During my baseball and softball officiating escapades, I’ve encountered numerous strange and enlightening situations and people. If you happen to know someone who is or has been an umpire, then it’s likely he or she has had a few good stories to share. This past Sunday morning, however, was a special one.
It was a sunny, breezy, good day for baseball. Two teams in an Over 40 league were playing against each other up in the mountains of eastern Morris County, NJ. Both teams had 10 players, were warmed up and ready to go on time. My partner and I did the pre-game ground rules, etc. and the game was ready to commence. As with just about every game I either coach or officiate, when the leadoff man comes to bat I reminisce a bit about playing. Often, if you are the base umpire – which I was this day – you engage in conversation with the first base coach. On this day, that happened to be a man named Jose. At first, literally and figuratively, we talked about the usual things like the good weather, their season thus far, Major League Baseball, etc. After scoring several runs in the first inning, the away team finally makes three outs and takes their turn in the field.
I’m curious, as is always the case, who will be pitching. An older, gray-haired gentleman about 6’0″ tall picked up the ball and took his place on the mound to warm up. I recalled his name being John from the pre-game discussion. John, still in good shape for a man of his years, 60, and maybe even 10-15 years younger, proceeded to pitch a scoreless first inning with the only man reaching base via error. John seemingly had pinpoint control on his fastball which would likely be clocked around 60-66mph and curveball which apparently was falling off the coffee table with the reactions and missed swings of the home team batters. He ended up pitching 5 innings, giving up 1 run on 2 hits and one walk. After walking that batter on a 3-2 count, as I made my way to the “B” position near the mound, John turned around, smiled and said, “I’m 60. I should know how to do this by now. Shouldn’t be walking anyone. ” I chuckled and said, “Sure looks like you do. Otherwise, you’ve got us all fooled.” He laughed, refocused and struck out the next guy on 3 pitches to end the inning. It was obvious, and he made it known to my partner, the other team’s captain, and myself that although he could continue throwing, Jose would be coming in to pitch to get some work in.
During our dialogue through innings one thru five, Jose mentioned that he’d been playing baseball and some softball all of his life. From his younger years in Puerto Rico, which explained his accent, and after arriving in the US in his late teen, baseball has remained a constant. He said that someone saw him make a few throws from third base and immediately told him he was going to be a pitcher. “Back then, I threw pellets.” Jose said proudly. “Now, it’s all about strikes and location.” Now, after all, Jose is 72 years young. Like his teammate John, and even to a higher degree, Jose is well seasoned and in great condition at his height of about 6’4″, lean, and still somewhat muscular. I noticed he did not take his place in the coaching box during the top of the sixth. He was warming up behind their bench area to get ready for the bottom half of the inning. For the only time the entire game, the away team is retired without a runner reaching base in the top of the sixth. It’s Jose time! He paints the corners with his mid 60’s fastball and sharp breaking curveball keeping the batters off balance and baffled. Jose proceeds to pitch two scoreless innings allowing one hit and one walk. He too could’ve easily pitched several more innings of effective baseball were it not for the mercy rule being in effect.
My partner and I hung around for the postgame handshakes, etc. I personally sought out Jose and John to not only thank and congratulate them, but to tell them that I hope to be umpiring behind the plate when they’re on the bump in the future. How about that?! Two guys up there in age at 60 and 72 respectively with Greg Maddux-like control and still with a passionate yet tempered competitiveness. Those “old dogs” could certainly teach many of these young puppies I’ve viewed on the diamond some new tricks.