Friday’s College Showcase was accompanied by 100 plus degree temperatures. Hard on the athletes, uncomfortable for fans and coaches, dangerous to the officials who crouched, sphinx-like, sweat dripping from their face masks, behind the plate in fields of bare, red sand.
Several umpires succumbed to the heat, one as early as eleven in the morning, in the middle of a game. The combination of heat, sand, humidity and the bulky protective equipment proved too much for him.
The afternoon wore on into evening. At our complex three more arbiters fell victim to heat prostration. I pushed one of them off the field myself, taking his place when he did not wish to leave, which necessitated some palaver. He was hit by pitches repeatedly, meaning he did not pick up the ball. He needed constant reminders about the count on a batter and the number of outs in the half-inning. At one point I beheld him holding himself up between innings by gripping the red hot chain link fence, his bead bowed, his uniform soaked with perspiration. There are those times when no amount of ingested fluid can adequately replace what one has lost. I checked his pulse at the neck and found it “stringy and rapid,” a bad combination at any time and a lethal pairing on occasion.
I led him off the field between innings to the solitary shade tree nearby, a gallant Japanese Elm, sufficient for landscaping, not over protective for old men in battle gear. We took off his outer shirt and chest protector, his cap already surrendered. I poured water over a cloth and put it on the nape of his neck. He began to revive after awhile, so I returned to the field and finished the contest for him. He had passed the point of demurral. I admit my own legs were wobbly and my head pounding before we ended the final game of the set.
The old arbiters suffer for their craft, poorly paid, often cursed and (many times) rightly criticized. I will tell you most of my fellows do what they do for love of the game and the student athletes. I salute them.