Whew! When Billy Haze and his cohorts with the Black & Blue Umpire Camps (BBUC) were done with me, I was bruised and battered. And when I say bruised, I an referring to my ego. I was heard to say more than once in the past three days, "I haven't felt like this much of a rookie in decades!" It was very humbling, but the information was extremely valuable to me as a baseball umpire.
Yes, I have been looking forward to these last three days for the last three months since I first heard the training was being organized and that the BBUC trainers were going to travel to Northern Utah to put on the camp. I was never quite sure what was going to be taught in this advanced umpire training, but I knew that the training staff was going to be top notch. I had researched the BBUC and I found nothing but good information about them online. All four of our BBUC trainers are currently Umpire In Chiefs (UIC's) in Division 1 college baseball and their evaluations were key if an umpire has the desire to move up in the hierarchy of umpiring. So who are our BBUC trainers?...
BBUC UTAH CAMP TRAINING STAFF
BILLY HAZE - Billy is an intense umpire/trainer with a clear eye for what he likes and what he does not like in an umpire. He strives to get every participant to rid themselves of any movement or action that makes them look anything less than professional on the field. Billy was very intense throughout the entire training, and that was a good thing for us participants.
SCOTT LETENDRE - Scott was great during the training. He was definitely the most approachable and he was always full of the little advice to help us in our actions behind home plate. He helped me a great deal with my form and actions in my stance behind the plate, and I listened intently as he provided me valuable feedback. "Get your nose on the catcher's ear and get closer to the catcher so that you can see that lower outside corner" were his key observations to me.
BILLY JO SPECK - Now here is a guy I could sit around and giggle with for days on end. He is so transparent in his thoughts, words, and actions. If something bugs him, then he just verbalizes his unfiltered feelings. I immediately knew where I stood with him, yet he has a great heart and has a genuine kindness within his gruff exterior. I gained important feedback and I am almost scared to watch my self-recorded video of my two innings behind the plate on Saturday evening because I know that he was sitting right near the video camera's microphone. Do I really want to hear what he was thinking out loud? It could be way too over the top for my recovering psyche to hear, yet if he said it, I know that he really meant it... I really enjoyed Billy Jo's explanation of the 360 degree umpire philosophy that eliminates the standard "Stand right here on the X" type of umpiring.
SCOTT "HIGGY" HIGGINS - Higgy was definitely the storyteller of the bunch. As far as experience goes, he is the only one to have spent time in Major League Baseball, and he related story after story of colorful experiences that helped convey what it was really like at the upper levels of baseball. Higgy was listed as the "Lead Instructor" and did a very good job with his portion of the white board classroom and field training. During our practical game time he was not around much, and I did not gain a lot of direct one on on advice, yet his stories let me realize the huge sacrifices one makes to umpire in the college, minor, and major leagues.
Collectively between the four BBUC trainers, they have worked behind the plate in baseball games in Division 1 College Baseball, the World Cup of Baseball, the College World Series, Minor League Baseball, Major League Baseball, as well as all of the lower baseball it took them to get there. These four haven't been on the youth league fields in decades and nowadays their time is spent making calls is with players, coaches, and teams that know how to play top quality baseball. They talked at length about doing games before thousands and tens of thousands of fans. I especially enjoyed their references and comparisons between western college baseball where fans are split between professional sports to baseball down in the South where the college game is the only one in town. It was obvious from their stories that LSU is the best place to get assigned in college ball. The LSU stadium is incredible and the umpire dressing room is luxurious. Hearing the good parts of their experiences makes it all sound so glamorous, but they confirmed the huge sacrifice of being away from their home bases.
MY SECRET AGENDA - Shhhhh! Don't tell anybody, but my hidden agenda was to evaluate the men and determine if these higher levels of baseball officiating were even something I desired to aspire. I have concluded that these men have paid a very high price for the levels they have achieved, yet it has been at a huge sacrifice due to the amount of travel and time it has taken them away from their home bases. As for me, I am not willing to make that sacrifice (and I'm much too old and late in the process to climb very high), yet I still want to become the best umpire I can become on a local and regional level.
SWEARING & BOYS LOCKER ROOM HUMOR - It has been decades since I spent much time in boys locker rooms and I have become totally unaccustomed to locker room humor. Being around this many umpires, it was amazing to me how adolescent and off color the majority of their humor was, as well as how common swearing seems to be in their normal day to day interactions. It caught me off guard, but it seems so common amongst the majority. This was true with our trainers and many of the participants. Years ago I remember consciously making the choice to not have that as part of my daily work environment, and this is a big reason I opted to be self-employed and could better control my normal daily environment.
