making different calls on the same ball and by communicating responsibilities before the game you can avoid this. I also realized how nice it is to have someone to depend on in the field. It really frees you up to focus on what's happening at the plate. You still have to remember to watch what's happening at third and home.

My fears were allayed and my partner gave me a lot of great feedback. As I watched him make his calls I marveled at how he recalled a tiny rule point and applied it while the play was progressing. He really was THAT good. It is really a thing of beauty to watch an experienced umpire work the game. Moving to the infield, running down second and third, lining up to be where he thinks the action will take place. It separates the people who take it seriously from those who are simply fulfilling and obligation. I want to take this seriously.

Game 1: Play Ball!

Three classroom sessions, 1 day of field training and a methodical read of most of the rule book on a flight to and from Palm Springs—Play Ball!

I picked up a suspended game from earlier in the week in the Coast league. Our divisions start at AAA, then Coast, and finally Majors. It was the Yankees vs. the Cubs. I was fortunate to be paired with a veteran 25 game umpire on the bases and he walked me through a lot of the pre-game. He identified dead-ball areas and confirmed how the coaches wanted to play them. We did the equipment checks and got ready to start.

With the practice game backing me up, I felt pretty good calling the pitches this time. It's still difficult to identify a good and fair strike zone, but I felt I was pretty consistent. I did notice when I took a little extra time to think about a pitch, the parents would often call out encouragement to the batter on whether they were right to swing or watch and at one point I wondered if they were trying to sway me. I think it was just encouragement to the batter. I purchased a pair of plate shoes (New Balance MU450MK) which protect your feet nicely, so I did a much better job staying in the slot for pitches.

At this level, the kids are probably throwing 30-45mph which is roughly 45-67fps. The pitching rubber is 46 feet from home which means the ball travels less than a second between the pitcher and batter and even less time traveling through the strike zone. One pitch came in high and I blinked my eyes just as it crossed the plate and I called it a ball. The catcher looked back at me and said, "But he swung at it." I pointed to my partner and he called a strike. I was surprised what I could miss during that short blink.

Both teams were really good on defense and offense. Lots of good hits and smart running and good fielding. The home plate umpire is responsible for calling the pitches, fair/foul, catch/no-catch plays and plays at home. One batter hit a long shot down the left field line and it bounced fair and then went into foul territory and past the home run fence. My partner had confirmed with the coaches that the ball would remain live in this area and in this case, the ball just kept going (artificial turf) to probably the 75 yard point on the overlaid soccer field. I believe the batter had a "in the park" home run on that.

Contrast that with a later hit where the ball sailed into left field over the fielder. Once I saw it hit the ground I felt my duties completed and glanced around the bases, missing the fact the ball bounced over the fence allowing only a double for the batter. Fortunately my partner saw it and we rolled the runners back to their position. Here's an interesting rule note. Runners are awarded bases when the ball goes into dead ball territory. A home run is a special case of this rule where the ball goes into dead ball territory beyond the fence and the runners are awarded 4 bases.

We had another incident with runners on first and second with 1 out and a high pop-up to the short stop. I watched the ball into his glove and called the out. The runners had waited to tag-up and were safe on their bases. The offensive coach asked me if I had known they were playing the infield fly rule to which I responded, "Now I do."

The most controversial play of the game came when one of the batters hit the ball into the ground, it bounced and I heard it hit the batter and then rolled fair, but I allowed the play to proceed. I knew we had covered that in training, but I couldn't remember the ruling. Something in my head said the batter was protected in the batter's box, but the fact it hit him meant it was some sort of interference. The catcher was quick to the ball and put the runner out at first to end the inning. As the teams left the field, the third base coach asked about the ball hitting the batter. I paused and seeing my uncertainty, the coach asked me to check with my partner. We had a quick chat and I told him I heard it hit the batter and he said then I should call it. We conferred with another umpire in the stands and decided to reverse the call. The other coach approached us to ask what the ruling was and I explained that the ball had hit the batter. He complained that the other coach couldn't appeal whether I saw something to which I responded that he wasn't appealing whether I saw it, I saw it, but didn't call it because I didn't know the rule. The offensive coach thanked me and the defensive coach walked back to his dugout and explained to his players in a loud voice, intended for me I assume, the mistake that had been made and something something something.

I discovered at this point that if you concentrate on calling those pitches, you really don't hear a lot of the chatter from the stands and dugouts.

A ball is determined fair or foul within the infield by where the ball comes to rest without contacting a player or foreign object. If it does contact a player or foreign object it will be fair or foul based on the position of the object. The batter is typically in foul territory within the batter's box and therefore, if a ball hits the batter it should be a foul ball.

Practice Game

So with two classroom sessions in the bag and a day of field training I thought I would try to umpire Linus' practice game.

The league guys were great. They helped me suit up: knee pads, chest protector, mask, cup (okay, they didn't help me with that). I will say that you feel pretty invincible with all the armor on your body. I was a stud!

The first thing I noticed when I started calling pitches was that it wasn't any easier to call a ball or strike from behind the plate than it is on TV or from the stands. It is a huge judgment call. I can completely understand how umpires develop a style and a zone for their calls and how it can vary between umpires.

Linus plays in AAA which is the lowest kid-pitch league (our league has a modified kid-pitch rule, but it's mostly kid-pitch). The pitches were all over the place and I kept trying to avoid the ball when the catcher wasn't going to catch it. This is not conducive to making good calls. One time I called a ball after the batter swung at the pitch.

We learned in class to make a fist pounding motion for strikes and to simply call a ball without moving. I forgot a couple instructions and was calling and motioning swinging strikes which really only require the motion. I also found that by holding the clicker/indicator in my right hand (the motion hand) I would forget to make the motion a lot of the time because I was trying to advance the count with that hand and my brain is not very good at multitasking.

