Niagara Gazette

July 29, 2013

Base Paths: Meeting the umpire's mother

Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Base Paths last week defied Thomas Wolfe’s enduring lament, “You can’t go home again,” tagging up to Northern New Jersey, site of his unprincely birth 78 years past. Although shopworn and lived-in, the house stands in much better shape than he, valued at more than a half-mill – in Niagara Falls, maybe $200K. No historical plaque marked the site.

“Wow,” noted the Assistant Scorekeeper, no rookie himself. “You really lived close to the tracks.”

“Couldn’t go to sleep ‘til the last train had gone,” Base Paths confessed. “That was at 12:42 a.m. Mom never knew.”

Next stop, “Mom’s” alma mater, a “Normal School” in her day, now Montclair State, which plays host to the Jersey Jackals of the independent professional Can-Am League.

It sizzled like the planet Mercury. In the shade of the pressbox, one woman intently, mutely, watched the game.

She didn’t fit the “Baseball Annie” profile – pretty enough, but absent flash and attitude, with little to say. Yes, she did have “someone in the game,” but who?

Later, she spoke of her next destination, Trois Rivieres, QE, but neither of these teams was scheduled to play there. Suddenly, Base Paths say the light.

“Are you perhaps associated with one of the umpires?” he asked.

She quivered a little. “Well,” she said, “I might be.”

Base Paths, with zero interest in the outcome of the game, pressed on, assuring her of his affection and sympathy for the men in blue, even though at one point he had roared, “Are you kidding me, blue? That hasn’t been a strike since the Carter administration!”

Although Niagara-Wheatfield’s Jon Smith is enjoying his surge in the Can-Am, many a dream dies there. Certain they’re far too good to play here, players vent their frustrations on the arbiters. Base Paths saw more whining in the first inning than at an entire Bison game, and said how difficult it must be to umpire in these circumstances, let alone in 98-degree heat.

Finally she confessed. “My son’s the third-base umpire,” she said. “He’s 20 years old. It’s terrible. He makes so little money and there are fights all the time. He studies hard. It’s tough.”

“I thought,” Base Paths confessed, “you were one of the players’ girlfriends.” She took off her hat and glasses as if to showcase her age. She still looked young and worried.

“Ever read, ‘How They See ‘em?’” he asked, naming the definitive book on blue science. “I’ve heard of it,” she said, reluctantly coming to the realization that at least one person among 1,783 appreciated her little boy’s efforts and travails, even if he didn’t lie awake waiting for the last train.

“You tell him for me he’s a damn good umpire,” said Base Paths.

“Thanks,” said the Woman Who Knew Too Little. “I will.” Next stop, Trois Rivieres.

Doug Smith offer his weekly take on the diamond with Base Paths. Email Doug at

Doug Smith offer his weekly take on the diamond with Base Paths. Email Doug at