[4/24/21 Umpire Mike Blythers at the first softball tournament of the season at Cobb’s Hill. See Mike in 250 years of calling you out Except where indicated, all photos by David Kramer]
During the pandemic, last season was a difficult one for recreational softball. Play did not begin until July. Participation was down. Several towns did not run their leagues.
Fortunately, a full season is scheduled this year, with the first tournament played at Cobb’s Hill on April 24th.
The season also marks the retirement of the legendary trio of John DeMagistris, Gary Godden and Bob Reed who founded the umpiring organization, SORA (Sports Officials of the Rochester Area), about 35 years ago. The three built the group into a state and nationally-know association that regularly included over 125 officials in multiple sports. John, Gary and Bob will be missed on the playing fields of Monroe County and beyond.
Today, we take an inside look at the umpires without whom the show can not go on.
In his softball career, Pat has experienced many memorable moments. Once at the Kreag Road Fields, a teenager playing a prank streaked across Diamond 1, wearing nothing but the beer can he carried. The nudist disappeared onto the canal path, presumably continuing his cavorting.
Back when games were played at Ellison Park, Pat recalls how after heavy rainfall, Irondequoit Creek would expand and overflow into the softball fields, and with it the carp living in the creek. The water became so deep that the carp were actually swimming in huge puddles in the outfield, leaving the games cancelled Due To Fish.
One of Ed Schroll’s most memorable games was in a men’s league when one team blew a fifteen run lead in the last two innings. The team tempted fate by removing its starting pitcher. The replacement pitcher was shelled, while the defense wilted. Actually, Ed says the team was not as shell shocked as you might expect. They were notorious for squandering big leads. Ed calls the collapse a “self-fulfilling prophecy.”
This is Paul Dorris’ 14th season as an umpire. Paul umpires because softball is “his game” and for the people who play the game. Paul vividly remembers the November 17th, 2017 Fall Ball championship game when snow fell on the frigid Cobb’s Hill diamond. Paul is famous for never once umpiring in long pants, including that chilly night.
One of Paul’s favorite stories is about a call he made many years ago involving a potential triple play. With two men on in the last inning of a close game, a grounder to third led to a bang-bang play at first that would have completed a triple play. Paul called the runner safe, leading to howls of protest, especially by one irate player.
Both Paul and the player frequent Shamrock Jacks on Culver Road. Ever since the incident, every time they are together at Shamrock Jacks, the player indignantly asks Paul, “How could you make that call?” and then sometimes buys Paul a beer.
Bill Burley says for the umpire the most important player in a game is the catcher. A catcher who can cleanly field each pitch and accurately throw back to the pitcher keeps the game going smoothly. This catcher, also a good hitter, removed bats blocking the plate and stayed focused throughout.
Jim Talaska has umpired softball, as well as High School and Babe Ruth baseball, since 1995. Jim played softball since his high school days, finally hanging up his cleats in 2015.
Jim Kalaska thinks no one should officiate a sport unless they have played it, understand it fully and actually enjoy it, which he does. For Jim, the key to umpiring is to let both coaches know, before the game, the rules you expect them to follow, to be fair to both teams and keep the game moving along. In all his years of umpiring, Jim has experienced excessive heat, bitter cold including snowfall, deer running across the outfield, dogs running onto the field, players getting injured and coaches complaining about calls who have no idea what the rules are.
One of Tom Mulholland’s memorable moments was at the 2020 11th Annual Halloween Costume Coed Softball Tournament at Cobb’s Hill where the players dressed in Marvel superheroes and villains costumes, Captain America, Spider-Man, Spider-Woman, Black Widow, you name it.
In Promoting Wellness through softball at the URMC, I included some memories:
Almost all the time, along with the players, we relish summer evenings and weekend afternoons outside: Big Sky azure sunsets at Veteran’s Memorial Park in Henrietta, the electricity of urban ball under the lights at Cobb’s Hill, the diamond at Hamlin State Park Beach where Lake Ontario glints beyond center field. The barbecue after the Sunday Fireman’s game in Mendon.
Perhaps my favorite venue is the University of Rochester Medical Center League (most players are affiliated with the Center) in Genesee Valley Park. The mood relaxed and good humored. The play can be spirited but always in good fun. A nice blend of socialization and softball. And on some Wednesdays are entertained by a popular Drum Circle and a throng of dancing Hula Hoopers. With a certain light but distinctive aroma wafting over the field.
ALSO ON UMPIRING AND SOFTBALL AT COBB’S HILL