COLUMBIA — It’s 5:35 p.m. at Field 8 at the Daniel Boone Little League Complex. The Reds take infield practice while the Tigers relax in the dugout. Spectators bask in the shade provided by plaid umbrellas and large trees, discussing piano lessons, boy scout programs and Michael Jackson’s unexpected death.
Huddled behind the green backstop, Ryan Schmidt buckles his shin guards as a small patch of sweat already appears between his shoulder blades on his light blue DBLL umpire shirt. Schmidt, 15, is the home plate umpire for tonight’s game.
“It’s pretty hot today,” Schmidt said. “Pretty, pretty, hot. This equipment definitely adds 15 to 20 degrees.”
The sun turns the chain-link backstop into a barbecue grill. The heat throughout the week transforms the base paths into a Saharan wasteland. Dust dances around the infield as the grass begs for water. A small oasis for Schmidt leans against the backstop in the form of a gray Arctic Zone water jug.
“Drink a lot of water and stay inside during the day, it’s no big secret,” said Ron Schmidt, Ryan’s father and field umpire for tonight’s game. This is the first year at Daniel Boone for the father-son duo after a few years as umpires with Columbia Parks and Recreation.
It’s 5:50 p.m. at Field 8. The sun beats down hard as the Red’s leadoff hitter watches strike three. As Ryan Schmidt throws his arm in the air to signal strike three, drops of perspiration fly from his hand.
At the end of the second inning, Ryan Schmidt bends over to dust off home plate after an inning-ending play at the plate. He covers his face to keep any dust from sticking to his sweat-soaked skin. As he rests between innings, Ryan Schmidt sits on the grass. He has spent his breaks standing, then leaning on a knee, now sitting on the grass. The heat takes its toll.
It’s 6:32 p.m. at Field 8. Parents groan over a questionable strike three call. Ryan Schmidt barely squats into his stance now. Although relief comes as the sun begins to hide behind the tree line, Ryan doesn’t notice.
“You don’t really notice changes in the temperature during the game. There’s only one temperature and that’s hot,” Ryan Schmidt said.
DBLL does all it can to help out its umpires. Besides providing them water and cold towels, DBLL offers cool-down stations for its employees. According to one umpire, the experience of summers past is the best weapon in the battle against Mother Nature.
“If you’ve done it a long time, you figure out ways to stay cool,” said Greg Gilmore, the umpire-in-charge on Thursday. But even the most experienced umpires get overwhelmed. “Just on Monday one of our senior umpires started seeing spots and we had to pull him from the game. We hosted the Senior Regional Tournament here last August and it was horrid. We had three or four top umpires from Kentucky and Indiana being removed because of the heat,” said Gilmore, 49, of Columbia.
It’s 7:11 p.m. at Field 8. Amid a bases loaded jam, the Tigers switch pitchers. Thankful for a break, Ryan Schmidt rips off his mask, wipes his brow and takes a drink of water.
“You just learn to ignore it after a while,” Ryan Schmidt said about the heat.
It’s 7:21 p.m. at Field 8. The Tigers throw their gloves in the air, celebrating a 6-5 victory. Ryan Schimdt tosses his mask to the ground with an entirely different sense of accomplishment. He survived his duty as plate umpire despite temperatures in the mid 90’s throughout the game.
Hurrying to the concession stand for a much deserved soda between games, Ryan Scmidt reflects on the inspiration behind his duty at the plate.
“Now I get to watch my dad go through that,” Ryan Schmidt said with a smile.