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. -- The first reminder that I was working a live game on Friday came about 3:34 a.m. when I woke from a deep sleep in the middle of one of those anxiety dreams where I'm back in college and can't locate the classroom I'm supposed to be in. My partner for the game was Mike McClellan, who works for MLB International. Mike worked the plate in the top of the third, while I had the bases, and we switched spots for the top of the fourth.
My main concern on the bases was making sure I was in the right spot, because as I've explained before, in a two-man system, you have to know where you're going or you can really mess your partner up. I spent the first couple of innings watching the game from the stands with Major League umpire Paul Nauert and going over various situations. As I was walking away from Paul and towards the field, he offered these words of wisdom: "Just remember, no matter how bad it is it will eventually be over." Huh. Well, at least I was comforted by the fact that Tim Timmons was over on another field and would miss my debut, though I'm sure he'll see the video at some point. Oh yeah, the video. I forgot to mention that MLB.com's Ben Platt and his crew were out again to film my time on the field, and I'm sure you'll be able to view that in the near future. They had me talk while I was out on the field to describe the action, and I got some strange looks from some of the fielders, who no doubt thought I was talking to myself. Anyway, my time on the bases went pretty quickly and uneventfully. Mike had a tough call on the second pitch of the game when the batter hit a long fly ball down the left-field line and he had to decide fair or foul (he correctly called it foul, by the way). My day was halfway over, but the hardest part, or at least the part of it I was most concerned with, was still to come -- my plate work. I had a half-inning to put my gear on, which seemed to go by in just a minute or two. Suddenly, I was walking on the field ready to take my spot behind the plate. The first thought I had while I watched the pitcher throw his warmup pitches was, "Good Lord, this guy throws a heck of a lot faster than the pitching machines we've been practicing on."
I don't know if he was throwing in the upper 80s or not, but he may as well have been Randy Johnson for me.A couple of pitches in, I quickly realized another difference between the right-hander on the mound and the pitching machine. This guy threw sliders. Great, just what I needed to add to the experience. I'll spare you the rest of the details of the inning except for one. We had runners on first and third with one out. The batter smoked the ball to the outfield, I believe it was right-center. Now, my responsibility as the plate umpire is to whip off my mask and head up the third-base line in foul territory glancing back to make sure the runner headed home from third touches the plate. That I did flawlessly. My next job is to yell, "Mike, I've got third if he comes," which lets my partner know that if the runner rounds second and heads for third, I've got the play and he can stay with the guy who hit the ball and is rounding first. That I did flawlessly. As soon as I see that throw is headed to third, I'm supposed to yell, "Mike, I've got third," and stop into fair territory so that I have a good angle to make the call. That I did nearly flawlessly. Naturally, since this was my first time working a live game, the throw sailed past the third baseman and off the chain-link fence next to the dugout. All week during drills, that's been a dead ball, so my first reaction was to throw my hands up. Now, I'll have to check the video, but I think I put my hands about halfway to three-quarters of the way up before I realized that was a huge mistake, so I quickly put them down to my side. And, besides, I had a bigger problem. The runner slid into third, popped up and was headed home, so I turned and started heading in that direction. Naturally, the ball bounced off the fence right to a fielder, and he fired home for a bang-bang play at the plate. Now I'm not in the greatest position to make this call, but from where I'm standing the runner looked out. Or maybe he was safe. No, he looked out. So I called him out with some enthusiasm to make it seem like I had no doubt he was out. Of course, in reality, I had some doubts, and I couldn't wait until after the inning to ask my evaluators in the stands if he really was out. So as I walked back behind the plate, I passed the hitter who had been near the plate telling the runner to slide. "He was out, right?" I asked. He looked at me like I had three heads -- not two, mind you, but three -- before mumbling, "Yeah, you were right." One pitch later, the runner from first tried to steal second, Mike called him out, and my time behind the plate was done. I'd survived -- if not necessarily thrived -- and all things considered, I'll take that.
Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.