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Behind the Plate, It's All Work as Others Play

SUMMER SPECIAL: A look at recreation and outdoor life in Orange County during the summer. Third of 10 parts.

July 09, 1986|JIM McCURDIE | Times Staff Writer

HELP WANTED

Reliable, fair-minded persons needed to umpire slo-pitch softball games on weeknights. Baseball or softball experience preferred. Eye test required. Thin-skinned individuals need not apply.

Not a bad way to make a few extra bucks, you say? Well, there are some advantages. The pay's not bad . . . usually ranging from $13 to $15 a game. An umpire working in the right city could bring home $60 for about five hours of work. And the hours make it ideal for people looking to supplement their incomes with a little moonlighting.

But, as just about any slo-pitch umpire who's been calling high-arching balls and strikes for a few years will tell you, it's not as easy as it looks. Not when you are the sole authority figure in a group of 20 or so grown men and women (mixed leagues are big these days) who tend to forget they're grown men and women when they step onto the diamond. Not when umpires, slo-pitch and fast-pitch, softball and hardball, have a long-standing tradition of becoming the outlet for a player's frustrations and the target of a spectator's wrath.

"Some people feel it's their duty to harass umps," said Jerry Gardner, who umpires slo-pitch games in Irvine. "People get intensely into a game that is supposed to be fun."

Said Michael Arroyo, who umpires in Santa Ana: "I've had my share of people wanting to divulge their opinion of my eyesight."

Arroyo's motive for subjecting himself to such verbal abuse? "I played for quite a long time . . . about seven years," he said. "I had always been real critical of umpires. I figured I could do a better job than a lot of the people out there."

Many umpires surveyed got their introductions to slo-pitch through playing. Some play in leagues in one city, and umpire in another. Some are in it for the money. Some say they enjoy umpiring.

In order to work for a city recreation department, an umpire must be certified by the Southern California Municipal Athletic Federation. The federation conducts clinics for prospective umpires and issues written exams testing them on their knowledge of the rules and their reactions to hypothetical game situations.

There is no way to test how they will react when tempers flare, however. Most agree that the best approach is firm, but unemotional. The trick is to keep your composure when those around you are losing theirs, which they invariably will.

"I feel everybody needs to vent some of their frustration," Arroyo said. "On a close play, I might let somebody blow off a little steam. If it's an obvious play and somebody is just beating a dead horse, I don't put up with it."

Don Munion is the chief umpire for the Southern California Softball Assn. He is responsible for scheduling umpires for weekend tournaments throughout Orange and Los Angeles counties, and used to umpire five nights a week. He has seen enough to know what makes a good umpire good.

"The guys who go out there and establish control usually won't have problems," Munion said. "The guys who don't will have a tendency to let the game eat them up real quick."

Munion remembered a particularly unpleasant incident while umpiring in La Habra in which establishing his authority wasn't enough.

"A guy who looked twice as tall as I was didn't particularly like a call I made. He ran onto the field and shoved me. I thumbed him immediately, but he kept coming at me. It took two guys to restrain him."

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