Senior Scene – By Buster Grimm – WHAT IN THE UMPS GOING ON OUT THERE? Part 1
By Softball West
The umpires in every local league in every state have had to make some sort of adjustments in their procedures when senior ball has rolled in. There are various umpire associations throughout the country, but by far the ASA organization has the most umpires out there. They service thousands of city recreation softball programs and many thousands of senior players. When senior softball began showing up throughout the nation, things drastically changed for all umpires who worked ASA and other umpire associations. Why the big changes? What does a bunch of older guys playing a little softball have to do with shaking up professional umpires' states of mind out on the ball diamond? It takes a LOT to rattle an experienced umpire out there doesn't it?
These old guys can't get to them, with whatever it is that they do, can they?!
Let's get back to the beginning: One of the hardest things for a new umpire to grasp is all of the basic playing rules of the game. It takes more than one season for him to fully sort out and then corral all of the various, galloping fine points. Once this has been tentatively grasped, the rookie umpire (considered thus for the first 2 years) spends the rest of his career attempting to fine tune the hundreds of bucking rules into fluid actions out there on the playing field; add then some of the natural heat which comes along with a game of ball and the rules department can explode in his face on any given play. Then, along comes this senior ball with its few dozen rules and quirks. These special rules can drastically affect several of the fundamental aspects of the game. For any umpire, a rookie or a 20 year vet, these abnormalities can drive you crazy and cause you to make some bad calls. Getting all of those special rules down pat and then being able to spin around in a heartbeat and come up with the right call (sometimes judging the opposite from what you normally would in a regular softball game), causes many a blue to beg to get out of working senior games altogether.
So just what is so difficult about these rules that can throw the unprepared blue for such a loop? Starting from having the two home plates, an unsuspecting umpire can quickly go cross-eyed: Another home plate is placed on-line with the 1st base line, about 8 feet beyond the regular home plate on the 3rd base side; the runner coming in from 3rd base touches this extra home plate to score, while the catcher receives the ball while touching the regular home plate to execute a force out—there is no tagging, no sliding, only a force play with the runner using his own scoring plate. The purpose? Safety. That is what it is all about with most of the seniors' rule adaptions. You senior ballplayers already know all about this double home plate rule, but just imagine seeing it for the first time—and from the perspective of an umpire who has to make a call on this most unusual force play! Getting the written rules down correctly in your mind is difficult enough, but then going out there and applying it to living game situations can bring some big time stress to our boys in blue. Give ‘em a break for trying.
In the very beginnings of the senior softball Game, the players more or less umpired their own games. Since they were constantly fine-tuning these intricate new rules for safety and convenience, it took more than a few years for the right ones to be approved by trial and error. Early on, the largest seniors association out of California, Senior Softball USA, got very organized, compiled some basic rules and then began holding tournaments only. They solidified many of the senior rules and the players in many states got used to these rules. Slowly the local umpires also got used to them and SSUSA sort of became the early spokesman for the senior Game. ASA was rather slow in picking up on the potential of the senior wave but since then has been coming along year by year in its rule book. Presently there is quite an extensive section in the ASA rule book dedicated to the senior rules. The ASA umpires are of course required to learn these rules in the event that they are assigned to work senior games. There are widely varying attitudes of the Blues concerning the senior rules and their ball game.