I’ll admit I didn’t especially care whether the Astros or the Phillies won the World Series. However, I was rooting for someone. I really hoped Houston skipper Dusty Baker finally got to go home with a ring as a manager. Though Baker earned the title as a player with the Dodgers in 1981, the prize had eluded him as a skipper for 24 years. But not anymore. With a game six, 4-2 victory over Philadelphia, Baker’s Astros became the 2022 World Series Champions.
Which brought to mind the time Dusty and I were involved in a little conspiracy.
Here’s what happened.
Back when I was still umpiring amateur baseball, I got a call asking if I’d like to work an exhibition game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Triple A Phoenix Firebirds. I was shocked and delighted. Though, if I’m being honest, the fact that I was assigned to work the plate was a little intimidating, as was the fact that the game would be broadcast live on TV.
It was May 12, 1994, and, much like today, women umpires were almost as rare as unicorns. Back then, I was often not accepted by my baseball brethren, and I sensed some animosity from the rest of the guys on the crew. No doubt, some of them would have relished working the plate. In fact, there was a last minute tussle when the powers that be tried to have me removed from my assignment. But, in the end, there I was at home plate taking a lineup card from Dusty.
Before I go on, I have to address one of the most confusing issues in baseball: the strike zone. It probably comes as no surprised that the definition of the strike zone has been awfully hard to pin down over the years. Major League Baseball explains it this way: “The official strike zone is the area over home plate from the midpoint between a batter’s shoulders and the top of the uniform pants–when the batter is in his stance and prepared to swing at a pitched ball—and a point just below the kneecap. In order to get a strike call, part of the ball must cross over part of home plate while in the aforementioned area.”
When I was a baby umpire, I took that definition seriously, which had other umpires laughing at me. According to them, my strike zone was too big. I started watching the way other umps called pitches, and realized that, despite the way the rule is written, the strike zone had been whittled down to a space the size of a postage stamp. As I’m rather literal in regard to rules, I struggled to comply.
After accepting the lineup cards that afternoon at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, Dusty lingered by the plate. When the other manager retreated into the dugout, he leaned in. “Did I mention we have a plane to catch?” He graced me with that big Dusty grin. I paused. Then I smiled too. I knew exactly what he wanted me to do.
After he left, I watched the pitcher warm up. I realized I’d take a lot of grief if I complied with Dusty’s wishes. I looked at the other umpires in the field, then considered all the fans in the seats and the players in the dugouts. Would they all think I was a terrible umpire for doing nothing but following the rules?
I can’t say I wasn’t concerned. But when that first pitch rocketed in and though it might have been considered a little high by some, I called, “Strike!” The batter turned and stared at me, but said nothing. A short time later, I called him out looking. I’d made my point. For the rest of the game, I felt as if I’d been freed, released to finally call the strike zone the way it’s written.
The game ended in just under two hours. Did I take some crap? Sure I did. But that’s generally part of the game.
When it was over and the players had all headed into the dugout, I noticed Dusty standing down the third base line. A beautiful Sonoran Desert sunset lit the sky behind him: peach, purple, pink. Then, Dusty looked at me, grinned, and nodded his thanks, before he too disappeared into the tunnel.
Today, I say congratulations to Dusty Baker on his World Series victory! And I say thank you for one of my favorite baseball memories.
The past and present collide when a tenacious reporter seeks information on an eleventh century magician…and uncovers more than she bargained for.
February 2, 2022
In 1939, archeologists uncovered a tomb at the Northern Arizona site called Ridge Ruin. The man, bedecked in fine turquoise jewelry and intricate bead work, was surrounded by wooden swords with handles carved into animal hooves and human hands. The Hopi workers stepped back from the grave, knowing what the Moochiwimi sticks meant. This man, buried nine hundred years earlier, was a magician.
Former television journalist Kate Butler hangs on to her investigative reporting career by writing freelance magazine articles. Her research on The Magician shows he bore some European facial characteristics and physical qualities that made him different from the people who buried him. Her quest to discover The Magician’s origin carries her back to a time when the high desert world was shattered by the birth of a volcano and into the present-day dangers of archeological looting where black market sales of antiquities can lead to murder.
REVIEW COPIES OF WOLF CATCHER AVAILABLE UPON REQUEST
Review/interview requests: email@example.com
Available where you buy books.