Scott Simmons of the Caribou Coffee/Princeton Capitol Co-Ed Softball team holds up his glove after tagging out Matt Anderson at Todd Park Tuesday. All Austin Park and Recreation softball teams are playing without umpires this summer. -- Rocky Hulne/sports@austindailyherald.com

Softball without umpires

Published 10:00pm Tuesday, June 19, 2012

As the summer rolls on, players in the Austin Parks and Recreation’s Co-Ed and Men’s softball league are doing what many of them did as children. They’re playing without umpires and calling their own outs.

When the Austin Umpires Association asked to raise their pay from $20 to $23 per game this season, the league, which is in its fourth week of the season, decided it could do without them, according to Parks and Rec Director Kim Underwood.

Matt Niblock takes a swing during a Park and Recreation Co-Ed Softball game at Todd Park Tuesday night. Park and Recreation softball leagues are playing without umpires this summer so balls and strikes are called based on whether or not a pitcher can land a pitch on the mat next to home plate. -- Rocky Hulne/sports@austindailyherald.com

“The managers didn’t want to pay [the extra money],” Underwood said. “They’re umping themselves and once in a while they might get in a little squabble, but they say it’s not bad.”

If the league plays without umpires for the entire summer, men’s teams will receive a $187 refund and co-ed teams will receive a $154 refund on money that would have gone to the umpires.

For now, the players are getting by as best they can by playing the role of umpire when they’re not in the field or up to bat.

“It hasn’t been too bad,” said Justin Krogman, who plays for Caribou/Princeton Capital. “The biggest challenge is you’re swapping out umps. In men’s league we use two umps, and you have to switch umps every time one of them has to bat.”

While it has been a minor adjustment for hitters, the game has changed drastically for pitchers. Instead of having balls and strikes called, pitchers must land the ball on a small mat that lies behind home plate.

Dan Stier, a pitcher for Torge’s Live/Piggy Blues was feeling the difference without umpires after he walked several hitters in a game Tuesday night.

Dan Stier throws a pitch during a Co-Ed softball game at Todd Park Tuesday. -- Rocky Hulne/sports@austindailyherald.com

“It’s a lot different. Last week I played at Hayfield with umps and I didn’t throw a single ball,” he said. “It’s just like bean bag toss, except you have a ball and there’s no hole.”

Stier said the higher number of walks has made games go longer.

“Having umps would make the game a lot quicker,” he said. “An hour and a half game would turn into an hour.”

While players are asked to self regulate, they usually try to avoid confrontation. Krogman recalled a play where one of his opponents mistakenly called a foul ball an out due to the infield fly rule.

“It has to be fair for an infield fly rule and it was technically a blown call, but no one got worked up about it,” he said.

Ashley Donicht, who is the manager of the Caribou Coffee/Princeton Capitol team, said she hasn’t seen anything that’s gotten out of control while playing in the Co-Ed League.

“Everybody is civil about it and everyone’s playing for fun,” she said. “It’s been pretty good. We haven’t had any arguments with other teams yet. When it’s a close call, the team with the umpire will usually give the benefit of the doubt to the other team.”

Underwood said if the Austin Umpires Association agreed to work for the original price of $20 per game, the league would consider bringing them back if that’s what the managers want.

But for now, a lot of local softball players will be getting a chance to see what it’s like for the umps.


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