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Umpiring at Nats Park

Jim Reynolds at work. (By Tony Gutierrez - AP)

UMPS CARE Charities, the official charity of MLB's umpires, is running its annual auction to raise money for children's programs.

There are several items with a D.C. bent, including a signed Obama umpire jersey, a signed Bush baseball, Nats batting practice passes, Nats game tickets, and a Luke Scott autographed baseball.

At the request of a longtime Bog reader, I recently talked to MLB ump Jim Reynolds about the charity effort, and a few other topics.

Umpiring at Nats Park

"I love that place," Reynolds told me. "You know what I really appreciate about Nats Park is the friendliness. Everyone is really excited for baseball there. It's not one of these places where we go in and all you hear is, 'Kill the ump! Kill the ump!' It's a very positive baseball experience. I get a lot of that feedback from friends and family who want to come down to D.C. when I'm there; they are really impressed with how friendly everyone is and how nice everyone is at the ballpark. And these aren't people who are Nationals fans."

So the umps don't get any grief from Nats fans?

"We do," Reynolds said, "but it's not why half the fans bought the ticket to the ballpark today, to make my life miserable. They're out there to enjoy the game."

Where are the fans appreciably worse? I'll give you three guesses.

"I think it's all the old-school cities: Boston, New York, Philly, those kind of baseball towns," Reynolds said. "And that's not taking anything away from the Nationals, I know there's a long history of baseball in Washington, but it's the same cities I think you would get from the players."

His interests

If you look at Reynolds's official bio, it says his other interests "include Bocce, archery and haberdashery." Those are the awesomest other interests in the history of MLB umpiring.

Turns out they're also completely fake. His nephew is fond of saying "Bah!," so Reynolds chose other interests whose first letters would spell that word. He's spent the last several years changing his personal interests to amuse his family members.

"A way for me to communicate with them online without talking to them," he noted.

Plus, it's a lot more interesting than "golf, working out and spending time with his family."

Reynolds became a father for the first time in the past year. Whenever his bio gets updated, his new interests will be listed as "midwifery, late-night diaper runs and sleep-deprivation experiments." Seriously.

Getting plunked in the head

Last spring, Reynolds was umpiring a Cardinals-Nats game in D.C. when he got plunked in the head. Here's from Bill Ladson's story:

Home-plate umpire Jim Reynolds was hit on the top of the head by a warmup pitch before the bottom of the seventh inning during Thursday's Nationals-Cardinals game....Reynolds was able to get up on his own power and remained in the game.

This is true, but it turns out that Reynolds was diagnosed with concussion symptoms after the game and was forced to miss three weeks of work. I'll let him tell the story.

It's not something that we all do, but when a new pitcher comes in, while he's taking his warm-up pitchers, I'll take a few of those. It's probably more of a habit now than a learning experience, because I've seen most of these guys by now.

So I was taking some warm-up pitchers, I think Blaine Boyer had come into the game. Jason LaRue was catching, he's a great guy, and you get into the flow of the game a little bit. And I could see the ball sailing. These are the kind of pitches that either the catcher catches, or they go way over our head. I just assumed it was going way over our head. I think I ducked a little bit and the ball caught me between the mask and the head. I felt fine and ended up finishing the last three innings, went in the locker room, the adrenaline came down and then the concussion symptoms came in.

Umpires take a cognitive test at the beginning of the season to provide baseline measurements, and if they get knocked in the head, they can take the test again online, answering questions about memorization, shapes, colors and reaction times. Reynolds didn't do quite as well as he ought to have. That meant a three-week break. His first game back, oddly enough, was at Nats Park.

"I wasn't apprehensive about getting back there," he said. "I wasn't unsure about getting back there and doing my job or any of that, I was more unsure about 'Ok, is the next foul ball gonna send me right back where I was?' "

Being injured

The concussion is in the past, but Reynolds -- a 41-year old entering his 12th MLB season -- is on the shelf. When I talked to him, he had just finished morning rehab, part of his push to be ready for Opening Day.

He was working out in the offseason, started feeling some discomfort in his knee shortly before spring training, and figured it was tendinitis. He went to a doctor to check.

"He was like yup, you tore your meniscus, thanks for playing," Reynolds recalled.

So that meant surgery and intensive rehab. Somehow I never think of umpires in rehab for knee surgery.


A few years ago, some umpires got together and decided they could better take advantage of their position inside baseball. So they formed this charity, focusing on children's initiatives, including visits to cancer wards and bringing kids awaiting adoption out to the ballpark.

All 68 umpires are now involved, and they combine for 12 to 15 hospital visits a year while hosting 600 to 750 kids awaiting adoption at ballparks, where they get tickets, goody bags, gift cards and a trip onto the field for batting practice.

"We all sat around and said, 'We could be doing more,' " Reynolds told me. "It's something we all have a lot of pride in."

The annual auction helps support these initiatives, and it ends next week. Take a look if you have a few moments.

By Dan Steinberg  |  March 19, 2010; 9:54 AM ET
Categories:  Nats  
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Aw, c'mon Reynolds, that pitch was on the 1 ring, are ya blind?

Posted by: doubleuefwhy | March 19, 2010 10:48 AM | Report abuse

Well, I'm glad to hear that at least someone enjoys going to Nats Park.

Posted by: rodeorob | March 19, 2010 1:29 PM | Report abuse

A photo of them playing in Washington would probably be more appropriate for this article.

Posted by: JBuss | March 19, 2010 2:56 PM | Report abuse

This is a cool piece.

Thanks for not interviewing Hunter Wendelstedt instead.

Posted by: JohninMpls | March 19, 2010 2:59 PM | Report abuse

I love hearing about umpires. Last Year I read Bruce Weber's book, 'As They See 'Em' and it gave me a whole new appreciation for what it takes just to become a Major League Ump. Before I read this blog I'd estimated it at: 45% Masochism 45% Love of Baseball & 10% Crazy.

Now I've got to factor in this magnanimous compassion stuff and redo my math. Great Steinberg! I read, and now I have to do math. It's all your fault Dan, you and your human interest story. If I end up doing any Calculus you're gonna be in real trouble.

Posted by: Kdarienzo | March 20, 2010 8:20 AM | Report abuse

nice post, dan. thanks.

btw, do you mind that people call you dan? would danny be better, maybe?

danny steinz, danny snyder, danny wuerffel?

Posted by: aquaboogiebaby | March 20, 2010 12:35 PM | Report abuse

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