The Captain and First Officer push the throttles full forward and the Airbus 319 slowly begins its takeoff roll as the cold Denver air surges over the wings. The roar and vibration of the engines drown out any conversation or thought in the cabin of this flight bound for Phoenix, Arizona.
As the aircraft buffets and rocks through the turbulent rocky mountain wave, the flight attendants sit uncomfortably in the narrow jump seats and quietly grumble about five day trips, quick turnarounds and union disregard. As one of them grabs the intercom and makes a polite safety announcement to the passengers I imagine her saying what is really on her mind: “I am here to save your butt, not kiss it”
A weathered business man sits in the seat in front of me, wearing wrinkled Dockers and a company golf shirt, frantically sorts through his briefcase. He orders a bloody mary and he and his colleague next him commiserate on their work woes.
Sitting next to an off duty pilot, likely “dead-heading” back home after a long trip, I find myself pondering if America’s pastime is not actually baseball anymore – maybe it is complaining about your job.
So begins the first commute of this Major League Umpire.
Umpires are assigned games in either Arizona or Florida prior to each regular season. Many times it comes down to personal preference or an umpires’ home locale, but Arizona has been my assignment for spring training the last 11 years. I will spend the next four weeks working exhibition games in the Cactus League.
Arizona in March is a much needed break from the bitter cold conditions in the majority of the country. Umpires, players and fans alike will bask in the warm sun, 70 degree temperatures and light breezes for these early afternoon games. But, nonetheless, I am here to work.
Spring training is as important to umpires as it is to the players. After the winter break, it allows us to prepare for the upcoming season. Much like a player needs to have at bats, throw pitches or take ground balls, we use the exhibition games to ready ourselves for plate work, base positioning, ball and play coverage, various tag and force plays all taking place in “live game” conditions. I could not imagine starting a season without the benefits of working these spring games.
As the plane hovers and slows a few feet over the runway at Sky Harbor International Airport, the wheels pounce hard on the runway and the plane bounces in the air and finally touches down a second and thankfully, a final time. A few in the cabin sigh and moan at the rough landing. The young pilot sitting next to me turns and asks, “Do you know the difference between a good landing and a great one?” He continues after I shake me head, “a good landing is one you can walk away from, and a great landing is one you can walk away from and use the plane again.”
I couldn’t agree more….
Mike Di Muro is a 10 year Major League Umpire. He is the author of the official blog of UMPS CARE Charities. Please leave any questions or comments below.