Bob Stanton - Behind the Plate: Working the Bases

Machalet Meudt, Westerwald
In my last Behind the Plate, I talked about some things I observed plate umpires doing or not doing over the previous 12 months.
In this article I would like to share some random observations I made of umpires who were working the bases.
Overall I was impressed by the level of officiating I observed in 2010. Umpires are a dedicated lot who take great delight in discussing rule interpretations, mechanics, and, in general, the game of softball. It is easy to see that umpires are steadily improving on their rule knowledge and mechanics. I did, however, notice some habits that I think umpires need to overcome.

[b:628a656b14][size=18:628a656b14]Working the Bases:[/size:628a656b14][/b:628a656b14]
[b:628a656b14]Ready Positio[/b:628a656b14]n – Umpires are bending too much at the waist. When taking the ready position, we should hold our body like a fielder; have a slight flex at our knees and shift our weight to the balls of our feet. By shifting the weight to the balls of our feet we are able to react and move more quickly.

[b:628a656b14]Tracking[/b:628a656b14] – Base umpires are forgetting to track the ball as it is being thrown from one fielder to another for a play. Much the same as plate umpires track the pitch from the pitcher's hand through the strike zone, base umpires should be tracking the ball from the fielder's hand to the other defensive player. Once we set, we should allow the ball to turn our head into the play. I have noticed umpires turning their back to the ball when moving between their primary and secondary positions, then turning and trying to pick up the ball again. In some cases it was too late and the umpire found him or herself in the path of the throw. Always know where the ball is and only take your eye off it for a fraction of a second at a time. Practice moving laterally.

[b:628a656b14]Angles and Distances[/b:628a656b14] - The starting position of umpires with runners on is too deep. We should move closer, say, to a position four meters (15 feet) from the bag. On a force st play at 1 base and a throw from the infield, we need only come one or two steps into fair territory, i.e., 1.5 meters (four feet). At other bases, on a force play, take a 90-degree angle to the throw. On tag plays, take a 90-degree angle to the runner's path. Be prepared to adjust based on the four elements you need to have in front of you: ball, base, defensive player, and offensive player. If a ball is thrown wide of the defensive player, move to get a position where you can see if a tag is applied. When moving with a runner always move parallel to the path that the runner is taking to the next base.

[b:628a656b14]Primary and secondary positioning[/b:628a656b14] – I noticed that many umpires are now correctly allowing the location of the ball and players decide where their primary position for a call will be, however umpires also need to think about that next play or call, often referred to as the secondary position. Umpires should know where they are going next. If a runner advances from 1st to 2nd base, our primary position should be the edge of 2nd base closest to 1st base. Once the runner reaches 2nd base then umpires need to change position to the other side of the base, the side closest to third base, as this now becomes the leading or play edge

[b:628a656b14]Leading or play edge[/b:628a656b14] – When we talk about the leading or play edge of a base, we are referring to the side of the base to which the runner is heading. This is normally where the action is going to occur on a tag play or force play. Umpires should be looking into the leading or play edge whenever possible on a tag play. Again, you must always be aware of the location of the ball, the base, and the defensive and offensive player. Let the four elements be the final determining factor of where you should be to see a play.

[b:628a656b14]Inside out theory[/b:628a656b14] – Instructors have always preached the proper position for an umpire when the ball in outfield is for the umpire to be 3.5-4.5 meters (12-15 feet) inside the base line and when the ball is in the infield the umpire should be 3.4-4.5 meters (12-15) on the outfield side of the base path. This is an excellent guideline but we know there are times when the location of the ball/runners/fielders may dictate that we stay out when the ball is out. Always let the play and the next possible play dictate where the best position is for you.
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