Mlb Umpire Assignments 2012 Nfl

Noah Syndergaard was stunned. So was the partisan New York Mets crowd, many of which had barely settled in from the journey to Flushing, Queens. “Thor” had been tossed by young umpire Adam Hamari, an out into the home third inning, for throwing behind Chase Utley. A purpose pitch no doubt, as New York sought to send some semblance of a message to their current Dodgers and previous Phillies torturer. Worthy of ejection? Surely not. Hamari made a snap decision, a wrong one, misusing the power of the umpire while doing what every official in sports strives not to do: become the story. With the main attraction out, the crowd booed, broadcasters pondered and the Mets, without their ace, never had a chance, losing on 9-1 on a late-May holiday evening.

The opposite occurred in the second inning of the Tuesday night match-up between Kansas City and Baltimore. Yordano Ventura threw way inside to Baltimore’s Manny Machado, who took exception to the location and delivered a cold stare and a few choice words for the hurler. There was no warning from home plate umpire Manny Gonzalez. In his next at-bat, the volatile Ventura, who does have a reputation for throwing at players, drilled the O’s third baseman with a 99mph fastball, leading to a bench-clearing brawl. Gonzalez’ failure to read the game and take action in the second inning led to a later incident that caused a major brawl and potential injuries.

Yes, a few rule changes from Major League Baseball could provide more clarity on the self-policing of the sport, but for now, in both instances, umpires ruled different ways in somewhat similar situations and failed to control one of the remaining parts of the game that are not subject to replay challenges, frustrating fans, players and managers.

Calling balls and strikes is another part of the game where umpires still exercise ultimate authority over. It’s arguably the most vital role they perform, but as we continue to see and share strange calls, respect for the umpires role is lagging, while the technology that no longer makes that job indispensable continues to gain steam.

Baseball’s brass consistently seek improvement to the game via rule changes and razor sharp tech, so you can’t help but wonder if one day in the not-so-distant future, MLB would start considering going the whole hog, that is, minimizing umpires role in calling a game from behind the plate.

This is, of course, light years from the position umpires once held inside the Grand Old Game, a very long way from “God” the nickname used by National League players to describe Doug Harvey, the Hall of Fame umpire who presided over 4000 games between 1962 and 1992, commanding ultimate respect of most players, coaches and managers. “Doug Harvey was the model that every umpire should strive to be,” said Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan in 2010. “He was tolerant to a point, yet the players always knew he was in control.”

Now control is something umpires enjoy less and less of, and without the absolute power over the management of the on-field game they once enjoyed, how can they continue to command the respect and the authority they once enjoyed?

We’re talking about a crew of umpires who now routinely watch their work undermined as managers and even fellow umpires challenge each others calls. Night after night, umpires have the privilege of watching themselves, in ultra HD, botch a call in front of the baseball world, all while wearing oversized headphones, which makes an already bad look that much worse. Heading into Wednesday, managers have seen 219 of their 466 challenges overturned: that’s 47%, while umps have gone to the MLB video hub in New York to overturn 38% over their own calls.

Are we heading towards the extinction of the umpire as we know it? Actually, the umpires, who have always had something of an uneasy relationship within the sport have seen their powers deteriorate for some time.

In 1999 the umpires lost leverage by resigning as a group in a failed attempt at strong-arming MLB during labor negotiations. That same year, NL and AL crews, which were totally separate and generally had their own ideas of the strike zone, were unified under the Commissioner of Baseball as league offices were closed. Big brother arrived in 2001 with QuesTec, a pitch monitoring system installed in several stadiums in MLB’s bid to standardize the strike zone. Upgrades of the system were collectively bargained into the umpires contract, which could eventually lead to their losing control over the pate.

It may seem far-fetched to some, but close to real-time data is already available via the current pitch tracking system, PITCHf/x, which comes in slightly delayed to MLB.com’s Gameday service but that provides pitch-by-pitch game information and is extremely accurate: better than one mile per hour and one inch. If they can do that now, surely real-time balls and strikes are close, a move that would push umpires to a distant periphery once unimaginable.

Of course, if you listen to former umpire Harry Wendelstadt, who died in 2012, technology won’t help either.

If they did get a machine to replace us, you know what would happen to it? Why, the players would bust it to pieces every time it ruled against them. They’d clobber it with a bat.

