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Final Championship Day in Paris
I was not scheduled to umpire on the final day. I had come a long way in five years from sandlot ball, a long way from the beginning of the season when I could hardly look a fast ball in the face. I went as a spectator to watch the last day of the Minime and Senior Championships. I left my equipment at home. I wore my Chicago Cubs cap and trainer's jacket, ate hot-dogs and fries, and had a beer. It was a warm day at the end of summer, the leaves were just starting to turn and the sharp colors of the Paris sky were in all their glory for one of the rare beautiful days of an otherwise rotten El Niño summer. My son came with his friends.
An article appeared just a few days before in Referee Magazine concerning penalties for fighting in the United States. The minor leagues give out automatic three-game suspensions and fines. College leagues give an automatic three-game suspension for the first offense, and an automatic season and post-season suspension for the second offense. Pitchers are suspended four games on the first fight, eight games on the second fight and the rest of the season on the third. In professional baseball the umpire ejects players and the league president decides what further fines or suspensions apply. There is a lot of pressure from umpires on the professional leagues to enforce minimum fines, suspensions without pay and suspensions for players leaving the bench to participate in an altercation. In the minor leagues, players who leave the bench are fined between $75 and $450 and receive a three-game suspension. A professional pitcher who intentionally hits a batter will be ejected by an umpire. Both the pitcher and his manager will be ejected if a warning has been issued. The same applies in college rules, only the pitcher also registers a four-game suspension.
All this just to emphasize that fighting was on the umpires' agenda, not necessarily just against fighting, but also for ejecting the President of the Federation. The four umpires and the supervisor wore T-shirts marked: "Umpires in Anger" on one side, and "An Umpire Only Costs Two Games" on the other.
It was great theater.
While all these preparations were underway for the Senior final, next door Hervé and Philippe were umpiring the last game of the Minime Championship between Paris University Club and Le-Passage-d'Agen. The P.U.C. pulled ahead four to two in the top of the third inning, then added five more runs in the top of the fourth. Five runs is the maximum allowed in a half inning, so Le-Passage came to bat. They could only add two more runs, and Paris took first place in the Minime championships.
There was an argument between Alex, the P.U.C. coach, and Philippe, who was umpiring on first base. Alex wouldn't stay on the "bench", an area traced out with white chalk lines behind one of the crowd-control benches. Alex is a fiery Latin American and Philippe a convinced French upholder of Revolutionary order. I mumbled to the umpire supervisor that "being invisible" might be a better policy. He agreed whole-heartedly.
On my way over to see the Seniors on the next field, I met the President of the Federation. "I tried to get you one of the final matches after your outstanding performance in Saint-Lo." It was an unexpected and embarrassing situation.
"Mr. President," I said. "Yesterday I had the best match of the finals: P.U.C. against Le-Vigan. There were fast balls, curve balls, home runs and a close match with over three hundred spectators. I was never touched once by a baseball. The catching was superb. I couldn't have had a better way to end the season."
He wandered off looking lonely, while I went on to see what was happening for the final game.
Savigny had dominated play yesterday against Montpellier, sweeping ahead twelve to four. This morning Montpellier battled back and finally pulled off an upset in the eleventh with a four to three win. Michel was umpiring on base with Benoît and Patrick. Patrick's partner Stephan held the plate for the most exciting game of the Senior finals. Gilbert was on the sidelines supervising.
I got there just as the game ended. As the umpires came off the field, Michel complained that he had pulled a muscle and would be unable to umpire the second game. Gilbert looked at me and asked, "Did you bring your equipment?"
I felt like I had been hit by a pail of cold water, with the pail end first. I had left my equipment at home. I had a hot-dog in one hand and a beer in the other. I had just put down the President of the Federation not five minutes before. Gilbert, the most qualified umpire, next to Patrick, should not be on the field, his son was playing for Savigny.
"Gilbert, you have to take third base," I replied. Gilbert appealed to Patrick, who affirmed my refusal.
And that is how in one short year I almost came from the sandlot to the final game of the French National Championships.
I sat on the sidelines behind the Savigny bench taking notes furiously on four-man mechanics. Patrick took the plate, Stephan was on first, Benoît on second and Gilbert on third. Gilbert had to call interference on the Montpellier third baseman for impeding the progress of a base runner. The base coach on third for Montpellier was an American minor-league coach. He counted the steps each fielder made on a play before getting the ball, then before the throw. He quizzed his base runners on every aspect of the action. But it didn't help.
Savigny literally crushed Montpellier in a surprising 14 run shut out. The Savigny player-coach, Proust, even pounded one of the longest home runs I have ever seen in France, a towering blast well over the 122-meter center field fence.
It was such an overwhelming performance that few people stuck around for the end of the match. I stayed but left shortly thereafter, not waiting for the awards ceremony.
I hadn't umpired, but it had been a happy day.
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