A ball is a ball, a strike is a strike

By Ryan Sienko, Owner of Catch and Throw

Ball!!! How many times has that four letter word frustrated pitchers, managers, and fans that thought the pitch was a strike? We all understand that the umpire’s calls are part of the game, but that doesn’t soften the blow of a ball thrown right down the middle on a 3-2 count and called for a ball. I am going to try to give you a different read on how to accept calls but why happy umpires are important, and how you can learn about, and from, each umpire.

In order to have sanity we need to understand one thing. Umpires will not change the call on a called ball or strike even if they know they were wrong. I realize that doesn’t soften the blow, but understanding that can help a pitcher out in the long run. As a former professional catcher, I can sympathize with pitchers everywhere. In fact, I fought umpires for strikes my whole career. There are some things that we can do to not only understand the calls, but learn and prosper from the umpire’s zones.

Umpires are always trying to get better just like our players. They are always trying to make the right calls just like hitters are trying to swing at strikes and pitchers are trying to throw strikes. Sometimes it does not always work out that way. The one thing that umpires have that players do not have is the ability to make up for mistakes.

A couple of things that you can ask yourself about the umpires are:

1. Why are umpires important?

2. How can they help you?

3. How can you work with them?

Pitchers and catchers need to adjust and focus on the most important pitch of his life, THE NEXT ONE! The next pitch is the most important pitch of his lifetime and looking back can only affect the future since you cannot change what has already happened. Every coach has seen the breakdown of players that are affected by not only umpire’s calls, but by other plays that have happened in the game and the players cannot stop the bleeding until it is too late. Many pitchers will let a call that they thought went against them turn into 4 or 5 runs. That is simply unacceptable. The ability to mentally focus on the task at hand instead of what will not be changed will not only bring you to what is important, but will score you major points with the “Man in Blue”. In fact, he is a teammate as anyone else on your team.

As a pregame imperative, it is a good idea to learn all of the umpire’s names, especially the man working the plate that night. Umpires and pitchers and catchers are all alone on two islands and the game would not work without them. As a pitcher it good policy to say hello, tell them to have a good game, and smile. As a catcher it is recommended that you tell the umpire what the starter is featuring on that given night and when other pitchers come into the game, that you tell him about the relievers as well. Also, finish up talking to the umpires before the game by assuring them that you will keep them “clean”. This means that you will do your absolute best to keep the ball off of him. Umpires appreciate friends and some will let you know what their strikes zones are and how they are going to call things. For example, one umpire who was known as “Hoops” would always remind me that he would give nothing down, but would extend the sides. Knowing what the strike zone is going to be is critical information that could really help when you might really need a strike call.

Figuring out how you can use the umpire as a friend instead of a foe really will give you an advantage. Keeping them happy and focusing on what you can control as a player will give you an edge that cannot be measured.

Ryan Sienko is founder and CEO of Catch and Throw, a catching instruction, information, and conditioning company. He played professionally for eight seasons with the Texas Rangers, Chicago White Sox and in independent baseball where he was an All-Star. In early 2010 the Joliet Jackhammers inducted him as the inaugural player to their Hall of Fame. He is also an associate scout for the Baltimore Orioles. Ryan can be reached at ryan@catchandthrow.com