Video of the week

Cheslor Cuthbert of the Kansas City Royals must have been surprised when Baltimore Orioles second baseman Jonathan Schoop wailed a baseball directly into his elbow on Monday. Schoop was trying to hold up on releasing the ball, but instead provided Cuthbert with a contusion on his funny bone. KC’s skipper and Captain Obvious Ned Yost said without a hint of irony that “I have never seen anything like that in all my years.”

Quote of the week

The catcher goes 0-4 and puts down 200 fingers a night. What’s more important? The decisions you make with those 200 or those four at-bats?

That’s reasonable analysis from Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter, and much sounder logic than blaming his team’s recent spate of strikeouts in Houston on bright LED lighting.

Who’s closer to victory: Donald Trump or the Cubs?

Teflon Trump continues to slide towards the White House despite speech transgression No3,234. His controversial comments directed towards US District Judge Gonzalo Curiel prompted Speaker Paul Ryan to call the remarks “the textbook definition of a racist comment”. And then said he would still vote for him.

Meanwhile, the Cubs, are on pace to tie the record 116 wins of the 2001 World Series winning Seattle Mariners after chalking up win No40 on Monday, which apparently allows them to wear these NBA style warm-ups in a bizarre video with bad music without any repercussions ... for now.

How did the kids piss off Goose Gossage this week?

If the Goose was annoyed by Machado taking exception to inside pitching in that second inning of Tuesday’s game, then Ventura is his hero for paying him back for such atrocities. Ventura drilled Machado with 99mph of beanball, and the O’s infielder responded with a right hand that approached Rougned Odor territory. Score one for unwritten rules.

Nine thoughts in order

1) Madison Bumgarner wants to be in the Home Run Derby at the upcoming All-Star Game festivities in San Diego. That makes a whole lot of sense, because when pitchers do big things with the bat it’s always a sight to see. So how about this: grant him entry, and then add another pitcher to boot!

That’s right, two pitchers should go face-to-face in the first round of the bracket format that got rave reviews last season. That guarantees a pitcher makes it into the second round and would pile on the pressure onto whoever they face in round two. Who else is in?

2) Prince Fielder is an enormous problem in Texas, and management are running out of ideas about what to do with the DH who is hitting under .200 and earning $24m. With Fielder set to earn another $96m from 2017 to 2020, of which the Rangers will assume a staggering $72m (the Tigers are picking up $6m a year), it’s no wonder that Arlington-based brass are up for just about anything to get him going. They rested the dormant slugger for a pair of games over the weekend, much to Fielder’s chagrin, and when he returned on Monday they dropped him to sixth in the lineup and stuck him back at first base where he was a regular until the 2014 season (Fielder accumulated an awful -17.4 defensive WAR after debuting in 2005).

Prince’s performance dropoff has folks in Dallas comparing him to his father Cecil, another jumbo-sized ballplayer who started to fade right around the age of 32, and another Texas-sized bust in Chan Ho Park (five years, $65m, 22 wins). At the moment, first-place Texas can afford to experiment with Fielder because they’ve scored the third most runs in the AL, but should their output slow down, manager Jeff Bannister will be forced to put him on the bench for an extended period, a previously unfathomable move, considering his salary.

3) Regardless of how much MLB pushes their entry draft for amateur players, it will never match the sizzle of comparable NFL and NBA events. The league has done a better job at getting their draft on the radar in past seasons, but baseball doesn’t enjoy similar popularity on the college level to basketball and football, and because NFL and NBA drafts address more immediate needs, the MLB event will always be a lesser event. It doesn’t help that fans won’t see most selected players on the big-league level for several seasons, if ever. Draftees are a bit like having your mom stash your birthday presents in the attic, not knowing if they’re even going to work when you bring them down years later.

Having said, that, Pirates fans are about to see what they have in No2 overall pick Jameson Taillon, who they’ve been waiting impatiently for since his selection in 2010. The Buccos passed on Manny Machado for the Texas-born righty who suffered through Tommy John surgery and a hernia procedure, and were fired up for his debut, much in the way the baseball world cowed around Dodgers 19-year-old Julio Urias two weeks ago. The Buccos no4 prospect went six innings and allowed three runs while walking two and striking out three.

4) Some news organizations called the Miami Marlins breaking the news of Muhammad Ali’s death a “scoop”, but I can think of a few different adjectives to describe the team’s decision to put a tribute up on their scoreboard some two hours before the word came in.

