A woman in blue

I was a baseball umpire for almost 25 years, a difficult avocation that took a while getting used to.

In 1979, I became a baseball umpire. My goal was to learn more about the game so that one day I could competently take my place as a television sportscaster, a position almost no women held back then.

I called the local umpire group—which in this case was the Northern Virginia Umpires Association—and explained that I would like to take part in their training program. There was a long pause. Did I detect a smirk on the other end of the line? Still, the man who answered didn’t say I couldn’t attend, so I soon found myself in a small classroom with a band of other wannabe umpires.

The man who taught the baseball rules class was named Jim and in a previous life he was a no-nonsense Washington D.C. policeman. It was clear from the beginning that this was a boys club—shouldn’t have been surprised, in retrospect—and Jim did his best to make sure he used every known swear word as loudly and often as possible in our lessons, always glancing my way to see if I was disturbed by his profanity. Had he asked, I would have explained that I’d lived in a girls college dorm for four years and nothing he said could have made me blush.

Despite that inauspicious start, Jim and I hit it off. I think, after he realized he couldn’t run me off with foul verbiage, he started to respect my desire to be an umpire.

Sometimes, I felt like I was playing dress-up in my gear.

The first time I approached a field in umpire gear, Jim was there to cheer me on. Granted it was Little League, but don’t scoff when I tell you it was frightening. First of all, baseball’s rules are the most complicated and confusing of all sports. I would go on to officiate football, ice hockey, soccer, and basketball, so trust that I know what I’m talking about. For example, there’s the infield fly rule that does not require a fielder to actually catch the ball in the infield, and the fact that a foul ball and a foul tip are two drastically different things, and there are a dozen ways a pitcher might balk. Add to that the fact that one must understand and remember all these rules while calling balls and strikes and fair and foul balls and safes and outs and interference and obstruction, all the while fans and coaches are screaming on every play.

It was exhausting.

Then there was the fact that underneath all that gear—uniform, mask, chest protector, shin guards, and steel-toed shoes—I often felt like a kid playing dress-up. I found myself observing other umpires. The way they stood and walked and talked and gestured. I have never been called a girly girl, still my actions looked different from the other umpires and Jim was adamant that drawing extra attention to myself by these differences could be problematic. As most sports fans know, officials should, for the most part, blend into the background. But how was I to do that?

The answer was simple: Acting! I’d been in a lot of theater productions in my youth where I’d played all sorts of characters, so I wondered if I could perhaps play an umpire. With this in mind, I started chewing gum. Truly, I hated the stuff, but it was a far better choice than the wads of tobacco many of the other umps stuck in their cheeks before that sort of thing was banned. I mirrored the way my officiating brethren moved and spoke. I stopped letting coaches push me around and learned to use my thumb to ejected those who tried to intimidate me.

Eventually, I became more sure of myself and felt I belonged with the other men in blue.

Eventually, I felt like an umpire. I would call balls and strikes for almost 25 years, a time during which I umpired games in youth leagues, high school, mens leagues, a women’s professional league, and–my favorite game–a televised exhibition between the San Francisco Giants and the Triple A Phoenix Firebirds where I got to work the plate and meet with skipper Dusty Baker.

It’s funny, I still have my equipment and the uniforms I wore over the years. Every time I find my gear and decide to get rid of it, I don’t. I’m not sure why I’m holding on to it. I only became an umpire so that I could convince some forward-thinking news director to give me a job as a sportscaster. And while that did happen— eventually, I worked for five TV stations—I continued officiating for 40 years.

Though others might think it strange, whenever I walk past a baseball field today, I don’t, as most people do, watch the players. Instead, I focus on the men in blue. Then I smile and remember I’m one of them too.

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Published by Liaison – A Next Chapter Imprint

Rebecca Quinn escapes her controlling husband and, with nowhere else to go, hops the red-eye to Arizona. There, Gaby Strand – her aunt’s college roommate – gives her shelter at the Salt River Inn, a 1930’s guesthouse located in the wildly beautiful Tonto National Forest.

Becca struggles with post-traumatic stress, but is enthralled by the splendor and fragility of the Sonoran Desert. The once aspiring artist meets Noah Tanner, a cattle rancher and beekeeper, Oscar Billingsley, a retired psychiatrist and avid birder, and a blacksmith named Walt. Thanks to her new friends and a small band of wild horses, Becca adjusts to life in the desert and rekindles her love of art.

Then, Becca’s husband tracks her down, forcing her to summon all her strength. But can she finally stop running away?

Order your copy here: http://mybook.to/wildhorsespb

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