We only played three innings, but we went through a lot of pitches. Sometime in the second I was feeling pretty weary and remembered some of the field training when they would talk about the fatigue you get in the 4th or 5th inning and start to lose track of things. I think it helps to make sure you move between pitches so you keep the blood flowing and maintain a little alertness.

I was fortunate one of the UICs (Umpire in Chief) was there to watch me and he provided some great feedback. He corrected my called swinging strikes. He also reinforced the need for me to stay put and not move in order to make the right calls. You have to trust your armor. Everything is protected and you just have to let the balls bounce off you. You almost become a part of the field at that point and have the catcher move around you to fetch the ball.

One other tip was not to wear your knee-pads outside your pants. It makes you look like a rookie.

Umpiring 101

Calliope loves baseball! She hated it for a long time. Thought it was a stupid game without any action. Could not understand why Seattle should pay for the Mariners' new stadium. Then some friends started explaining it to her and pointing out how handsome Dan Wilson was and what a great family man he was and she started to like this game called baseball. Fifteen years later and now she loves baseball. She's been to Spring Training and she gets very excited when the pitchers report in February.

A few years late, we finally enrolled Linus in Little League and Orpheus in T-Ball. We were not prepared for the all consuming pastime that is Little League Baseball. Calliope signed up for scorekeeping and is the official scorekeeper for the team. Another league rule requires your team to umpire as many games as your team plays. I signed my name on the umpire sheet and thought it was funny when they pricked my finger and asked me to use the blood to sign. I like these sorts of rules— something about the socialism shared responsibility of it really appeals to me.

The league provides a lot of training to help you through the mechanics of being an umpire: where to stand, what to call, when to call it, etc. For every one of you who complains about the calls in MLB, you must attend this training to gain an appreciation for what the umpire has to do. And this was only for Little League!

This all began about a month ago when we met for family night and I learned about the umpire responsibilities. At first I viewed it as, "<sigh>Something I have to do for my son's team." I also thought, "Hmm, umpiring, how hard can it be? Ball, strike, safe, out. Easy Peasy!" After attending the training I'm thinking, "Who came up with these crazy rules?"

The training has been great! We have three 3 hour classroom sessions and we had a day of field training where we actually work on positioning ourselves to make the right call for all the different possibilities that may unfold during the play.

The classroom training was another case of, "Do I really need to attend 9 hours of training?" After the first class and the field training my thinking changed to, "I better attend those other two classroom sessions." I have a few baseball nerd friends (you know who you are) who have devoted at least a third of their cerebral function to the memorization of baseball statistics and rules. I am not one of these people. I played baseball until I failed to make the team in my 9th grade year, but I never knew all the rules and that there was a rule to cover just about anything that might happen during a game. And if something happens that isn't covered in the rules, they also have a rule for that. All this is to say that the rules are not coming naturally for me. After learning most of the rules I will offer this warning: If you mess up the batting order of a game I'm umpiring and I have to figure out all those whacky rules I will bring the full power of my umpiring position down on you!

In my neverending quest to add some substance to this blog, I thought it would be fun to share my experience here with you, my beloved readers. Maybe the search engines will pick it up and would be umpires will flock here to learn from my experience or laugh at my rookie mistakes. I'm looking forward to writing about my umpiring experience. I hope you'll enjoy it and get a laugh out of it too!

Crazy for Prayer

I've been reading Frank Schaeffer's Crazy for God and came across this passage about praying for his premature daughter:

With [my daughter] not keeping her food down, I learned the prayer that has no words, the one I'd be praying forever after I became a father, whatever I called myself, or converted to, or abandoned, when the feeling of dread is prayer—prayer longing for what I could never give a child in danger, or myself: the guarantee of joy.

After reading that, I had to stop and soak in it for a moment. My boys have been very healthy but I can relate to that feeling of caring for these little ones and wanting the best for them no matter what. Ultimately, the only thing you can do is pray, asking God for his protection and that he will call them into His fold.

What's your favorite Winter Olympics sport?

What was the must have gift for Christmas 2009?

iPhone
67% (2 votes)
Android Phone
0% (0 votes)
Anything made by Apple
0% (0 votes)
A new car
33% (1 vote)
Nintendo DS(i)
0% (0 votes)
Tickets to the Winter Olympics
0% (0 votes)
Total votes: 3

Egg on My Face

I was wandering around Server Fault this evening and found someone looking for stories of the Best sysadmin accident. Here's mine:

Ten, plus years ago I was working on a project that required a SOCKS proxy. I had been using a program called WinGate that in addition to SOCKS proxy, provided a nice little Internet gateway functionality with NAT, DHCP and a few other niceties. This was before Windows had Internet Connection sharing, so WinGate let you share your dial-up modem with your Ethernet network.

I installed the software and started work on the SOCKS client functionality. Later that day, we lost internet connectivity. All of a sudden, it just stopped and nobody could access outside the company. We called our ISP and everything looked fine on the connection. The router was working fine. We just couldn't figure out what went wrong. I pitched in at one point as I had some knowledge of TCP/IP, but I didn't make any headway.

The next day our IT guy figured out that the DHCP server had given the address of the router out to someone's machine, and everyone was using it for the default gateway which didn't go anywhere. Later that day our IT guy came into my office and I asked, "So did you figure out who gave out the wrong IP address?" He said, "Yeah, it's you!"

WinGate had defaulted to running a DHCP server and had given out the router address to the first client whose previous address had expired. I was pretty red-faced for a week.