Tracking the ball with your eyes

i copied this from umpire.org.  I attended a clinic this weekend sponsored by the NJSBUA and run by Steve Leornardo, the main high school assignor in the area. I an going to attempt to incorporate this into my game but ut is, frankly, a skill set that I will have to learn…

The next part of calling balls and strikes is keeping your head still. Your eyes are like a box camera and a box camera cannot take a good picture of the ball if the box is moving. Many umpires move their head without realizing it. We often have to literally hold our students’ heads still because they cannot tell themselves that their head is moving.. The eyeballs (as opposed to the head) follow the ball from the pitcher’s hand and see it all of the way into the catcher’s mitt.* This is called tracking. It is not easy and it is unlikely that amateurs who have not been specifically schooled in this will do it correctly.

Tracking is not natural or instinctive. Here are some problems and proposed solutions:

  • Some people follow the ball to the plate and then quit. We call this “zoning the pitch” and it produces inconsistent results. As a new umpire you must have someone else watch your eyeballs to make sure that you are tracking properly.* (i.e. all the way to the catcher’s mitt.) Obviously this must be done in a controlled situation (in a batting cage with a pitching machine) and not in a ballgame. If you still have problems, have the instructor hold the ball with his hand and move it slowly through the strike zone and into the catcher’s glove as you track it.
  • As we age, each of our eyes develops different vision and each deteriorates at different rates. For young umpires this is not a problem and the pro school method of having the head square to the pitcher works well. However, with this method, as the pitch crosses the plate it will pass out of the vision of one eye just before it enters the catcher’s glove. This is because the nose gets in the way of the one eye. Try this experiment right now. Stand up with you head straight-ahead. Now, without moving your head, focus on a point on the floor about 8 feet away that is 75 degrees to your right. Your eyeballs will move that far. Keep focused on this spot. With your right hand, cover your right eye. You can no longer see the spot that you were focused on with your left eye because your nose is blocking the view. Your right eye only was seeing that spot. This is what would happen to you on a low outside pitch. The low outside pitch is the number one problem for inconsistency in ball strike calling. So, to see this pitch with two eyes, square your head with your body.* Remember, your body was pointed at the second baseman for a right hand batter, so now your head is too. Rotate your eyeballs10-15 degrees left to see the ball leave the pitchers hand. Your eyes will now be pointed straight ahead as the ball moves across the plate. The eyes are best capable of depth perception when they are pointed straight ahead. (Warning: Do not attempt to do this without help. I have seen a number of umpires rotate the head too far or rotate the shoulder at a weird angle. If done correctly, the earflap on your mask will protect you. If done incorrectly, the phrase, “IN YOUR EAR” could have a whole new meaning that your do not want to know about.)
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