Elliot Mathews loved the smell of hot dogs, popcorn and freshly mowed grass at the little league baseball park. His eyes swept across the manicured diamond as he entered the arena. Everything looked pristine; not a divot in sight. The chalk lines glowed in the late afternoon sun.
The nostalgia proved to be a bittersweet moment. A year ago, Elliot played his final game. Ineligible this season due to age restrictions, he hung up his spikes and surrendered to his role as bystander.
As he found a seat in the bleachers behind the backstop, he watched parents settle into lawn chairs. Young children lined the cyclone fence, ready to chase foul balls. Little did Elliot know that an ordinary night beneath the lights of the ole ballpark was about to become extraordinary.
The small town of Sycamore Grove boasted four recreational teams. Growing up, Elliot played for three of the clubs starting at age eight. By the time he celebrated his tenth birthday, coaches called him a rising star. Scooping up hot grounders and throwing out runners at first base made him an all-star shortstop two years in a row. He even pitched in late inning relief. As leadoff hitter, Elliot’s on-base percentage set new records. Moreover, opposing teams always considered him a threat to steal.
Now, at fourteen years of age, Elliot regarded his playing days as ancient history. Sitting alone on the aluminum bleachers in street clothes, he reminisced about the glory days: sliding safely into second base, catching his bitter rival in a rundown, striking out an older kid when the catcher suggested an intentional walk. For Elliot, these were great memories, but that’s all they were—memories.
Watching little kids enjoy the game became a conflicting source of pride and frustration for Elliot. He knew most of them would never measure up, but that was okay. Someday, they would make great accountants or store managers or whatever. For now, they just wanted to learn the game and have fun. Each kid needed encouragement, not ridicule. Unfortunately, some of the parents took little league far too seriously. Though never directed at him, he had seen friends embarrassed by grown-ups wanting to relive baseball fantasies in their children’s shoes.
They need to lighten up, Elliot thought. It’s just a baseball game.
When the first game of the twilight double header ended, Elliot took his place in line at the concession stand. Alone in a sea of excited children, he made a point to stand tall and look cool. One never knew when a pretty girl might be watching.
“Hey, Elliot.” The voice came from the back of the line. “I need a favor.”
Elliot turned around. The voice didn’t sound familiar. It certainly did not come from one of the uniformed little leaguers standing in line for a bag of peanuts, and it most certainly did not come from the lips of a cute girl.
“Back here, Elliot,” Mr. Sanders yelled above the excited chatter. An important executive in town, Mr. Sanders also served as the commissioner of The Sycamore Grove Little League Association.
Elliot hated giving up his place in line, but Mr. Sanders was waving him back with the urgency of an important phone call. He looked serious, his face taut with furrowed brows.
“Hi, Mr. Sanders,” his shy voice cracked. Adults always made him nervous.
“Elliot, we need help. Our two umpires had to leave after the first game. Josh Richards has agreed to umpire the bases, but I need someone to call balls and strikes. I think you’d make a fine umpire. What d’ya say? Can you help us out?”
“You want me to umpire home plate?” Elliot said, his voice strained and anxious.
“Yes, sir. You’re our man.”
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The Rookie UmpireShort Story
The Rookie Umpire is based on a true story that happened to me, the author, many years ago. Was I scared? You better believe it. Afterwards, I said I would never umpire another baseball game as long as I lived. For decades I didn't. But something ch...