I found myself retreating to my large water jug in between just about every inning on July 23 at North Central College in order to stay hydrated.
Man, you have no idea how brutal the heat and humidity is when you’ve got your gear on and you’re trying to stay completely focused for several hours.
I worked the bases during a morning quarterfinal and then took the dish for two consecutive semifinal games. I had two different partners on the day so I was the only one working all four games. I was looking forward to the relief of finally taking my gear off and working the bases next, despite missing the opportunity of calling strikes in the championship game.
By the time I was done working those two plate assignments I basically looked like a “fat tub of goo.”
For all you youngsters out there who weren’t around in the 1980s, that was what David Letterman called former Major League hurler Terry Forster when he appeared on his “Late Night” show in 1985.
While fat and often seen sweating profusely as he toed the rubber, Forster actually had a pretty darn good Major League career, getting drafted by the White Sox in the second round in 1970 and spending 16 years in the Show. I may have never come anywhere close to sniffing the Show, but I certainly sweat enough July 23 that I guarantee no one wanted to get a sniff of me.
“It’s hot but at least we’re not in Arizona,” one coach sarcastically chimed in as he saw the sweat dripping off me.
Actually, he’s wrong. I haven’t umpired in 110 or 120 heat in Arizona, but one of my colleagues, Gordon Heinemann, has, and he told me he’d much rather be working in the heat than the humidity.
“There’s no question about it that 118 degrees is hot,” he said. “But I find the humidity to be more oppressive than the heat. You get all sweated up and it has nowhere to go, but in the desert it evaporates and they do things to cool us off.”
Dipping caps in cool water and applying cold rags to the head all seem to prove beneficial in Arizona, whereas in the humidity of the Illinois summer they just seem to saturate you more and linger.
“I’ve dropped my hat in a cold bucket of water and swished it out in Arizona and it’ll last a good inning or so and then be dry as a bone,” he said. “I haven’t tried that here but don’t think it would work well. With heat, hot is hot, but with humidity, it just saps your strength. I’m much more comfortable in the heat than the humidity.”
I wouldn’t know the difference. I’ve only visited Arizona once and that was in December when it was about 60 degrees in the morning. We showed up at the golf course in shorts and T-shirts while the golf course staff looked like they were in need of hot chocolate or ready to go skiing.
“You must be from Chicago or Minneapolis,” the golf course starter said. “Because there’s no way you’d be dressed like that if you lived here.”
So, back to Sunday. As I’m dressing I look to the west and see that storms are rolling in.
I thought to myself, “Are you kidding me? We’re going to get dumped on, have to sit around for a rain delay and then not get paid for our time?” And then I uttered some internal expletives and took a long swig from my water bottle.
We gathered for our pregame meeting at the plate, but just as we did so, lightning struck behind us so we went into an immediate delay. I had left my water bottle deep down the right-field line in the tarp’s container. And, no, the tarp was not put on the field in case of rain. My partner and I went up into the press box and about five minutes later it began to rain. After another 10 minutes, most of the infield was underwater and we were told the game was canceled and they were awarding the team title to the higher seed.
Meanwhile, the rain wasn’t slowing down and I found myself staring at my water jug 300-odd feet away and debating if I should just go grab it and head back for home totally drenched. I considered it for a bit and since the rain wasn’t subsiding that’s what I did.
The cool rain felt good on my warm skin so I didn’t run or jog to get it. I took my own sweet time, which probably wasn’t good because the field was so flooded that soon my socks and shoes were heavily saturated.
Once I got to my car, I made the decision to reward myself for a hard day’s work so I picked up a huge slab of ribs and two orders of mashed potatoes to go from Q-BBQ in downtown Naperville.
Unlike former Astros goofball pitcher Charlie Kerfeld, who wore a Jetsons T-shirt under his jersey and was once caught eating ribs in the bullpen during a game, I put my order in the trunk to keep myself from being tempted from the overwhelming aroma. Of course, that also resulted in my wife eating half my order of ribs and my daughter taking care of most of the mashed potatoes. At least I’m a good dad and good husband.
Still, I was able to enjoy a delicious meal albeit less substantial than intended, but even better than that was the reward of an invigorating shower and a new episode of Twin Peaks afterward, at which time it finally dawned on me that summer baseball is just about done.
Boy, has this year flown by! I’ve got some games lined up through the weekend and a unique assignment one day next week, but then that’s likely it for me for the summer.
Of course, with this heat and humidity lately, I’m definitely looking forward to getting away from the diamond for a little while so I welcome being done, especially since fall ball will be here before we know it. What another great baseball season this has been.
Sugar Grove resident Chris Rollin Walker is a baseball umpire with an eye for strikes, balls, gerunds and participles. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.