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Learning the umpiring ropes, quickly

Learning the umpiring ropes, quickly

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Major League Baseball is holding its first-ever Umpire Camp in Long Beach, Calif. Steve Gilbert, who covers the Arizona Diamondbacks for MLB.com, is taking part and will be writing a daily diary of his experiences.

LONG BEACH, Calif. -- Let me just say that it took only five minutes into the week's first presentation for me to realize there's a whole lot more to this whole umpiring thing than meets the eye. It's going to be quite a week.

I'm here with about 40 other people from all walks of life who have at least one thing in common. They all want to become better umpires. Some work in youth leagues and want to move up to the high school level, while others are already umpiring in high school but want to break into the college ranks.

And some want to make umpiring a career and hope to use this week's camp as a springboard to get into one of baseball's two umpiring schools run by Harry Wendelstedt and Tim Evans in Florida.

Regardless, they couldn't have picked a better place to come. The camp boasts a staff of 15 full-time big league umpires, not to mention umpire supervisors like Rich Rieker, Marty Springstead, Rich Garcia and Frank Pulli. All in all, the staff brings about 300 years of experience to the table.

Sunday, we checked into the posh Westin Hotel here across the street from the ocean and got right to work with a night full of presentations and seminars. They're planning on packing in five weeks of umpire school into this one week so it makes for a schedule jam-packed with learning and activity.

After each of the umpires were introduced, we went around the room and introduced ourselves and shared a little bit about our backgrounds. The diversity of the group is amazing. The people are from all over the globe -- Panama, Denmark, Australia, Sweden and Slovakia -- and all walks of life. There's an architect, a biology teacher, a postal worker -- you name it, we got it. These are fascinating people and I hope to be able to bring you their stories rather than mine as the week progresses.

Umpiring with a four-man crew is a luxury reserved for the Major Leagues and since none of us in the room are going to be there any time soon, we're going to learn the "two-umpire system." With just two guys responsible for the whole field, there's a real art to figuring out how the coverage goes.

Major League umpire Paul Nauert did his best to explain how the two men would rotate on plays when there are no runners on and I'd explain it to you, but I don't think it will quite sink in until we get out on the field tomorrow afternoon.

Brian Gorman gave a presentation on the strike zone, including at least one fact that I did not know. I knew the zone extended from the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants down to the hollow beneath the kneecap, but what I didn't know is that you determine it by the position the batter is when he's actually prepared to swing. So it doesn't matter if a hitter gets into a crouch to begin with -- think Pete Rose -- it only matters what position he is in when he's prepared to swing.

The final presentation of the evening was on the Questec system that measures an umpire's accuracy on balls and strikes throughout the course of a game. Turns out in 2006, umpires got an amazing 94.91 percent of their calls on balls-strikes correct in the 11 stadiums that have Questec systems. During the course of the year, umpires had to make a strike or ball call on an average of 150 pitches per game, which means they missed just 7.6 pitches a game.

I could go on and on, but I've got to cut this somewhat short. After all, I still have to review Chapter 1 in the two-man umpire manual before tomorrow.

Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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