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Play Ball, Help the Kids

By Gordon McFarlane

Arguably the year’s best season, spring brings gardens to life, March Madness, NBA and NHL teams competing for those last couple of playoff spots and, of course, for you fantasy football fanatics like me, the NFL draft.

Oh yes, most significantly, Major League Baseball Opening Day.

Fifteen MLB games were played to open the ‘23 Season. This is the first regular season with the new pitch clock rule.

Not surprisingly, opening day games, on average, were 26 minutes shorter than last year’s season average. One of the very happy consequences is ball parks across the league are extending beer sales into the 8th inning!

Aaron Judge took no time getting back in form; he crushed the ball on opening day to start adding to his home run stats straight out of the gate.

Orioles catcher Adley Rutschman hit a home run his first at bat on his way to an historical five hits, while reaching base six times, helping the Orioles fend off a late Red Sox rally to win 10 –9.

Equally exciting, British Columbia Minor Baseball opening day launched across the Lower Mainland, despite the weatherman predicting rain and the possibility of . . . ugh . . . snow.

As happens, the weatherman was wrong. The baseball gods smiled and sunshine poked through the clouds all day.

With the pandemic in our rear-view mirror, something else is happening that we haven’t seen since pre-Covid; our young folks are registering to umpire for their first year as Blue. And the increased number of registrations is substantial.

This presents an exceptional mentoring opportunity for all you experienced senior umpires to give something back to the game we love.

The aim of this article is to light a fire and challenge you experienced umpires to take a moment and reach out to your local associations. Let them know you’re available to spend some time working with their new umpires.

Once you’ve established contact and confirmed their interest, write a short missive designed to introduce yourself, confirm their expectations, and present your purpose – the reason you’re deciding to be generous with your time.

Next, have a plan in place for how you will deliver your instruction once you’re out on the field with the young umpires. I’ve made a few suggestions below to help shape that plan so you can be effective when teaching these young impressionable minds.

You’ll witness all kinds of mechanics that need improvement. Take an inning or so to observe and identify which you feel is the most critical of improvements to attend to.

Then limit your feedback to no more than two things to address. You’re not going to get a positive result if you introduce multiple areas and try and teach too much. Keeping your instruction limited to two things today will make this young person a better umpire today.

Ensure you’re professionally dressed. This will identify you for the teams as a mentor and you will properly role model for the young umpires the importance of impressions.

Introduce yourself as a mentor to the coaches at the plate meeting while you’re helping the young umpires conduct the plate meeting. And during the game, go on to the field between innings and demonstrate what you teach.

Taking pictures or video with your phone is a very effective training tool; A before and after video or pic is especially powerful. Once the instruction has been delivered, delete the photos.

When teaching always begin with a positive followed by the suggestion for improvement.

For example: “Great job on your stance, Johnny. You look like you’re prepared to see the entire pitch. You’ll see the pitch even better if you step your slot foot up towards the batter, until your dominant eye is lined up on the inside edge of the plate, etc. . . .” When they hear the initial praise, they will be actively listening and they’ll be keen to hear everything that follows.

Most importantly, make it fun! Kids are naturally nervous, especially when put in charge. Have a smile and make them smile through a positive attitude that is always coming from a supportive posture.

Mentoring young people is a rewarding experience. You have the opportunity to share your experience by teaching a skill not easy to master. And perhaps even more important, you’re laying the foundation for important life skills that these children will use well into their adulthood.

New relationships are a key to life. Make them, nurture them, and use them to the betterment of everyone involved. You’ll be appreciated, and you’ll appreciate how good that will make you feel.

Tell me and I forget,

Teach me and I remember,

Involve me and I learn

- Benjamin Franklin

Gordon McFarlane is a Baseball Canada Nationally Certified Umpire, Senior Instructor with Baseball Canada, and Umpire--In-Chief with the Cloverdale Minor Baseball Association in British Columbia.

We welcome guest writers to the Umpire Mentors blog, as long as it is on theme. If you would like to be a contributor, contact Kent Walker at We reserve the right to reject or edit any contribution.

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