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L1.A8 - Don't Call The Obvious! Fly-Ball Mechanics on the Baseline

L1.A8 - Don't Call The Obvious! Fly-Ball Mechanics on the Baseline   by Brent McLaren

You are working the line and there goes the fly ball right over your head. You know the drill; "Going out, Mike" you announce as you pivot, placing the belt buckle over the line. For a moment you take your eyes off the ball and observe the right fielder moving towards baseline while he settles under the ball. Coming to a complete stop you witness a clean catch, so you signal ...? 

Everyone in the crowd saw the ball and the fielder's play. Tell them something they don't know: let them know whether the ball was fair or foul. This mechanic is exactly the opposite of the proud hammered fist so favored by amateur umpires in this situation. 

Let's examine this mechanic in another scenario: working a three umpire system you have the third base line. With one out a runner is on third in scoring position. The plate umpire has communicated with you that he will be staying close to home. On the first pitch the ball gets popped deep down the third base line. You read your other umpire, pivot and move down the line confident that the plate umpire has the tag up. 

"That's a catch" you call as you signal the "Owww...ut" and watch the fielder who make a valiant effort to retire the scoring runner. "Time" requests the coach whose question to you seems strange, "Matt, was the ball fair or foul?" You misinterpret his question and respond, "Doesn't matter, the ball was caught." You are of course correct, but the coach is really trying to make a determination whether his fielder made a mistake. If the ball was foul and the fielder did not catch it no run would score. 

Had you signaled "fair" or "foul," even sold the foul call a touch, you would have avoided the coach's question altogether. Had the ball not been caught you would have been ready to make a routine fair or foul call as needed. A routine call means a clear, arms raised "Foul" call or a sharp wrist snap and point (with no verbalization) for the fair ball. 

The trouble ball changes the mechanics a bit. Generally the fielder catches the ball at knee level or lower, makes a diving catch or potentially traps the ball the umpire must make a signal, safe if the catch was not made, an out if the catch was completed: the first step is to signal fair or foul then the status of the batter-runner. The umpire may elect to change this on a caught third out when only the status of the catch matters. The extra second gained by first signaling "fair" or "foul" will also allow you to ensure the fielder is really going to come up in control of the ball. Once you are certain announce, "That's a catch, a catch!" or "No catch, no catch!" with the appropriate signals. The proper mechanic is to signal only on catch attempts that are made below the fielder's knee, or when a diving catch is made. 

Both the plate and base umpire should make use of these mechanics when signaling catches on the lines. As either umpire it is important, if a catch is made, not to take your attention from the fielder while you make the call. The fielder can come up throwing in a number of directions. By remaining focused on the fielder you will be prepared to "open the gate" and adjust to the location of the throw. 

Avoid the obvious, tell them something only you know the correct answer to.

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