Catchers, shake the umpire's hand before every game.
For our first "Tip of the Month" I wanted to key in on the most important relationship a catcher has on the field. No, it isn't the relationship with their pitcher (though that relationship is certainly important), it is their relationship with the umpire behind them. Many catchers, both in the baseball and softball worlds, tend to forget that their biggest advocate on the field is the umpire and thus lose an opportunity to develop a rapport with the only person on the field whose opinion of a pitch actually matters. I can remember my first game playing college ball, starting as a freshman to begin the Fall season. The senior pitcher on the mound was none other than the ace of my high school's pitching staff four years prior. To say the least, he threw hard. A heavy 92-93 mph fastball with one of the best curveballs I had ever seen. However, it wasn't his repertoire that led to his domination of the game that day. The umpire that cold September day was someone I knew quite well from my high school days. His name was George. Now it may seem a little odd that a teenager was on a first name basis with a gentleman clearly his elder, however my baseball relationship with George started as one of mutual respect while I was in high school.
I can still remember the day that I walked up to George before the game against one of our cross-town rivals and introduced myself to him before our pre-game Infield/Outfield. I stretched out my arm to shake his hand and told him "Sir, my name is Jay Weaver, I'm going to be your catcher today. Don't worry about getting hit, I'm not going to let it happen." I threw my mask back on and headed to the plate. Out of the corner of my eye saw a very subtle smirk begin to appear across his face. "Call me George son. Sir gives me the impression you think I'm old," he said.
During the game, we got to know each other. He had a son, three grandkids and a boat docked up at his seasonal lake house. We ran into each other a few more games over the course of the next four years and when I stepped onto the field the September of my freshman year in college, I walked up to him, reached out my arm to shake his hand and said "George, so great to see you today. How are the grandkids?". Slowly that same smirk began to appear again. "Grandkids are doing great. Little cold out today Jay, not really the best weather for taking a few hits if you know what I mean." I turned and quipped "Well, I was planning on relaxing today, but for you George, you've got nothing to worry about."
Now, there were many reasons why pitches four-inches off the plate were called strikes that day. Some of it had to do with the way I was receiving pitches, keeping strikes looking like strikes. Another part of it was probably the fact that I never had to move my glove once, my pitcher hitting his target all game long. But ultimately, I came to find out a number of years later while attending one of my younger brother's high school games that the biggest reason batters were throwing temper tantrums on the way back to their dugout that day was indeed because of one simple handshake from a teenager to his umpire and a guarantee of no bruises, not while I am back there. George told me that the biggest impact a catcher can have on an umpire is simply by showing them respect. These are men and women who don't get paid a lot to do what they love to do. They very often take unnecessary verbal abuse from just about everybody on the field and at the end of the day that umpire probably deserved a whole heck of a lot better. Especially from their catcher.
So, to all those catchers out there. Walk up to the umpire, stretch out your arm, shake their hand and introduce yourselves before every game. Let the umpire know that you understand it is part of your job to make sure that they don't get hit and then do your best to keep that promise. Not many umpires will admit it, but a catcher who shows them respect will very often get the benefit of the doubt on those borderline pitches.
Thank you for reading and please make sure you keep an eye out for November's "Tip of the Month"!
From behind the mask,