UmpTalk #23: Nine Tips for Surviving Weekend Youth Baseball Tournaments

It’s weekend youth baseball tournament season. There’s a lot of baseball to be played and that means those games need umpires! For umpires, this is a tremendous learning opportunity and a chance to make some great money.

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But the hours are long, the stress level is high and if not prepared, they can be a tremendous disaster.


Here are nine tips to help survive those weekend youth league tournaments from one who has experienced them as an umpire a player, a parent and a coach.


  1. Hydrate – This means preparing the day before, having lots of great water and hydration during the day and taking care of your body. These weekends are in the dog days of summer and can get extremely hot. Know your body and keep it hydrated.
  2. Be on time – Show up to the tournament 30 minutes before. Be your scheduler’s friend. Sometimes these tournaments have four or five times the number of umpires for a normal night. Be flexible with your schedule.
  3. Know the rules of the tournament. Many have special tournament rules.
    • Know the run spread
    • Know the time limit
    • Know the base rulebook (MLB? NCAA? High School? MLB + New Home Plate Rule?)
    • Know the tournament specific rules (Slide rule, substitutions, lineups)
  4. Know how to deal with issues/problems. Know the philosophy of the tournament. How do they want you to deal with issues? Call a field supervisor? Deal with yourself? Ejections?
  5. Know your partner’s name. Be a good partner. You’ll work with tons of different guys at all levels in these tournaments. Communicate. Hustle. But most of all, know his/her name.
  6. Dress the part – Your uniform takes a beating during these tournaments, but understand that your first impression likely determines a lot about how much crap you’re going to get. Tuck in your shirt. Dust off your pants.
  7. Umpire the last inning of your last game the same as your first. Be proactive with your physical fitness and energy level. Not only with hydration, but also with muscles, food intake, etc. Can you umpire the same way in your 10th hour like you do in your 10th minute?
  8. Know your limits. If you cannot do 6 games in a day, don’t sign up for 6 games in a day. Don’t be a hero. An assigner would much rather only put you down for 3 games than replace you in game 4 and have to scramble for the last 2 games.
  9. Have fun. These tournaments, while intense at times, are fun. Kids playing baseball should be fun, so have fun with it. Smile. Clap. Interact with the kids. It goes a long way to making a long weekend very, very fun.

UmpTalk #22: Umpiring and European Baseball

As the world becomes smaller and the game of baseball grows in popularity, it’s not surprising that umpiring would get more organized and professional. European Baseball is one of those areas that is exhibiting tremendous growth in recent years. Through programs like the Jim Evans European Classic, efforts are being made to standardize and educate umpires who may not have grown up on the game like those of us in America have.

Thanks again to Thomas Heywood for providing three outstanding interviews with six great European umpires as he attended the Classic in April.


We speak with:

  • Eddie Fannon and Gabor Erdos about baseball and umpiring in England.
  • Urs Koestinger and Michael Renggli from Switzerland about adjusting the game of baseball for that country.
  • Mike Michalk and Germo Wittkopf speak about umpiring and baseball in Germany.

More of Thomas’s outstanding photographs can be found here and more of Thomas’s contributions to UmpTalk will be coming soon in a later episode.

Photos courtesy of Thomas Heywood:


UmpTalk #21: Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs

One of the best ways to avoid incidents and also have fun in the field of umpiring is to leverage good umpire teamwork. Today’s podcast is about that communication on the field using good umpire signals with your partner(s) and how it can result in smoother games for everyone.

Today we talk about the signs and communications you give with your partner and how it needs to be part of your pregame meeting and discussions.

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  1. Showing outs to your partner following every scoring event, out or big play. Always return the signs of your partner. Don’t use “hook ‘em horns as two’s.
  2. Check-Swing – Come out crisply with your LEFT hand (to avoid confusion with a normal strike call) and firmly ask your partner, “did he go?”  Return with a verbal and commanding “no, he didn’t” or “yes, he went!”
  3. Ball in the dirt – a very subtle signal for umpires who have discussed it ahead of time.  Go down to your midsection with a fist from the field position. This tells your partner it was securely caught. Otherwise, open your hand or give no signal to say it was in the dirt.
  4. Balks – Don’t use two hands up anymore. It’s a delayed dead-ball. Simply point, firmly say “That’s a balk” and return to your ready position. As a partner, return the signal and say “BALK.”
  5. First and Third – “Hang 10” signal by the field umpire tells the plate umpire that he has responsibility at third, and the field ump will take the batter runner.
  6. Time Play – Show outs then point to the ground. Understand when a time play is in effect.

