We question your visual acuity.
Thus does the crowd make its concerns evident. The two-and-one count on the home team’s clean-up hitter has just gone to two-and-two on a ball — excuse me, on a pitch, its ball-ness being exactly what’s in question — that the crowd is supremely confident was well outside the strike zone, no matter what the umpire saw.
The next ball — excuse me, pitch — is in the strike zone for sure. Sure enough, in fact, that the batter swings and connects.
The resulting line drive roars down the third-base line. That umpire spins around to watch it land. To the crowd’s dismay, he waves his arms left.
Foul?!? The crowd is consternation personified. It was on the line for sure!
We question your spatial perception.
The count still at two-and-two, the slugger and the runner from first base trudge back to their starting places. The pitcher shakes off a few suggestions from the catcher and stands ready for a long time, staring at the batter.
Whoosh! And just like that, too fast to be followed by all those focused on the batter, the ball — excuse me, the throw — is safely in the first baseman’s mitt. The runner from first base is face-down in the infield dust, his outstretched hand clearly touching the base. But the first-base umpire is gesturing, and not in a good way.
Out?!? Incredulity joins the consternation.
We question your knowledge of the rule that a tie goes to the runner.
One down. As the bedusted runner returns to the dugout and a probable smack upside the head by the base-running coach, all eyes are on the mound and the batter. The tension mounts.
Here comes the set position. Now the windup and the pitch. And although previous calls would clearly indicate this will be deemed low, this time it’s called as a strike. Never a good thing, to go down looking.
We question your consistency.
Two down and another batter is up. The count rises to three-and-one. Here comes the pitch. It’s looking good, it’s looking good . . . and then the batter veers off, checking his swing. Or does he? Appealed to by the catcher, the first-base umpire indicates that the batter came around on the swing.
We question your fairness.
Three-and-two. Another pitch. A swing, a crack, a soaring trajectory! Wahoo! A home run? The crowd jumps to its feet. But as the ball hits the home-run wall and bounces back into play, the umpire rules it a double. What?!? That was so above the line!
We question your visual acuity.
And so it goes, inning after inning. The fans politely question the calls made by the very guys trained to make them, the only guys in the park actually in position to make them, at least in the TV-commentator-free environment of Spring Training.
Well, maybe the questioning isn’t all that polite.
We question whether your parents were married.
As I listen to the inarticulate yelling, booing, and cursing after each unpopular call, I realize how lucky I am that my work doesn’t come with thousands of onlookers second-guessing every call. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have the resilience to ignore the abuse from the comfortable seats.
Of course, the calls I get to make every day don’t amount to a spectator sport: no calling strikes and balls, fair and foul, safe and out. Instead, I get to decide how to listen helpfully when a family member or friend is in trouble. How to advise professionally when a colleague or client has a situation. How to act effectively when a physical hazard arises in my daily routine. How to behave appropriately when a temptation lays its snare across my path. And that’s without getting into the really boring, long-term stuff, like how to vote responsibly.
As I watch the umpires run around the infield, putting themselves in the best position they can to make the call on the next play, I’m impressed by more than their resilience. I marvel at the forethought which informs them about where they should be to make the call on plays with multiple moving parts unfolding at the speed of a line drive or a bullet throw from the outfield. I marvel at the focus which keeps them in the game, ready to make calls when called upon, even as they stand around for hours on end. And I marvel at the off-field work which must go on, improving their skills.
As I contribute my mandatory mite to the crowd noise, I wonder whether I do anywhere near as much to be in position to make the calls that fall to me, and to make them well.