But to be fair, being with these umpires over 3-days was no different than being at a home inspector conference. Swearing and off color stories seem to be so common place amongst men in general. I am thankful that I have not become so jaded that the swearing and locker room humor went unnoticed. As an umpire, I am fortunate to mainly work with youth on swear-free ball fields and I do my best to remind coaches and players of that fact. If I had been at a mule herding convention over the past three days, then I would have expected all of the swearing, but to be fair, I think that our trainers were on their best behaviour and that they were unaware they were even swearing.
BBUC TRAINING FOCUS - This particular Black & Blue Umpire Camp training dealt specifically with the 3-man crew. Local Utah umpires spend most of their time either one manning it, or using a 2-man crew. Each of us participants have hundreds and/or thousands of games working in 2-man crews, but relatively few games in the 3-man crew. In High School Varsity baseball, they use 2-man crews all season until the end of school year State Tournaments and then they switch to 3-man umpiring crews. It sounds good on paper, but now you take umpires with no formal 3-man training and put them in the most important games of the year and expect them to perform better in a system they haven't used all year. That sounds foolish, doesn't it? Adding an extra man must make the officiating better, right? The reality is that it now makes everything harder and very unnatural because the responsibilities for field coverage and rotation are so different in 3-man. Instead of reacting on instinct, it turns into continual stress of knowing where to go. The hesitation when the ball is hit results in all sorts of missed coverages... That is, unless you take a training like this BBUC offering and get to understand, learn, and put the 3-man mechanics into practice. Out of the 26 participants, only a small few had any real 3-man experience, and I don't think any had previously ever been to top notch 3-man training before. This put us all in the same boat of having to figure out the positions and the scenarios. We all received plenty of instruction from our experienced trainers that work on 3-man and 4-man crews all season long.
I had read the 3-man mechanics before the training, but I was using the NFHS high school mechanics book, and they differ from the CCA collegiate mechanics taught at the Black & Blue Umpire Camps' staff. The CCA mechanics are deemed far superior to the NFHS and they are what the high school umpires will be expected to use in the coming years. This means I have another manual to purchase to round out my ever growing umpire library.
I was very slow to initially understand the 3-man system, but by the end of the BBUC training I was finally starting to get it. Not only are there new field positions, but everything changes when there are less than two outs and two outs. During our first lunch hour, while everybody else was out eating, I found myself walking the UVU Brent Brown infield and putting myself through all sorts of scenarios. You would have thought I was a crazy man as I walked the infield and vocally talked through each position and could be heard to say over and over, "I don't know!" when I was trying to determine where I should be positioned in each scenario. It is obvious, now that the training is over, that I now need to go find a couple dozen games to volunteer my time and get this 3-man system under my belt and allow it to become natural. I now have enough experience to be dangerous, but in reality I would still be very effective even though it is still not natural.
LINE UPON LINE - We dealt very little with rules at the BBUC training camp. Instead, we dealt with mechanics and positioning behind the plate and out on the bases. Knowledge of the rules were a given, and this is where it was a great line upon line type of training camp. I already know 1-man mechanics where I am responsible for everything. I also know very well the 2-man system where everything is a huge compromise as we attempt to cover the field from the best angle. I am also very proficient with the rules, the bizarre play calls, and game management with irate players and coaches. This meant that I did not have to worry about any of that at the BBUC training. Instead, all I had to worry about was CCA 3-man crew system of positions and scenarios. While on the UVU filed, once the ball was hit and I was heading the right direction, then I easily made the right calls. The positions and scenarios will come in time as I implement the 3-man system. I was ready for this training to stretch me, yet I was totally unprepared for what the BBUC training staff were going to present... Why? I was studying out of the wrong book and have had very little 3-man experience... And add to that, I did not get the memo about what color to wear.
BLUE IS GOOD, BUT BLACK IS BETTER - Yep, I came completely in the wrong attire. I made the assumption that we would all be sporting light blue for this multi-day long training in the hot Utah sun, so there I was in my pretty powder blue amongst a colony of black penguins. Did I feel out of place?... You betcha! But that didn't shake my confidence much. Instead, I was just odd man out for the entire first day. Don't worry, I looked the part on day two, but by then impressions were already formed. Yes, you only get one chance to make a good first impression... Oh well... Sighhhhhhh!
NOTE TO BILLY HAZE AND THE TRAINERS - Please include in your next pre-training memo, "As you prepare to attend the upcoming BBUC training, get your hands on the latest CCA Manual and study the 3-man mechanics section, and by all means prepare to deck yourself out in black attire. We won't be sporting navy, powder blue, red, pink, or cream. Instead, everybody will be in black, black, and more black!"
IMAGES FROM THE BBUC TRAINING
I look forward to attending future BBUC advanced trainings. Check them out at BlackAndBlueUmpireCamps.com
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?