What other signals do you have with your partners? Do you have a “good call” signal?

UmpTalk #20: Dick Nelson – “Sarge”

Dick Nelson eyes prospective umpires at the Jim Evans European Classic Umpiring Camp. Photo by Thomas Haywood

If you’ve worked at or near the professional umpiring ranks for any length of time, you’ve come in contact with “Sarge.”  Dick Nelson is his real name, but I never knew his real name. I only knew that some guy named “Sarge” was ripping my ass my last week at Jim Evan’s school back in 1993.  Every umpire that came before and that followed has had the same experience.

The 79-year old Nelson is an institution for minor league umpires. He is, in many ways, “the” institution.  A former supervisor for MLB Umpires and current advisor to the Jim Evans Academy of Professional Umpiring, Nelson has trained

The 79 year old Nelson has instructed over 70% of current MLB umpires. Photo by Thomas Haywood

or supervised over 70% of umpires working in the Major Leagues today and his influence over the art of umpiring runs as deep as every minor league and amateur baseball field.

It’s not often you get to speak with someone who quite literally “wrote the book,” but Dick Nelson, along with Jim Evans, wrote the book on the 2-man umpiring system.

Thomas Haywood, who will be providing a series of interviews and photographs he gathered during the Jim Evans European Classic this April in Austria.  He has spoken to a number of world umpires about differences in the world game vs the US game as well as the similarities of the game across the globe.

Nelson gives instruction on the 2-man umpiring system. Photo by Thomas Haywood

But it all starts with Sarge.

Thanks Thomas for chatting with this 45 year veteran of umpiring and sharing it with UmpTalk!

UmpTalk #19: Cleaner Umpiring With Jolie Kerr – Cleaning Umpire Equipment

Umpires are many things… we are judges, athletes, babysitters… but we are NOT clean. And don’t try to deny it. I’ve worked with enough of you to know that your gear is foul smelling and I don’t know the last time you’ve washed your socks.

Well, this episode of the podcast is dedicated to those of you whose equipment stays in your equipment bag throughout the summer while those little bacteria grow and smell starts to set in. Today, we talk about cleaning umpire equipment.

jolie-kerr-photo-copy-300x300Today, we end the smelly umpire. Today we talk with Jolie Kerr, columnist for and She writes a column called “Ask A Clean Person” and she’s here to help our profession smell better. Seriously.

Jolie got her start as being the cleanest person she knew. She turned that into a writing career and now handles questions from the public that include how to clean up urine stains from carpets to cleaning blood off of a million items.  She has a new book out called “My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag… And Other Things You Can’t Ask Martha.”

HOME_BarfedinHandbag_0226-614x944She took some time out of her writing to talk with about how to properly allow equipment to dry between games, clean it periodically and avoid nasty staph infections from the crap growing in our equipment.

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Drying Racks for your gear after ballgames

Tips for cleaning with white vinegar

Jolie’s Column: “Ask A Clean Person

UmpTalk #18: Five Types of Managers

“People always want to know whether there’s a magic word. Is it ‘c*cksucker’? Is it ‘assh*le’? No. The magic word is ‘you.'”—Umpire Gary Cederstrom, as quoted in As They See ‘Em: A Fan’s Travels in the Land of Umpires, by Bruce Weber

We begin what will be an unending look at handling situations, arguments and the personalities involved in them. Today’s podcast is about the types of managers you will face when situations and umpire arguments arise.

Part of what makes me an expert in this field is because I was terrible at handling situations. Managers frequently got in my head, got me off my game and really affected the game.  But during those times, I would reflect on the situations where I failed, what caused me to fail and work on making myself better when the next situation arose. Towards the end of my career, I actually looked forward to participating in the art of the manager’s argument.

