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Game action waits for more instruction

Game action waits for more instruction

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

LONG BEACH, Calif. -- False alarm on that live game action for me. Half of the class went Wednesday, while the rest of us will have to wait until Friday to get our first taste of a live game. Can't say that having another couple days to prepare for it breaks my heart.

In fact, as I walked into the Urban Youth Academy here, Major League umpire Tim Timmons, who worked with me in the cage the day before, gave me a quick pep talk.

"Steve, you umpiring in the game today?" he asked.

"No."

"Thank God."

Ah, Tim, such a kidder.

Each day we add another situation into the two-man umpire system. Wednesday we went over how to handle a runner on third base only situation as well as runners on first and second. One of the main things is you begin to understand how important it is for the two umpires to communicate with each other.

It's also a pretty impressive system in that for every movement there's a well thought out reason for why it's done that way. You also gain a great appreciation for the Minor League umpires who have to work a long, hot summer with just a two-man crew. Keep in mind that while the big-league guys get four weeks off during the season, the Minor League guys get less. Four weeks less to be exact. That's right, no time off other than off-days in the schedule which are few and far between.

I watched a few innings of the game and saw some of my campmates working. Some of them are really good and have been umpiring youth leagues, high schools, adult leagues and things like that. There are also a few that don't have much experience but really seem to be naturals in the way they carry themselves on the field. It's hard to put your finger on exactly why or what it is that they possess, but they just look like umpires.

Some of the guys are here because they want to go on to one of the two umpire schools and then into professional baseball, but others, like Peter Bonovich, have other intentions.

Peter came all the way from Norway. Baseball is still a developing sport in his country, so he also travels to Sweden to get in his share of games. At 58, he wants to continue to get better so that he can work more international games and tournaments and also help to grow the sport in his country by helping to teach other umpires.

You can always easily spot Peter because he wears a hat with the letters NSBF, which stands for Norway Softball and Baseball Federation. He's one of my favorite people here because he's always upbeat, has tons of energy and a true love for the game of baseball.

Each day, veteran big-league umpire Tim Tschida goes over part of the Official Rule Book. Tim's been in the Majors for more than 20 years, so there's no one better when it comes to this.

Part of his talk Wednesday centered on the obstruction rule. It's an interesting rule because its interpretation is at the discretion of the umpire. A couple of years ago this rule became a key part of the Red Sox-Athletics American League Division Series Game 3 when third-base umpire Bill Welke correctly called two obstruction plays in a 3-1, 11-inning Boston win.

Wednesday night, I looked over my film from my cage work the past two days with Timmons. The tracking with my eyes was good and my timing was pretty good, but I still need to work on getting set in my stance behind the plate.

The phrase they use a lot for that is "you don't want the camera moving." In other words, you want your head to be still, not bobbing up and down or moving from side to side. Major League umpires all get into their stances with slight differences. Some square their shoulders to the pitcher, while others square the shoulders more to the strike zone. It's a slight difference, but for me I think I get a better look with my shoulders square to the pitcher.

Your eye level is also dependent on how the catcher sets up, so the umpires study the catchers just like a hitter might study a pitcher. For instance, Boston's Jason Varitek is known for being very "tall" behind the plate, so an umpire might have to be a little higher to see over him, whereas Oakland's Jason Kendall sits much lower.

The slight differences may not seem like a big deal, but when you're trying to judge whether a 96 mph fastball or an 86 mph slider hits the corner of the plate at the knees, that little bit of a change could make a huge impact.

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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