Rule No. 1 for a baseball or softball parent or assistant coach: Never make eye contact with the team manager when they are looking for an umpire.
I will coach, drag the field, run the scoreboard, announce or even plunge the toilet -- anything that doesn't involve calling balls and strikes. When my son was in Minors, umps were hard to come by. I had it timed perfectly, though. I was an assistant coach, and as soon as the team manager began looking around like a lost puppy I'd make my trip to the Honey Bucket. I considered myself in lockdown until I was sure he'd found his victim.
While many sports pay umpires, Little League does not. There are people out there who are crazy enough to call games for free. Locally, I've seen everything from a man who's umped for 50 years, including the Little League World Series, to the parent in the stands who has average knowledge of the game and is umping for the first time. Why? Because someone has to do it.
I know I've come home more than once and asked myself, "Why did you act like that toward that ump? He's a volunteer." I don't have an answer, and I don't think "heat of the game" covers it. Umps -- volunteer or not -- make bad calls. Coaches make bad decisions, and players make bad plays. They're doing their best, and it's all part of the game.
It's hard to remember that when the ump misses that the potential game-tying runner slid under the tag at home. There's that slow-motion moment when everyone freezes, and you see the ump looking for the ball. He calls the runner out. One side erupts in cheer, with a few mixed gritted-teeth grins that say, "We got away with one there." On the other side, all eyes are on that ump. And, there's always a few that are really letting him know he blew it -- even though most of them would be hiding in the Honey Bucket with me before they would call a game.
I'm amazed at how most umpires simply walk off the field without acknowledging any of it. I'm even more amazed when they show up the next night for another game. Thanks, umpires. You're much more courageous than most of us. And, please remember that I said that the next time I question your call.