ABERDEEN, Md. -- The sky was blue, but the infield grass was a little too soggy on Saturday to hold anything down on the field, so Ripken Stadium's club level turned into a classroom -- an umpire's classroom. Alan Porter and Rob Price, two Triple-A International League umpires, were dressed in their uniforms, but if you closed your eyes and listened to them speak, it was like hearing two college professors explaining the science of a job that sometimes isn't the most popular. Every nuance of the game, from an umpire's perspective, was examined and discussed, from communication on the field, to the presence and perception an umpire wants to project, to the angles certain plays should be viewed, to about 80 umpires of various ages that judged the game at a variety of levels. Porter and Price, two instructors for Major League Baseball's umpire camp in Los Angeles, Calif., braved a blustery wind to take the time out of their schedules and run the clinic.
They spoke to a group of amateur umpires, who absorbed every word they said with rapt attention. And to anyone there thinking of becoming an umpire, Porter and Price filled a few empty cups with knowledge. "This is all about you today," Price first addressed the audience, which included umpires from the youth level to the college level. "It's more than balls and strikes. It's about presence and perception. It's about hustle and showing the players and managers of each team that you're doing your job." Price gave a thumbnail bio of himself, followed by Porter, and then the two engaged in an informative give-and-take, fielding every question as to how to keep the pace of the game flowing, to where an umpire should be positioned on the field, hand signals and how to deal with noisy parents at the youth level. "What you guys do is a lot tougher than what we have to do, dealing with a parent 10 feet behind you who might not like the call that you made on their son," Price told the umps. "Umpiring is about perception, demeanor and the look you present, at any level. You have to show you're in control, but you also have to show an approachability, which is just as important." Tom Guinivan, from nearby Bel Air, Md., has been umpiring for 13 years. He's called balls and strikes for four years at the Division III college level, and for nine years at the high school level, calling the Maryland state high school championship last spring. Guinivan came away impressed and informed. "Those guys were very good, and what I found appealing was getting their perspective, coming from the level they see and handle the game at a high Minor League level," Guinivan said. "What I learned today was more about rules and more mechanics of umpiring. What these guys both stressed was the importance of working the game, and to hold your temper." After two hours of class work, Porter and Price went to the backfields, behind Ripken Stadium, to show the practical applications of what the spoke about earlier. "It really is important to get feedback, and for people to show a real passion for the game like we do," said Price, taking a break in between sessions. "That's why we love to do this, because it's what you saw today. Passing along information is how you grow and learn, to show people this is what we do and how we do it. It's not the most popular job, but there is a connection with anyone who's an umpire, regardless of the level. We're all in this together." Porter interjected, "I love it, just talking about the game and seeing how these guys reacted to us, that's what it's all about." Registration is now open for the 2008 Umpire Camp, held Nov. 9-16, in Long Beach, Calif.
Joseph Santoliquito is a contributer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.