5) Bad taste doesn’t begin to describe that decision, one made by one of the most distrusted organizations in sports. It does describe Miami’s outfield decor to a tee. The New York Mets’ Noah Syndergaard, (and those on Mars when the roof is open), took notice before heading out of town.

6) The Rays, freed from their tight lease to Tropicana Field (it expires in 2027) are open to any and all innovative ideas. The team that has made basement budgets work and who also brought us the modern shift have asked their architect to toss out any pre-conceived ideas about what today’s ballpark is, and will ask fans to send in their zaniest thoughts on what they’d like to see in a new stadium. The prevailing thought is to open the space more to fans during games and on off days, while waterslides, spas, tickets that aren’t limited to specific seats and using ballpark kitchens as a culinary institute have been listed as potential ideas. Mostly the Rays angle is designed to make a space that has the public more in mind, and that’s vital, because Florida is a hostile environment for publicly-funded sporting venues, and constructing a new ballpark in the area with public dollars remains a tough ask.

7) While the spotlight is shining brightly on the Golden State Warriors’ Klay Thompson, his brother Trayce is not-so-quietly proving himself worthy of a regular place in the Dodgers outfield. The 25-year-old arrived in LA as part of the offseason three-way deal between the White Sox and Reds, and has already hit 10 home runs, including his second walk-off blast of the season on Tuesday night against the Colorado Rockies.

8) Felix Hernandez is donning blond corn rows and a walking boot, thanks to a strained right calf that landed the Seattle Mariners ace on the disabled list. Calf injuries can be tough to shake, so the King will wear a boot for two to three days to ensure it doesn’t get any worse. “I’m going crazy right now,” he said. “I don’t know what to do. I’m not used to this,” which probably explains why he let his daughter dye and braid his hair.

9) And finally, a Red Sox and Giants get-together is one of the rarer baseball events possible. Both teams are well over a century old, and yet these ballclubs have now met a mere 14 times since interleague play began in 1997. Before the AL and NL began regular meetings, their last match-up was during the 1912 World Series (the Sox won 4-3 with one tie due to darkness). An even rarer event is the Sox David Ortiz vs those poor Piñatas.

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A few years ago, someone gave Randy Marsh a print of the famous photograph of Jackie Robinson attempting to steal home in Game 1 of the 1955 World Series. Robinson's right leg is extended a few inches over home plate and a few inches under the mitt of catcher Yogi Berra. The photo was taken from behind Berra, at an angle not all that different from the one umpire Bill Summers had when he made his call.

Photographer Mark Kauffman snapped the shutter a millisecond or two before Berra tagged Robinson—or, as history records, Robinson's foot safely touched the plate.

Marsh mentions the photo when we first meet, just after noon on a late-June day in the lobby of the Tampa Airport Marriott. A major league umpire for 24 seasons, the 57-year-old Marsh has served since 1998 as one of 17 crew chiefs. He is the first of his four-man group to arrive in Florida for the start of a three-game interleague series tonight between the Diamondbacks and Devil Rays.

"I look at that photo all the time," he says, "and, you know, there it is, stopped in time forever, and I still can't tell you if he's safe or out." He smiles and shakes his head. "I show people that photo and tell them: There, that's being an umpire."

Being an umpire has meant something different to every member of the crew. For 35-year-old Hunter Wendelstedt, a seven-year veteran who was born to the business, it meant waking up at 5 a.m. this morning at his home outside New Orleans, kissing his wife, Katherine, and two young daughters goodbye, and racing to catch the first of two flights to get to Tampa.

For 44-year-old Angel Hernandez, now working his 14th season, it meant back surgery late in the 2001 season; a torn calf muscle last year as he hustled from behind the plate to first base because Vladimir Guerrero likes to throw runners out on hard-hit balls to right; and peanut butter and tuna fish sandwiches (yes, that's peanut butter and tuna fish together, between two pieces of bread) before every game.

For 41-year-old Sam Holbrook, one of 22 umps whose resignations were accepted as part of a 1999 labor dispute, it meant not being able to bring himself to watch a baseball game on TV for three years. He struggled to support his family, working as a welder, a meter reader and a stockbroker until he was finally reinstated in 2002.

For all of MLB's 68 umpires, it means living inside a singular baseball bubble, in an itinerant eight-months-a-year existence as the game's arbiters-cum-lightning rods. It's a job that's somehow both ubiquitous and mostly anonymous—at least until a controversial call unleashes the wrath of players, coaches and thousands of fans.

