I was never very good at baseball, but I was very enthusiastic about playing it. I was a devoted fan of the Yankees and wanted to play for the team once I was old enough to not need a ride to my games every week.
I joined Little League when I was seven and played for the Angels. I remember being so excited the day that I got my uniform that I slept in it that night.
Weird, yet adorable, right?
Since I was only seven, my Dad would take me to the games and then stay to watch me try not to embarrass myself too much.
On one Little League Sunday, an umpire didn’t show up for the game, so Dear Old Dad, who couldn’t say no to anyone, got coerced into ump duty.
By some miracle of the baseball gods, I managed to reach first base. Most likely, I was hit by a pitch, but there’s also the outside chance that I drew a walk. I’d say there is zero percent probability that I smacked a line drive into the outfield for a base hit.
Once I was on first, an occurrence that happened about as rarely as Donald Trump says something nice about a foreigner, all I wanted to so was wave to my Dad, who was now positioned between first and second.
Being ever the professional, Dad did his best to ignore me and focus on the action. I just kept talking to him, though, like we were the only two people out on the field.
I knew enough to run from first base to second base, and once I arrived at my new destination, I excitedly yelled to my Dad that I’d made it.
The only problem was, my teammate had hit the ball deep into the outfield, and he had rounded first and was headed right for me.
We couldn’t both be on second base at the same time. I needed to keep moving and head for third, maybe even try to score.
But all I cared about was telling my Dad that I’d made it safely to second. I yelled this to him over and over as the other runner closed in on my position.
My Dad, who was really the umpire at the moment and not my father, whispered to me to run, to go to the next base, to keep moving.
But I just kept waving to him.
My teammates and coaches were screaming at me to run, too, but I was young, dorky, and just wanted to make my Dad proud.
Finally, just before the second runner arrived at the base, my Dad nudged me off of the bag and told me to run to third. Confused, stunned, but thrilled to have Dad’s attention, I did exactly as I was told.
The play ended with me on third and my much better hitting teammate on second. At this point, I started waving to my Dad excitedly from third base.
The opposing manager came out to argue with the umpire, aka my Dad, about the fact that it seemed like he had physically removed the base runner, aka me, from second base and shoved him in the direction of third.
That, of course, would be illegal, bizarre, and unprecedented in the sport.
The other manager didn’t like the answer he got, but you really can’t argue with the umpire, so he went back to his dugout to mope.
My poor Dad, the nicest man in the world, had been forced to lie and cheat because his son was a horrible baseball player, who loved him too much to pay any attention to what was happening on the field.
I love telling that story, even though it makes me look like a total airhead, because it perfectly sums up exactly how great of a father Big Austin was. He shouldn’t have even been umpiring that game, and he ended up in the middle of a big time Little League controversy, but he handled it in a way that allowed me to avoid a major embarrassment.
I’d like to say that my baseball skills improved over the years, but they pretty much remained the same. What I can say, however, is that my Dad never again allowed himself to be talked into umpiring.
I love you, Dad. You were my angel on the basepaths, and now you’re my angel up in Heaven. Thanks for keeping an eye on me and preventing me from getting doubled up down here.
Happy Father’s Day!
I promise not to coach your kid’s Little League team if you follow me on Pinterest!