From observing these situations, I’ve been able to categorize five types of managers you will face off against. (I’m sure I’m missing some, sound off in the comments and tell me what I’ve missed.) Every manager is some type of the following. On Episode 18 of the UmpTalk Podcast, we look at these types of managers, their motivations and how to counter act those.

One podcast will not make you a better umpire arguer, but it hopefully will make you think about types of managers in your association and how you deal with them.

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Here’s my five types of managers, their objectives, the key phrases they use to get in your head and some tips on how to handle these situations.



  • To get in your head
  • Make you doubt yourself and maybe get a call later in the game


  • “You’re better than that”
  • “Come on, <your first name>”
  • “I’ve seen you out here before, you don’t normally make that call”


  • Confidence. Don’t let it get to you
  • Be firm. This type of psychological warfare is hard to draw a line on, but be firm with your limits


No idea what was said here, but this is just awesome.



  • To blow off steam. Possible that the manager just runs hot
  • To inspire team


  • <Censored>
  • <Bleep>
  • You <bleeping> <bleep> <bleep>


  • These are the easiest to handle because they often provide plenty of opportunities for an ejection
  • Then you can just sit back and watch the show
  • Most dangerous when they have a mouth full of chewing tobacco
  • Make sure you write down exactly what they said in the ejection report


Wally Backman



  • To get in your head
  • Take your focus off the game
  • Work the umpire for an extended period of time, possibly swing momentum
  • Trolling to get you to engage first and be the aggressor


  • That pitch isn’t down
  • We got that pitch last inning
  • You’ve missed three on us now
  • Poke a hole in the mask, you’re missing a good game


  • Set a firm line, escalate when necessary (first look over, then say something with mask on, then take off mask, then eject)
  • Talk between innings, not inside his dugout
  • Don’t give the cricket the satisfaction of being the martyr unless absolutely necessary
  • Beware your body language on these


Chirp, Chirp Donnie Baseball



  • Get an honest explanation of the play
  • Typically the eye doctor is the most reasonable to deal with
  • Maturity and confidence is key


  • Tell me what you saw there.
  • What did you have on that play?
  • Are you sure about that play?


  • Difficult for younger umpires to deal with Eye Doctor because they often don’t have the right answer
  • Practice your rules phrases – knowing  a simple phrase like “voluntary release” can save an ejection
  • Don’t talk too much
  • Beware of The Eye Doctor turning into The Lawyer



  • Get you to define every period and every comma of the rule book
  • Get you talking and keep you talking until you screw yourself into the ground or twist yourself into a pretzel


  • What does that mean?
  • Explain that to me.
  • <after first explanation> Well, that’s not what happened. Are you sure?
  • <after second explanation> Are you sure? Check with your partner


  • If you don’t know, shut up. The Lawyer is also a shark and can smell when you don’t know what you’re talking about
  • Know the same key phrases as above
  • Keep your sentences short, don’t keep talking when you’ve said what you need to say
  • If you do agree to check with your partner, don’t let him negotiate the terms. Tell him, “I’ll go check with my partner, but that’s where this ends. You’re not going to argue from that point forward.”
This has nothing to do with nothing, but it’s hilarious.

UmpTalk #17: Lance Schoenwald, Pro Umpire Camp

484814_445566532186016_189476148_nLance Schoenwald was a 2004 graduate of the Harry Wendelstedt School for Umpires and began a career in professional baseball.  But he didn’t stop there. He is now working to help others reach those professional ranks with the Pro Umpire Camp in Shreveport, LA.

We spoke with Lance about his umpiring career, what is important for umpires at the next level as well as finding ways to help those umpires around you.

Lance’s camp has a lengthy list of alums in Independent Baseball, Minor League Baseball as well as high levels of College Baseball.  Lance’s focus is on preparing umpires for the next level of umpiring and help with placement in six different leagues.

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Editors Note: I apologize for the sound quality of this episode and I managed to cut off the first 3 minutes of the interview. Lance, I’ll happily have you back on the podcast at a later date to do more of our talk at a higher quality level!

