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By MIKE McCARTHY, Special to The Californian
Manchester, N.H. — The stories of professional baseball players are told time and time again through a combination of fact and folklore. From the Babe "calling his shot," to Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier, we have seen the stories of baseball's greatest acts held in nearly divine regard. But as these stories are told there is consistently the story that isn't told or heard from but has been a very integral part of the game: the umpires.
Most fans see the players with great detail. Every child mimics their favorite hitters home-run swing and grandfather's describe the disappearing pitches of their favorite pitcher but how many people describe their favorite "strike call?" Or the time that an umpire had the greatest positioning to make an "out" call at third base? It just doesn't exist.
For the players, umpires are both friend and foe. They are similar to a third team but in a very different way. Umpires are on the field with the players, braving the same weather conditions and travel schedules. They live in and out of hotels for months on end while constantly being evaluated and critiqued on what they did right and wrong in their games yet we rarely think of them in this light.
I have been fortunate to talk with many umpires about their experience, and it is quite interesting to find out just how much love and respect they have for the game, the coaches and the players. Unfortunately, they are subjected to a barrage of jokes, gripes, moans and groans from both teams and the fans yet when they do well there is just the self-satisfaction of knowing you did a good job.
In the words of Leo Durocher: "I never questioned the integrity of an umpire.
"Their eyesight? Yes."
In my opinion umpiring is the most humbling job in baseball. You are hammered with comments of dissatisfaction and frustration on a daily basis from everyone around you. You don't have much voice in the media, yet discussed on a regular basis. Hounded for bad calls and overlooked when good calls are made; umpires are underappreciated for the skill they bring to the game.
Great insight on the role of an umpire came by Judge John Roberts during his 2005 confirmation hearing when he said: "Judges are like umpires. Umpires don't make the rules. They apply them. The role of an umpire and a judge is critical. They make sure everybody player by the rules.
"But it is a limited role. Nobody ever went to a ballgame to see the umpire. ... I will remember that it's my job to call balls and strikes and not to pitch or bat."
Regardless of political belief or preference, his insight to the role of an umpire (and judge) is extremely valuable.
Umpires don't make the rules nor carry a biased opinion on the outcome of the game yet play a vital and memorable role. Over the years I have been fortunate to ask umpires what they see in baseball and how they view it.
They carry a lot of respect and pride for the role they play in the game, as well as a lot of respect for the players on the field.
I am always impressed by their composure when a game becomes heated. As the players, coaches and fans rise with the intensity of the game, good umpires keep their cool and continue to call the game as they would at any other moment.
Next time you go to a game at any level, keep an eye on the umpire and remember they are human just like the rest of us. They have their good days and bad days but always bring their best effort to the game each day.
For the young players, remember that win lose or draw, don't forget a "nice job ump" on your way off the field. They are working hard to do their best each day just like you and I.
Thank you to all those military personnel who have served and lost their lives fighting for the United States.
Words cannot describe the admiration and respect we have for those who have sacrificed their lives for our nation.
Michael McCarthy is a former Cal State Bakersfield pitcher who now plays for the Boston Red Sox' Class-AA team in Portland, Maine. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @mmccarthy35.