PITTSBURG — They are the people nobody seems to agree with and the people who are criticized on nearly every play, but they are also the people who make playing the game possible. They are umpires.
“Blue” — as many people refer an umpire as — is given the difficult job of determining calls based on inches and a fraction of a second, but is criticized by players, coaches and fans on almost every play.
Despite the challenges which go along with governing a game, local umpire Tim Cashero found joy in the job few are willing to take.
“After I graduated, I wanted to get into officiating,” Cashero said. “My brother got me into the business about five years ago and he was doing it up in Kansas City to make some extra money on the weekends. I hate to say I did it for the money because I enjoy being around and learning about the game, but it’s a great, part-time job financially. If I did it strictly for the money, I’d be miserable because of all you have to deal with.”
Cashero grew up playing baseball in Parsons, but moved to Pittsburg to attend high school at St. Mary’s-Colgan.
“I came over to Pittsburg to attend Colgan, where I played for coach Watt,” Cashero said. “I wasn’t a great baseball player and was kind of an outsider at Colgan because I wasn’t very good and didn’t go through the entire system, but I also didn’t work hard.”
After graduating, Cashero cut his teeth in youth leagues, working games alongside his mentor.
“I would travel up to Kansas City to work games with my brother and that was kind of our bonding time,” Cashero said. “Then about four years ago, I started umpiring high school games, which is a completely different animal.”
Going from youth leagues to the high school level isn’t just a difference in talent level, but also a difference in competitiveness and pace of the game.
“Baseball has changed over the years,” Cashero said. “It’s gone from just a fun game to becoming more serious. Around here, there aren’t as many kids getting recruited than in a place like Kansas City so the baseball is different, but once you get up into the larger cities, it’s all business.”
With the rise of competition comes the increase in expectations from umpires to make the right call.
“Everybody expects an umpire to make the right call every time and that’s just not possible,” Cashero said. “There’s a human element to it and your eyes play tricks on you. That’s just the way it is.”
Even when the correct call is made, a crowd full of self-proclaimed umpires are usually quick to say otherwise.
“What people don’t realize is that there are so many details to watch,” Cashero said. “There are a lot of rules and many people don’t know them or understand them. I pride myself on knowing 95 percent of the rules, but the five percent I don’t know, my partner probably knows and we discuss things like that before games. If any umpire says he knows all the rules in every situation, he’s wrong.”
According to Cashero, the key to making the correct call is about being positioned correctly.
“Everything is about angles,” Cashero said. “You need to be in the best angle you can be in to make a call. If a coach questions a call on a play made at first base when I’m standing between second and third, I can say I saw it because I had a good angle.”
“Coaches are hard on us sometimes when the call is far away, but the key is perspective,” he said. “Where I’m positioned and where the coach is standing gives us two different perspectives on what happened. Usually when you’re in the field behind the pitcher, you can maneuver yourself see pretty much everything.”
Regardless of positioning, skill level or years of experience, there will inevitably be bad calls.
“Things happen in a baseball game that you’re not expecting and some situations are just so odd that it wouldn’t matter how often you study the rule book,” Cashero said. “If you’ve never seen it happen in a game, you can’t always think of the exact rule quickly enough. What’s frustrating is that the people in the stands complaining generally don’t the rules. I carry a rule book with me every game just because I want to be able to reference it if I’m ever proven wrong or if I’m questioning a call so I can improve myself.”
Once out on the field to experience the job for himself, Cashero said he was given a new outlook on the game.
“Before I became an umpire, I was one of those complaining parents,” he said. “Once I became an umpire, I realized what a jerk I was being. Those people are human and when you call someone a vulgar or derogatory name, it’s hard to forget.”
Cashero said the key to staying calm when tempers flare is to not take anything personally.
“You can have the most sane, level-headed person be an umpire, but when people begin to yell at them from all angles, they can’t always handle it,” he said. “You have to be a strong-willed person.”
Because of all of the criticism and the difficulty of the job, many people are unwilling to take on the challenge.
“A year ago, we had over 500 baseball umpires available for high school games in the region, but this past season, we had a little over 400,” Cashero said. “That drop off is because there is so much criticism that we don’t have anybody who wants to work games and it’s sad. There’s so many games going on around the area that a kid could make several hundred dollars just in one weekend, but we can’t get them to come out. I guess people just don’t want to deal with the problems.”
Although it was hard at first, Cashero said it became easier with time.
“You’ll always have coaches chirp at you every now and then, but it’s how you handle it that matters,” he said. “Once you get to know how the coaches act and they begin to understand your tendencies, it goes a bit smoother. I just understand that they’re competitive people.”
Above all, Cashero said it’s important for any umpire to stand up for himself and be confident.
“Coaches don’t care whether you’ve been doing it 30 years or if it’s your first game,” he said. “What I tell new umpires is to do the best with what you know. What I mean by that is, you’re going to have to make a call to your best ability and stand behind it. You might be wrong and you need to figure that out later, but you have to make a call in that moment to the best of your ability and stand by it.”
— Jordan Buckamneer is the sports editor of the Pittsburg Morning Sun. E-mail him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @jbuckamneer.