Saturday, May 27, 2017

A black eye for me ... a championship for the Warriors?

One of the many age groups I umpire involves "machine pitch." The kids are 7 and 8 years old. A contraption operated by a coach hurls a pitch toward the plate, and the kid gets 5 or 6 tries to put the ball in play. The theory is that the machine is more consistent than a human is in "coach pitch," which many other leagues use.

In machine pitch, there is only one umpire. He stands about 10 to 15 feet behind the batter - not behind the plate, but behind the batter's back. Most kids that age swing late, and the vast majority of foul balls go the opposite direction.

Well, in a game I umped Monday, one of the little sluggers really got around on a pitch. The ball was on me before I could react, and it hit me square in the left eye.

In the first photo, that's how the eye looked two hours after contact, despite me getting an ice bag on it almost immediately. Cut me, Mick! 

By Saturday, it looked like a regular black eye, and I could see quite well out of it. In fact, I made my return to the field to ump a game later that day (but not a machine pitch game).


I didn't consider myself lucky at the time of impact, of course ... but looking back (pun intended), I really was lucky. The ball could have broken numerous bones, could have blinded me, etc. Also, the on-deck batter was standing a few feet behind me, and if the ball had missed me, it could have hit the kid.

I don't have any answers, but we need to find ways to protect the umpire in machine pitch, and probably to protect the on-deck batter better, too. If this happened once, it could happen again.

In the meantime, I've been hearing all the comments ... and making some, too.

It does get a little tiring saying, "Yeah, you should see the other guy." 

"Cut me, Mick," is a favorite. Also: "Prediction? Pain!" 

I've used "I'd rather fight than switch," as well ... but not a lot of people under 50 know the old Tareyton cigarette ads!

One thing for sure: I'd rather fight than umpire another machine pitch game!


On to a happier subject, the upcoming NBA Finals ...

I am a big LeBron James fan because I love witnessing true greatness. I happen to think he has ascended to be the second-best basketball player ever, and he has closed quite a bit of ground on You Know Who. He does have plenty of haters who wouldn't rank him that highly, but I doubt even they would put him outside, say, the top-10 all-time. 

So we have gotten to watch this guy come into the league as a teenager and grow into one of the best ever, right before our eyes. He usually has risen to the occasion, too, and he unquestionably makes his teammates better. 

The man has made it to 7 straight NBA Finals and 8 overall - including 3 with a Cleveland franchise that, to put it kindly, bit the big one before LeBron existed. Pretty amazing stuff.

I also very much enjoy watching the Warriors play. It's a fun style, and when they are clicking they work so well together. Kevin Durant is unbelievably talented, and he has been integrated nicely into their system.

Even when the Cavs were blowing out Boston and Toronto, they sure were leaving a lot of 3-point shooters wide open. I'm talking, nobody within 10 feet of the shooters. The Celtics and Raptors couldn't make the Cavs pay, but Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson & Co. will.

Offensively, the Cavs also tend to devolve into a lot of 1-on-1 play, mostly by LeBron and Kyrie Irving. It's fine when they are rolling, but it hurts when they aren't - and either way, it leads to stagnation on offense. Golden State also is the better defensive team.

The Warriors had a 3-1 lead in last year's Finals. We can debate all the reasons they couldn't close out the series - starting with the suspension of Kicky McKickerson, and then going on to the heroics of LeBron and Irving. But the Warriors sure looked like the better team most of the series. 

Well, as my son Ben points out, the Warriors have that entire team back ... except they have replaced Harrison Barnes with Kevin Freakin' Durant!

Barnes arguably was the worst player on the court in Games 5-7 last year. I feel confident saying KD won't be the worst player on the court this time.

Of course, Kevin Love - who missed a couple of games with a concussion last year and otherwise was mostly a non-factor - is relatively healthy this year and playing very well. So it's almost as if the Cavs have added an All-Star, too. If both are at their best, though, Durant is quite a bit better than Love.

I hope I'm wrong because I want it to be a long, great series, but I'm thinking ...

Warriors in 5.