Saturday, May 30, 2009

Some Newfound Appreciation for the Men in Blue

I watch most of the Boston Red Sox games on television via satellite and manage to see them play in person almost every year … an excellent excuse to work a train ride or two into the picture.

I’ve seen the Sox play on the road several times over the years -- in Kansas City and Dallas and Seattle and Anaheim among other cities -- but there’s just nothing like seeing a game in Fenway Park, because the Red Sox know that their fans understand the game and treat them accordingly. Besides, at Fenway Park, I'm among 36,000 friends.

In too many other ballparks -- Angel Stadium in Anaheim comes immediately to mind -- fans are subjected to public address announcers who excitedly screech the names of home team players and message boards demanding that the crowd MAKE NOISE!!!!!!! Amazingly, the Southern California fans always seem to dutifully comply. If the Red Sox tried that amateurish crap at Fenway Park, there would be a mass revolt. We are not idiots.

But the way I watch baseball games has forever changed after reading As They See ‘Em, by Bruce Weber. The book is about umpires, about their training, about their lives, and about what it takes for the very few lucky and talented ones to work their way through the system and reach the major leagues.

Like most fans, I’ve never appreciated what a tough job it is, or how skilled those guys have to be to get to “the show.” As spectators, we instinctively follow the ball when it’s pitched or hit, but the umpires -- three of the four, anyway -- can’t. They must anticipate what is likely to happen on any given play and move into the appropriate position to cover what might be a play at the plate or maybe fan interference, or … well, whatever. The possibilities are damn near limitless.

I’ll be making another trip to Boston at the end of July -- yes, taking the train from the west coast all the way back there -- and will see three games at Fenway Park. I’m going to re-read the book on the train and this time, for the first time ever, will be watching the umpires as well as the players. And I can’t wait.

Is it a great game, or what!

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