August 1998 – In little league baseball, most of the time it is the parents who must bring everything together for the game to take place. In fact, in my son Wesley’s league this summer we could only afford one umpire, who works the plate, so the field umpire is usually – you guessed it – a parent.
Well, I had managed to avoid that assignment for most of season. Then, one evening near the season’s end, my friend Jeff was unavailable for duty and so Gerald (pronounced “Jurl” in the deep south, don’t ask me why) Powell, one of our coaches, hollered out to me from the dugout to help.
So I trotted out between first and second base as the home plate umpire yelled, “Batter up!”
“This feels strange” I thought to myself. “I haven’t umpired in years and I certainly am not impartial here. I want Wesley’s team to win. Oh well, just remember the umpire’s credo: ‘Call ’em like you see ’em.’ You’ll do fine.”
Then with two outs in the last inning, our team at bat and Wesley on second base, I made the call that will forever be my signature as an umpire. When Ken Burns does his film on the history of Saltillo, Mississippi, Youth Baseball, I will surely be included for this one infamous call.
There I was, positioned on the edge of the outfield grass between first and second. The pitcher fires home a fastball. The ball gets away from the catcher, not an uncommon occurrence in little league. Wesley, seeing what has happened and following the lead of his coach, darts towards third base with a burst of speed and determination just like his old man of yesteryear. He’s a blur. The catcher retrieves the ball quickly and whips it to third base. (If you would like to add more drama here, please imagine this scene in slow motion with the theme from Chariots of Fire playing in the background.). It was a bang-bang play. From where I stood, though, Wesley was out.
“He’s out!” I said loudly reacting to what I saw. I was oblivious to the fact that the home plate umpire had given the safe sign, but I was older and by this time in the game, much more forceful than he.
Coach Powell, coaching third, looked across the field at me and asked for clarification, “What does the umpire say?”
“The runner on third is out!” I declared.
“All right then, that’s it. The game’s over,” he said respectfully.
But immediately I sensed a certain level of hostility from “our” dugout. “Wesley was safe. Can you believe that call?” someone said.
“Yeah, Wesley’s own dad called him out and he was easily safe. What a way to end the game,” another complained.
As I walked toward “our” dugout none of Wesley’s teammates responded as they usually did to my “good game, guys” comments. Clearly, I was no longer a friend of the team.
But my real surprise was waiting when I walked over to Wesley’s mom, Alison. My bride.
“What kind of call was that?” she scolded. It was obvious that she had already answered the question for herself.
“What do you mean, baby? From where I stood he was out. Barely, but the tag beat his foot to the base,” I said defensively.
“Uh, huh. Funny, the home plate umpire, who clearly had a better angle, called him safe,” she said. She didn’t raise her voice too much, though I could tell she was somewhat serious and a bit irritated that I had called her baby out.
A lot of times at American Family Association we feel like an umpire. We make the call on the moral condition of America – and the church – like we see it. And the news is not always good. Many people don’t want to hear it.
Over the years we have received countless letters from Christians who take us to task for not being “loving” enough or being too “negative.” No question that we call attention to a lot of evil in our society. We do spotlight cultural decay and moral breakdown. And no, it is not any fun being the bearer of bad news. However, any criticism in this area about AFA I think can be countered with the fact that AFA doesn’t just point out the problems, but also gives leadership and direction on how to do something about those same problems.
If all we were to do was bemoan how ugly things were, then I would quit today. Who needs that? What good does it do? But when you can say, “Hey, Christian America. Here’s CBS bringing Howard Stern to television and here’s what we can do about it in a practical way,” then I think you have a message worth saying.
When we are criticized by fellow Christians, we sometimes feel like I did that night as an umpire. But, we have to call ’em like we see ’em. Sometimes it’s good news, other times not.