UmpTalk #16: “Must” Stuff You Need In Your Umpire Equipment Bag

This won’t be the sexiest podcast, but someday, it might just save you.  This episode is a list of hard-learned lessons about the right items you need to have in your umpire equipment bag.

Fill this bag with all the right umpire equipment this season.

They were learned the hard way – by not having these things and needing them.

First, let’s define “umpire bag” because umpires usually have a bag for gear that they change out of, drag to the dressing room and they also have a secondary bag (for me, it’s a tupperware bin) with a lot of these other items. Both of these bags are extremely important and should be stocked and checked regularly.

Thanks to many of the our Facebook followers for helping us complete this list!

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If we’ve missed anything, please let us know in the comments so we can help future umpires make sure they’re well prepared!!

**Items in ALL CAPS are SHOW STOPPERS!! Try umpiring without these.

  1. Shoe cleaning kit and equipment. (We’re going to have a whole show about shoe and equipment cleaning coming up soon!) But at minimum you should have two dish towels, a shoe brush and a bag to put your shoes in (in case they’re muddy)
  2. Sunflower Seeds / Gum / Power Bar (check with your location to see if seeds are allowed. They are less and less nowadays)
  3. Sunglasses/Sunglasses Case/Eyeglasses cleaner
  4. Extras!!!!!!!
    1. Indicator
    2. Pair of Socks
    3. EXTRA BELT!!
    4. Plate Brush
    5. Ballbags (different colors also)
  5. Bugspray (if keeping in your bag, put it in a ziploc bag in case of leakage)
  6. Febreeze (ziploc also!)
  7. Extra medication / Ben Gay / IBUPROFEN (totally different ziploc bag)
  9. Pens/Pencil/Lineup Card Protector
  10. Padlock
  11. Toiletry bag with baby wipes, deodorant
  12. Rubbing Mud
  13. Sunscreen
  14. Athletic Tape / Small First Aid Kit
  15. Small notepad or journal
  16. Chapstick
  17. Gold Bond (you know who you are)
  18. Small Sewing Kit
  19. And finally, and we think this was made in jest – but then again maybe not – pepper spray!

What did we miss? Sound off in the comments or on our Facebook and Twitter pages! Thanks again for listening!!

Oh, and here’s how to sew on a button:

Umptalk #15: Billy Haze, D-I NCAA Umpire and Operator, Black & Blue Umpire Camps

Billy Haze, D-I UmpireBilly Haze was inches away from a dream and then walked away. Only to have the pull of baseball bring him back into the game.  Billy was an aspiring AAA Minor League Umpire, but didn’t get the MLB call up.  After some time off, he returned to the game and is now at the top of the D-I NCAA baseball umpires profession as well as helping others take their first steps in umpiring with the Black and Blue Umpire Academy.

BBUCBilly Haze and Michael Bilinci join us from the Black and Blue Umpire Camp to talk on Episode 15 about daily life as an NCAA umpire, who should attend the BBUC camps and the intangibles assigners look for when trying to find folks for the next level.

The Black & Blue Umpire Camps can be found on YouTube, Facebook as well as their website.

Podcast: Play in new window | Download

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Show Notes:

BBUC Umpire Camp – Main Website

BBUC YouTube Channel

BBUC Facebook Page

A cool video they show at the start of camp

Umptalk #14: Gil Imber of Close Call Sports

In the era of sabermetrics and advanced statistics, the SABR revolution finds itself seeping into umpiring.  One of the leaders in this avenue is the website That website is run by Gil Imber and we talk with him on Episode 14 of the UmpTalk Podcast.



Close Call Sports is a website that tracks umpire ejections but also allows the community to analyze close calls in not just baseball but all sports.

The site works to analyze controversial events objectively, but also introduces a big element of fun as well. It is a great website to visit for umpires, baseball fans and wanna-be rulebook lawyers.  The centerpiece to the website is an “Umpire Fantasy League” which tracks ejections of umpires, assigns scores to those ejections and allows players to get points according to how their “umpire team” does. The league also awards points for correct applications of rules as well as case studies.

We talk with Gil about how the website started and his own umpiring background as well as some of the more controversial posts on his website.

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Show Notes:

Close Call Sports Website