If war is long stretches of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror, then a week on the road with Marsh's crew reveals the umpiring life to be one long tapestry of clinically observed baseball punctuated by an endless series of airport terminals, hotel lobbies and restaurants that don't skimp on red meat. It raises the question: Just who are these guys? Former grade-school hall monitors? A cabal of power-mad baseball clerics? A bunch of guys who figured out a way to get paid to watch a lot of baseball and be away from their wives all summer?

Not quite, or even close, actually. Rather, six games in six days in two cities offers a picture of baseball's men in black (or baby blue) that is, well, harder to call.

THEIR JOB requires them to spend more than half the year away from home, so umps seize every opportunity to sleep in their own beds, even if it's only for a night. This is why Marsh and his men have all flown in separately to Tampa. He got in bright and early from Cincinnati. "We usually try to catch a nap in the afternoon," he says, adding with a chuckle, "Ump's schedule." Marsh, like the rest of his crew, is unfailingly friendly and a little old-school in a way that seems particular to cops, firemen and guys who've been around
baseball for a lifetime.

Seniority is prized in this culture. Marsh's crew tends to call him Chief (or, as the Cuban-born Hernandez puts it, Jefe) and makes sure he never has to deal with minor details, from hotel and car arrangements to dinner reservations.

"Every year, each crew chief gets to pick three guys he'd like to work with, and this year I got two of my three: Angel and Hunter," Marsh says. "I knew Sam some before this, and he's a great guy too. With some crews, after a game everyone goes their separate ways, and guys maybe even stay at different hotels. Trust me, it's a lot easier to be on the road for six straight months with people you like."

Marsh began umpiring at age 15. His father ran a Little League in northern Kentucky. "A lot of times, the umps my dad hired wouldn't show up on Saturdays—too hungover or something—so I'd do it," Marsh says. He played high school baseball, then spent two semesters at Kentucky before enrolling in the Al Somers Umpire School in Daytona Beach. He got a job in the Appalachian League, the lowest rung of pro ball, in 1968. It took him 14 years to reach the majors.

Dressed in black slacks, a bright orange golf shirt and black suede loafers with no socks—off-duty umpire chic—Marsh climbs into a car for the ride to Tropicana Field, across the bay in St. Petersburg. Umps generally arrive 90 minutes before the first pitch. Every ballpark has an umpire's room: a small locker room with showers, a table and chairs, a TV (which Marsh's crew usually tunes to SportsCenter or a Seinfeld rerun) and some food and drinks. An attendant unpacks and cleans the umps' uniforms and equipment, rubs down new baseballs with Lena Blackburne Baseball Rubbing Mud (to make them less shiny) and sends everything via overnight express to their next assignment.

Hernandez walks in carrying a cake for Wendelstedt's birthday. He thinks he's a couple of days late, so a card on the box reads, "Sorry I missed the call." As it turns out, Hernandez is two days early. No harm, no foul. (Celebrations during the season are often rescheduled, Wendelstedt says.)

Marsh pops open his laptop. Each crew chief gets regular e-mails from one of MLB's seven umpire supervisors or from VP of umpiring Mike Port, a former Red Sox and Angels GM. "We'll get a heads-up if there's anything we need to know going into a series," Marsh says, "like if the teams had a brawl last time or something."

But the laptops are primarily used for showing umpires how they're faring against the QuesTec computerized pitchmapping system, and their daily and weekly pace-of-game (POG) stats. "The league wants every umpire to be at or above 90% of where QuesTec says we should be," Marsh explains. "So the day after every game, we get sent a DVD that shows a replay of every call behind the plate, with charts that show how often QuesTec says we were right or wrong. We can watch it all and analyze it right on the computer." QuesTec was introduced amid much controversy in 2002. "Guys have calmed down since then," Marsh says, "partly because now a supervisor also looks over video of your calls."

The POG stat is derived from a formula that includes length of game, number of pitches, pitching changes, runs and innings. "Pace of game is harder to control," Marsh says. "But if your POG average is consistently high in relation to the other crews, they let you know it." He asks if any of the other guys saw the previous night's Yankee game. "Posada went to the mound three times in an inning," he says. Everyone shakes his head. Not good for that crew's POG.

