I’m sure it’s become apparent for those who read my column that I love comedies. It’s not just the well-known classic movies that I pepper into my stories on occasion, but I love stand-up as well. George Carlin, Rodney Dangerfield, Denis Leary, Richard Pryor, Steven Wright. I could go on and on and on.
And then there’s the first Jerky’s Boys album and the bit about Sol Rosenberg and his glasses that I first adored while in college. He talks about his eyes going crazy and going to the Empire State Building and not being able to see. Sol screws around with the doctor on the phone, schedules an appointment, says he’ll bring all his glasses and his shoes with him “so he has them” and pretty much uses one-word answers and hilarity ensues. It’s silly and stupid, but I still laugh extremely hard to this day when I listen and I’ve already played it three times today on YouTube.
I thought of the bit recently when I decided to forgo my contacts for a change and umpire while wearing my glasses instead. Boy, what a difference. Unlike Sol, I could really see.
I’ve been a contacts guy on the ball field when playing and umpiring for as long as I can remember.
When I was 13 I took a pitch off the face while batting and my glasses shattered. I then switched over to Rec Specs. If you remember Chris Sabo of the Cincinnati Reds, the 1988 National League Rookie of the Year, he used to wear them, and if I’m not mistaken, Horace Grant, who helped the Chicago Bulls win three of their NBA titles, wore them as well.
The problem was the glasses got nastily stinky because of the cushioned nose pad. Obviously, you’re out there on 95-degree days running around on a dusty field and dirt would accumulate on the pad. When you combined that with sweat, they would get funky, and even if you tried to scrub it clean that scent, for whatever reason, would linger.
So I switched to contacts.
Because of my vision problems, the ophthalmologist recommended gas permeable lenses. While these lenses allowed me to see close to as well as when I wore my glasses, they were terrible on the baseball field because of the amount of dust that would get into my eyes. By the time a game would end, my eyes would be so red that it probably looked like I was hanging out with Cheech and Chong or attending a Bob Marley concert.
So I decided to switch again. This time it was to soft contacts.
Holy moly. Talk about pure satisfaction. As soon as I got used to wearing them, I forgot I was wearing them. The only problem was that I couldn’t see so good, kind of like my old friend Sol Rosenberg who I mentioned earlier. Still, I could see well enough to play the game as well as umpire it, and with long days out in the sun, it made it possible to just slap on a pair of sunglasses as well.
Last week, I decided to give my eyes a little bit of a break and since the new umpiring mask proved accommodating for wearing glasses, I gave the glasses a try. Let’s just say that I don’t think I’ve seen the ball better ever before both from behind the plate and on the bases. As someone who is partially color blind, I’ve never been able to see true colors, but boy could I see that white ball with the seams.
I called a Sunday semifinal game, and it proved to be a great game, although one team erupted for a big inning late to break open a tight 1-1 game. I don’t know if I missed a ball or strike call. I felt like I was in one of the special zones where you’re nailing everything correctly. Was it the fact that I was wearing glasses or that I just was having a good day? I should also add that it was a rare day where I was only scheduled for that one game so I knew I had a free afternoon for a change. Perhaps I was just in a great mood since I knew I had a short day and was extra focused.
I’m sure most umpires have been heckled with comments such as “Are you blind?” which always have deeply offended me since I know people who are blind. And the funny thing is that without my contacts or glasses, I almost feel like I’m blind because my vision is pretty awful. What if the fan yelled, “Do you have cancer? Are you receiving chemotherapy because you seem lethargic today?” The blind comment does not belong in the game. Ever.
It is kind of funny for an umpire to admit that he can’t see though, isn’t it?
Now I’m wondering if I should switch over completely and go the glasses route. Do I feel like I’m leaving teams at a disadvantage if I wear my contacts instead of my glasses since during this brief experience I believe I’m seeing the ball better than ever before? Do I alternate for the sake of my eye health because that’s what my eye doctor recommended during my last visit? Do I attempt on just one occasion to umpire without either just so that I can please that one parent who yelled, “Is your rule book written in braille?” many years ago and thought he was the funniest guy in the world but was nothing more than a big jerk?
I’m not sure what I’m going to do, but having played and worked this game for nearly five decades, it’s kind of cool to know I can see the game in a whole new way.
There’s that old adage that you often see something in baseball that you’ve never seen before. Now when that happens, I’m able to see it clearer than ever before.
Sugar Grove resident Chris Rollin Walker is a baseball umpire with an eye for strikes, balls, gerunds and participles. Contact him at email@example.com.