Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Andy Dipitula -- [May 1]

Fore words: This is the first in attempt to deposit daily scribblings—at least for this month—in this space. I certify that each story is true, as best as this tattered brain can remember. Names are rarely changed. Some of the pieces might even entertain. Per usual, brickbats and treacle welcome.

I was hoping for a quick game—and got one. Two Senior League baseball teams, one visiting from a tiny upstate hamlet of which I had never heard. Senior League is what it implies: Little League for big kids. I was umpiring the bases on the “big boy” field: 90-foot bases, etc.

Per usual, I didn't care who won. Even here, in the state tourney, my job was safe/out, fair/foul. Maybe ringing up an unchecked swing. Unlike Little League, few spectators showed. Clots of sturdy adults, folded into flimsy chairs, looked on indifferently. Seems that when little Shannon starts with the Shick, he's not worth the effort.

Good, I thought. No screaming, espadrille-clad moms spieling their Saab stories at us arbiters. And so it went.

As was my gig, when the sacks were empty, my station was Slot A, in foul territory past first. When the visitors took the field, I strolled away from first, lest I get conked by an errant warmup toss by Mason, Logan, whomever.

I used to wonder, when did parents begin using surnames as given names?

But this bottom of one was different. From the first pitch on, I began to hear a buzzing, almost apian sound from my right. Between pitches, I reconnoitered for insects—truly an umpire's enemy. The coast was clear.

Finally, a batter reached first. This caused me to pivot into the infield grass, between the second sacker and his base: Slot B. The sound intensified, this time from my left-rear. The pitcher made a couple of paltry pickoff attempts, requiring me to turn and take notice.

As I spun, the buzzing became words.



The “buzzer” was the second baseman. His incessant infield chatter bounced around my ears. The voice was that of a baritone Munchkin.

After an out was made, the visiting manager exhorted his team to watch for a bunt. Some infielders, including the second baseman, hustled to the mound to confer with “Andaaay.”

As the second baseman returned to his post, I got a first good look at him. It was hard not to eyeball, taboo for an umpire.

The young man stood five-two, maybe -three. He looked like a character Tolkein might have dreamed up after a night of bad plonk: a head like a prone almond on an unseen neck; nigh-Vulcan ears flopping lazily in the twilight; impossibly short arms akimbo on a high waist; stockinged sticks stuck from uniform pants. I didn't want to examine for tufts of hair peeking from a shoe tongue.

Yes, his voice matched his body.

The game wore on in unremarkable fashion. But my little buddy did not waver in his support. At times, he sounded like a sportscaster: “THAT'S ANDAAAY. ANDAAAY DIPITOOOLA. HE'S ANDAAAY!”

After one break, I confronted the commentator: “Say,” I said, “what's that pitcher's name? He's pretty good.”

“That's Andaaay. Andaaay Dipitula.” On cue. A small grin, to boot, revealing tiny, well-spaced dentition.

I trotted to the scorer's booth and peeked at the official book. There stood the actual name: Andy Deptula. Given, of course, its own inflection by his teammate from another planet.

In the middle innings, I was hoping for a home-team runner to reach first, just to better hear the patter. This was truly bad form for an umpire—losing focus. Luck smiled on me; there were no close or controversial calls the entire game.

The intrigue ended in the last frame. As the visitors, up by three or four, entered the field, I noticed a new pitcher. I couldn't wait for the inning to start, to catch what spin Gregor Samsa would impart on the chucker's name.

And all I got was: “Joe. C'mon Joe.”

The Baum voice was subdued, perhaps down a half-octave, almost disinterested. I felt my shoulders sag. Three quick outs and we were done.

Following umpires' tradition, my partner and I left the field via the winners' dugout. I caught the eye of the second baseman and winked, pointing to Andy.

He winked back and then proffered me a full-blown smile, the corners of his mouth seemingly reaching pointy ears. He said, one last time, “That's Andy. Andy Dipitula.”

I never found out the second baseman's name.

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