Saturday, November 12, 2011

Review of Mid-American Advanced Umpire Clinic

2011 Mid-American Advanced Umpire Clinic
September 15-18, 2011
Springfield, Missouri
Ramada Oasis Convention Center
Cost: $400.00

Being a good umpire requires proficiency in three areas: rules, situations, and mechanics. Rules training is a matter of hard work and study. Handling situations largely comes from experience.

Proper mechanics is acquired from sweat equity.

You can’t simply read about how to umpire, you have to get out and do it. That is why camps and clinics are so important to an umpire’s education. Being in position, employing good timing, and using proper mechanics are essential to good umpiring. These skills are not learned over night and must be drilled.

The Mid-American Advanced Umpire Clinic
The Mid-American Advanced Umpire Clinic is one of the elite college umpire clinics in the nation. Each year, the clinic draws college level umpires from around the Midwest for four days of training in Springfield, Missouri.

The clinic is headquartered at the Ramada Oasis Convention Center, indoor instruction takes place at the Hammons Field indoor training facility, and games are held at various sites around Springfield. The Ramada conference facilities were good. The Ramada offered a special room rate that included breakfast. A restaurant and bar located inside the Ramada was also very comfortable and the staff was friendly. The Hammons indoor facility is spacious and easily accommodated the entire group.

The Instructors
A camp or clinic is only as good as its instructors. At some clinics the instructors are mere figureheads. They may sit in the stands and watch while cracking a joke or telling a story. The instructors at the MidAmerican Advanced Umpire Clinic teach. They are very “hands-on” and provide each student with intelligent feedback.

The student-instructor ratio is around four to one. That is much better than you typically get at a weekend umpire clinic; however the real difference is in the quality of the instructor that you get. At the Mid-American Advanced Umpire Clinic, you have a 100% chance of being paired with an instructor who has worked the College World Series, or who has extensive experience in professional baseball. This really is an impressive list:
Dick Runchey - Five College World Series, first umpire inducted into the College Baseball Foundation Hall of Fame.
Joe Burleson - Four College World Series; 2008 Olympics;  Major League Baseball AAA Umpire Supervisor.
Jeff Henrichs - Three College World Series
Randy Bruns - Three College World Series; eight years professional umpire
Mike Morris – four NCAA regionals
Clint Fagan – Current AAA/MLB call up umpire. Clint was called up to work MLB games in Kansas City and Minnesota while at this clinic.
Chris Coskey – One College World Series
Greg Chittenden – seven years professional umpire

Along with the instructors, there were other umpires and assigners who attended the clinic:
Rich Fetchiet - three College World Series, Supervisor of Baseball Umpires for Big Ten Conference, Big Twelve Conference, Conference USA, Mid-American Conference, Missouri Valley Conference, Horizon League, Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, Great Lakes Valley Conference, North Coast Athletic Conference, Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association, Mid-Central Collegiate Conference, the Collegiate Baseball Umpires Alliance and is Co-Supervisor of the Big East Conference.
Rick Denny - Supervisor of Umpires for the MIAA (NCAA D-II) & KCAC (NAIA).
Assignor for several midwest colleges (NCAA D-I thru JUCO).
Shawn Vellek - Supervisor of Umpires for the Northern Sun (NCAA D-II); Assignor for several midwest colleges (NCAA D-I thru JUCO)
Bob Bainter - owner of the Oceanside Umpire Training Seminar and 10 years professional umpire
Jason Blackburn - owner of the Mid-American Umpire Clinic and college a umpire
My Experience
The first night at the clinic was a meet and greet at the Ramada, then off to the Hammons Field indoor training facility for cage work. Half of the students stayed at the indoor facility to work on plate mechanics. This was a time to get initially meet the instructors and fine-tune your plate mechanics. The other half of the group went to review and discuss video of special rule situations with Joe Burleson, Dick Runchey, and Randy Bruns. This was a great opportunity to sit and listen to how top flight umpires apply the rules in difficult situations.

