I wish I had the opportunity to umpire early in the afternoon on Aug. 21, but I don’t since my summer season is over.
I’m assuming there may be a junior high game going on that day, but that will be after school, and not at around 1:30 p.m. when I’d want them to be playing. Plus, junior high fall ball isn’t played out this way and I’d have to make the trek all the way down south to somewhere such as Reed-Custer or Peotone, so forget about it.
Unless you’ve had your head buried in the sand, you’ve probably heard that there’s going to be a solar eclipse on Aug. 21, the first one to be visible from the contiguous United States in close to 40 years.
The moon, Earth and sun will line up just right and those in the direct path of the moon’s shadow will see the sun go dark. How strange and unique of an experience this is going to be.
Now, if I was umpiring at that time, we’d either have to turn on the lights in order to keep playing or we’d have to call for an eclipse delay if we didn’t have lights. Actually, we’d likely delay the game just to experience the eclipse.
I’ve had far too many rain delays in my lifetime, but this would be the most unique delay ever and I’d be OK with it, especially since this is such a rare occurrence and one that you’d be foolish not to experience. Secondly, I’d like to add such a delay to my list that has included some strange ones in the course of 30 years. Come to think of it, maybe it wouldn’t be the most unique delay in my lengthy umpiring career.
I was working a 14U Memorial Day tournament championship game in Batavia about 10 years ago and in the bottom of the last inning, the game tied and the winning run on third base, we couldn’t locate the batter who was due up. Now, this is the kind of thing that just doesn’t happen. I thought, “Where could he be?” The opposing coach thought, “Call him out for not taking his at-bat.” Then the kid’s coach chimed, “He’s got an upset stomach and had to go to the bathroom.” Hundreds of eyes then gazed at the port-o-john adjacent to the third base line and while the one coach continued hollering at me to call the kid out, the kid embarrassingly exited the port-o-john and then proceeded to deliver a game-winning single. I call it the Diarrhea Game of 2006.
Then there was the time in Mokena in the early 1990s when a woman charged onto the field and attacked the third base coach, who we would learn was her husband and was cheating on her. She swung her arms at him and pretty much used every swear word in the book. When you’re behind the plate there are things you expect and don’t expect. Never would I have imagined looking down the third base line and seeing a woman attack her husband. Plus, she directed some of those expletives at me and gave me the finger as I told her and her unfaithful husband to get off the field. So at an early age I learned that those who use PEDs or apply Crisco, Bardol, or Vagisil to the baseball aren’t the only cheaters in baseball.
There was the time when a swarm of bees entered the field and the right fielder was stung multiple times. That was a scary moment because he was allergic, had a severe reaction and had to be rushed off the field for medical attention. Thankfully he was OK.
On another occasion I noticed the right fielder sprinting toward the dugout because a skunk had gotten onto the field and pretty much decided to just hang out there. Myself, the coaches and even the parents in the stands were all wondering what to do in order to continue the game. None of us could come up with a solution so we pretty much just stared at the skunk and hoped that he or she would quickly stroll away. Pepé Le Pew finally departed about 15 minutes later and thankfully didn’t spray anyone.
And I’ve had delays because of light malfunctions, including a disgruntled homeowner who shot out one of the lights at a new park because he didn’t want the noise of baseball games late in the evening, so that was a nice delay that involved calling the local police, which wasn’t easy since this was pre-cellphone days. I’ve had sprinkler systems suddenly turning on and no one knowing how to shut them off. I’ve seen a streaker run onto a field and then climb over the outfield fence (be careful with that) before disappearing into the woods.
I’ve had delays because of significant injuries to players, including two that lasted more than 30 minutes. Once a player broke his leg sliding into home plate and no one would move him. His mother sat in the batter’s box next to him and shouted how she was going to sue the park district for hurting her son. I was a teen at the time and if you wonder why there’s an umpire shortage, that experience alone almost got me to quit. She wouldn’t let anyone help get her son off the field except for when the ambulance arrived 20 minutes later. On another occasion, in an in-house colt-level baseball game on a field that no longer exists at Lincoln-Way Central High School, the right fielder found a softball-sized rock and was apparently playing catch with the center fielder with it during the game. I didn’t see this because it hadn’t been going on for very long and I was working the bases. At one point the center fielder wasn’t watching and got hit on the head and knocked out. The funny thing was that he got stoned while stoned as the players reeked of marijuana.
So, yeah, I’ve experienced my share of interesting game delays, but never an eclipse.
I was hoping the Kane County Cougars were playing in the afternoon on Aug. 21, but they’re playing in the evening. There are a handful of minor league teams that are playing eclipse games and they’ve got built-in delays scheduled for the game. They will be handing out special sunglasses so fans can witness an eclipse at the ballpark with a hot dog in one hand and a cold beer in the other. The first team that came up with the idea is the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes in Oregon. As much as I love Oregon, I don’t think I can afford to make the trip unless my editors want to send me there to cover the game. Hint. Hint. The Bowling Green Hot Rods, Nashville Sounds and Columbia Fireflies also are having eclipse promotions. All Major League games are scheduled for late afternoon or evening and won’t be affected by the eclipse.
Reminiscing, man, I’ve seen some weird stuff over the years. I still could definitely go without the rain and lightning delays, but they are unfortunately part of the game and something we all just have to cope with on occasion. Be sure to check out the eclipse though, wherever you might be. These things don’t come along very often. They’re like the Mike Trout of nature.
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.