"You pull for the other crews to have short games," Hernandez says. "Not just for their POG stats, but because you know how tired they are. When you're watching a game and it goes into extra innings, you say a little umpire prayer for it to be done soon."

By now the crew is just about ready for work. Watching them change into uniform is to witness a transformation. Suddenly they're Umpires—imposing, even a little intimidating. Marsh will work the plate, and as he grabs his mask, I ask if he knows who's pitching. "Nah," he says with a shrug, "didn't see it in the paper this morning." Then he smiles and leads his crew onto the field.

ST. PETERSBURG is probably a nice place to watch a baseball game, but being inside the domed Trop feels vaguely like being trapped in a roomy air conditioner. "It's all the same to us," Holbrook says the following afternoon. "In fact, the park here is actually better for us. If the games were outside, the heat and humidity would be murder."

Holbrook and Wendelstedt sit down with me in the hotel before heading off to lunch and a movie. "Sure, it's fun working a sellout at Yankee Stadium during a pennant race," Wendelstedt says. "But you get in trouble as an ump when you think you can come down to a place like Tampa and take a night off. That's when you'll be a step out of position for a call—and SportsCenter will show you missing one down here as fast as they will if you do it in New York."

The last thing an umpire wants is to make the highlights. "Your friends think it's funny when they see you on TV because of a call," Wendelstedt says. "But they're the same people who, in their job, if a deal doesn't go through or if they have a bad day at the office, will pout for three days. They couldn't imagine getting a call from one of their friends saying, 'Hey, I heard you really sucked at work yesterday!' "

Like Marsh, both Holbrook and Wendelstedt played high school ball—Holbrook in Kentucky (not too far from where Marsh grew up) and Wendelstedt in Daytona Beach. Holbrook went on to pitch for Eastern Kentucky, where he also earned a master's in sports administration before eventually heading to umpire school.

Things were a bit different for Wendelstedt, whose father, Harry, was a big league ump for 33 years. "I thought I knew what the life was like, but looking back, I had no idea," Hunter says. "As a kid, it was pretty great. I got to meet all my baseball heroes. Dad was gone during the summer, sure, but that's when you're running around at baseball camp or whatever. I missed him, but when he came home in October he was a 24-hour dad. My friends' fathers couldn't throw batting practice after school or play quarterback for both teams. What I'm finding out now, though, is that it's harder being the one who's always leaving."

At the end of recent seasons, Wendelstedt and his daughters (Bridget, 4, and Hailey, 3) have developed a ritual. "I throw out my old suitcase—it gets so beat up—and the girls will help me put it on the curb," he says. "During the year, when I get home for a night they'll ask, 'Daddy, can we throw out the suitcase?' And I'll say, 'No, not yet.' But then when we do it in the fall, it'll be special, because it'll mean I'm home for good."

Hernandez always put Post-it notes on his daughters' pillows before leaving on a trip. "Just little things: Love your mom, Do good in school," he says. His girls (Jennifer, now 20, and Melissa, 16) kept them all. "They've got, like, a thousand."

Hernandez, who was a catcher at Hialeah (Fla.) High School before he hurt his arm, is the only one of the crew who may have had a shot to play pro ball. (His brother, Nick, was a first-round pick for the Brewers in 1978. Also a catcher, he made it as far as Double-A.) Angel Hernandez Sr. also ran a Little League, and he suggested that Angel try umpiring. "When I told my high school sweetheart I was gonna try and be an umpire, she was like, no way," Hernandez recalls. "She would have been okay if I'd been drafted, but umpiring? We split up. I met my wife, Mireya, after my first year in the minors. I had to tell her I'd be leaving soon to go ump. She said, 'Okay, call me when you get back.' I called before I was back."

There are 220 umpires in the minors, all waiting for one of the 68 big league slots to open up. It can be a very long wait, but the rewards are significant: Salaries for major league umps start at $90,000 a year and can top $350,000, plus pension and benefits. "Once you're in Double-A and Triple-A," Holbrook says, "that's when you're wondering: Am I gonna make it? Is it worth it? Because nothing is guaranteed. You have some dark times. Even the actual umping can be tougher; the players aren't as good and everyone is hungry, clawing. You're more likely to get into it with a player or coach in the minors."

Tonight at the Trop, following an uneventful game the evening before, Hernandez gets into it with DBacks manager Bob Melvin, who's ejected in the bottom of the fifth for arguing balls and strikes from the dugout. After the game, back in the umpires' room, Hernandez is agitated and angry, and he doesn't want to talk about it. (While he's polite and amiable off the field, Hernandez has a rep for being thinskinned between the lines. Three weeks later, while working third base, he tosses Dodgers coach Mariano Duncan from the first base dugout, sparking an epic and hilarious argument that ends with Hernandez handing Duncan's cap to a fan.)

The day after ejecting Melvin, Hernandez shows up in a much better mood. Marty Springstead, a supervisor and former ump, approaches him in the umpires' room: "You had to run Melvin. He had one foot out of the top step of the dugout, arguing. We looked at it. He knows better."

"Yeah," Hernandez says. "When I told him, he basically understood." Then he turns to me. "Guys know what they can't do. At the plate, if a player doesn't look at you, doesn't make a comment that is prefaced with a 'you' or 'you're a … ,' he can pretty much say whatever he wants. And a manager can yell and scream in the dugout all he wants too, as long as he follows those rules and doesn't come out past that top step."

Holbrook pipes up: "There's also an unwritten rule in baseball that the next day is the next day." As Wendelstedt puts it, "It's like the Bugs Bunny cartoon with the sheepdog and the wolf, where they punch in, fight all day, and then punch out. We punch in, sometimes we have an argument, then forget about it. Usually."

"UMPIRES ARE creatures of habit," Holbrook tells me before heading to Chicago for a Friday night rematch of last year's World Series teams, the Astros and White Sox. "Day games, we get up at this certain time; night games, we know we're gonna nap in the afternoon. In this city, I know I want to have lunch at this place, dinner there, or I'm gonna see family or a friend who lives in town. That's life on the road."

The four ride together in a white limo from their downtown hotel to U.S. Cellular Field on the South Side. Earlier today, there was news of a terrorist plot targeting the Sears Tower. "I've been watching Fox News all day," Hernandez says. "I love Fox News." Wendelstedt was watching some news as well. "It was one of those police chases in LA, and at the end the cops Tasered the guy," he says. "It was awesome."

The conversation changes when they reach the umpires' room. Hernandez and Wendelstedt reminisce about the day they got The Call. "For me, it was before cell phones and e-mail," Hernandez says. "So you'd tell the person at the front desk of the motel where you could be reached. You only get called up if someone in the majors is injured, and if you're not around, they might call someone else. When the call finally came, May 20, 1990, I just broke down and cried."

Wendelstedt was half asleep when it happened. "I was in Oklahoma City, and it was a Saturday morning," he says. "The previous night, I'd been working a game in front of 1,800 fans, and then I hear I have to be in Denver the next day for a Rockies doubleheader. I get there and I'm working third base, and there's 50,000 people, and in the first inning Michael Tucker hits a ball that must have been 10 feet foul. I raise my arms and scream, 'FOUL!' Vinny Castilla is playing third for the Rockies, and he looks at me and says, 'First day?' And I'm like, 'Yeah!' "

BEFORE SUNDAY night's game, Mickey Weston, from Baseball Chapel, speaks to Marsh's crew. Sitting at a table in the umpires' room, he reads a Bible passage and offers a quick sermon that includes the story of John Colter, a member of Lewis and Clark's expedition who managed to escape certain death at the hands of Native Americans through "strength and perseverance."

It occurs to me that umps—perhaps not quite as much as Lewis, Clark or John Colter—need nothing if not strength and perseverance: for life in the minors, for being away from home, for the endless travel, but most of all for moments like when Jackie Robinson stole home. "Let's face it, you need to have self-confidence to do this," Holbrook says. "Everybody always thinks they can do it better than you; everyone is looking to find error. And we are human, so we're gonna make mistakes. We have to deal with that, learn from it and go on trying to be the best we can."

After the brief service, Weston asks for special intentions. Marsh mentions a niece who has just given birth. Wendelstedt brings up his father-inlaw, who's ill, and wishes for continued safe travels for everyone in the room. Hernandez says his sister and his parents are still displaced from one of last year's hurricanes, then acknowledges

U.S. soldiers in harm's way. "And let's pray for a quick Sunday night game," adds Wendelstedt, who is scheduled to work the plate the next day at Yankee Stadium (where he'll eject Braves manager Bobby Cox in the ninth for arguing balls and strikes). Weston and the umps smile, and everyone says, "Amen." The game goes 13 innings. And it rains.

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