The morning of the second day the entire group met at a local college field and ran through taking plays on the infield, and three man rotations. This is an advanced three man clinic, so umpires are expected to have a solid foundation in three man mechanics. The benefit of this clinic is not in learning the three man umpire system; its learning advanced three man mechanics. This on-field training was very good and included advanced techniques and hints for better umpiring.

In the afternoon of the second day we split into groups and worked college level games around Springfield. Instructors were assigned to the groups as evaluators, and each student worked innings on the plate, at first base, and at third base. The student’s work is video taped so he can review his performance at home. At the end of the innings the students receive a written evaluation.

While working the games, the instructor(s) give immediate feedback to the student. In many cases an instructor will move onto the field to make adjustments while the game proceeds. I have attended several clinics that use this same “instant feedback” method. This is the most common format for umpire camps and clinics, and frankly, it’s awful. Trying to umpire with an instructor in your ear is very distracting. In many cases the umpire’s attention is divided when he is trying to make a suggested adjustment while the game is occurring. Consequently, the student does not receive a fair and objective evaluation, nor is the instruction very effective.

Many amateur umpires attend clinics to be seen by assigners. This is unfortunate because the “instant feedback” method does not provide the assigner with an objective look at the umpire’s skills. Likewise, just working a few innings does not provide a good basis for a fair evaluation.

After working college level games on Friday, students and instructors met at a Ramada conference room for finger foods. The instructors told war stories and answered student questions. There was a cash bar, so the conversation was lively.

More college games were planned for Saturday, but then something wonderful happened. The rain-rain-rain came down-down-down all over the Springfield area and washed out all of our games for the weekend!

A rainout would cause a panic for many clinics. I attended this clinic with six friends from around the Midwest, and we all wondered how the rain would affect the clinic schedule. Some even discussed leaving early. I have been to clinics where an unexpected event throws the whole clinic out of whack.

Fortunately, clinic organizers Greg Chittenden and Chris Coskey were well prepared. The group moved indoors to the Springfield Cardinals indoor facility at Hammons Field.  Supervised games and evaluations were replaced with more detailed work in plate and field mechanics.

Some of the best instruction I have ever received occurred while it rained that weekend. Notably, Clint Fagan and Joe Burleson put on a graduate level umpiring seminar in taking plays at second base. This advanced instruction was extremely insightful.

I was also fortunate to have Dick Runchey supervise my case group. Dick gave us a situation and we performed the proper mechanic. For instance: “Runner on first. Bunted ball down first base line hits the batter outside the box.” Then the plate umpire performed the proper mechanic just as in a live game while Dick gave feedback and instruction.

Since this is an advanced clinic, the group discussed advanced topics like, “What makes a good partner?” Other topics included handling situations with coaches and players, and professionalism. These topics were especially educational since they were discussed by top flight amateur college umpires, and not current professionals who have a different perspective.

The Mid-American Advanced Umpire Clinic is working closely with the Collegiate Baseball Umpires Alliance, the major college assigning organization in the Midwest, to identify and develop quality umpires. During the clinic each umpire was registered, profiled, and placed into a CBUA database that is available to CBUA assigning officials.

My experience at the Mid-American Advanced Umpire Clinic was outstanding. However, I wonder if I would have felt the same way if it had not rained. I recommend that future clinics incorporate more consecutive innings for a proper evaluation, and dedicate more time for advanced instruction on the field and in the classroom. This weekend clinic is an excellent opportunity to learn advanced techniques from some of the best college umpires in the nation. That is the real value of the clinic.

Fair or Foul?
This is the best umpire clinic I have attended. The staff and facilities were excellent. The clinic is highly specialized and focused on the three man system for college baseball. Everything that was discussed was relevant and important to improving my ability to work college baseball games. I call the Mid-American Advanced Umpire Clinic absolutely FAIR!

No comments: