“Hey, Frank, what do you think?”
Frank focused on tying his shoelaces. “It might rain,” he responded without looking up.
“Come on, Frank, don’t you think Obama needs another four years? Bush left him with a real mess.”
Another voice came across the room before Frank could answer. “Are you kidding? He’s only made things worse.”
Frank was finished with his shoelaces but remained sitting, staring at his feet, while the others continued their debate.
Fair. Frank was tired of hearing about it. “What the hell is fair?” he muttered.
“What’s that, Frank?”
The debate raged even as the umpire crew left the locker room and followed the cavernous maze under the stadium to reach the playing field.
The smell of freshly mowed grass was the first thing to assault Frank’s senses as he neared the end of the tunnel. It was a memory that would linger long after he retired. This was his last game. Funny, Frank thought, no one mentioned it. They’re too busy arguing about the damn election.
Then came the bright sunshine. He paused at the edge of the warning track waiting for his eyes to adjust, listening to the murmur of the growing crowd of fans and the crack of the batting practice. The other umpires carried their argument to one side as the team managers approached Frank with their batting order cards. He was surprised to hear the managers debating the election rather than exchanging the usual kibitzing that preceded a game. One word leaped out at him. “Fair.”
Frank shook his head and escaped to an area clear of players. Unfortunately, he was close to some early fans who were engaged in animated conversation. “Obama.” “Romney.” “Fair.” He stepped closer to the grounds crew who were removing the batting cage and caught elements of the same debate.
Frank’s last season, his last game, ruined by an election still weeks away.
No one knows what happened that day. They’ll probably talk about it for years to come. Something snapped in Frank. He called for the chief grounds keeper. “You have any tape?” he asked.
“What kind of tape?” the grounds keeper replied.
“Like the cops stretch around crime scenes.”
“Oh, yeah, we have yellow caution tape. We use it to keep people away from potholes, stuff like that.”
The chief grounds keeper scratched his head as he thought. “About a case of if, I guess. Why?”
No one suspected anything was amiss until a grounds keeper returned with the case of tape and Frank began directing them to mark off new foul lines with it. “Run a tape from the upper decks there,” he pointed to a spot about fifty feet to the right of the post at the end of the right field foul line. “And another there,” he said pointing to another place about fifty feet to the right of the left field foul line.
The other umpires and the team managers began wandering towards Frank when they spotted the grounds crew stringing up the tape.
“I’m setting up new foul posts,” Frank responded without looking at them. He was watching the grounds crews, waving to make adjustments in his new “foul posts”.
“You can’t do that!” they chorused.
“Why not? I’m the head umpire.”
“But, there’s rules,” one of the managers complained.
“Sure,” Frank responded without an inflection in his voice. Then he turned and stared directly at the group. “And I’m the one who decides what’s ‘fair’ and what’s ‘foul’.”
Everyone started talking at once. Voices were raised. Two of Frank’s crew pulled out pocket copies of the rules and began paging through them. Frank smiled as he ignored them.
“That’s not fair!” the home team manager complained.
Frank smiled. “Sure it is. There’s more right-handed hitters than lefties,” he explained. “I think it’s fair that we give them a better break. Don’t you?”
The home team manager threw his hat on the ground. The visiting team manager kicked dirt. The other umpires compared notes. Frank smiled. A coach who had joined the group was dialing his cell phone. “I’m calling the league office,” he explained.
Frank snorted. “Nobody there today,” he laughed. “It’s Sunday.”
The argument behind home plate raged for twenty minutes past game time. The players had wandered over in groups of two and three to circle the participants. A camera crew was televising it on the Jumbotron in center field. The local television broadcasters were providing a running commentary to fans across the country.
Frank waited. He waited until that moment when everyone ran out of breath and paused. Then he spoke clearly and deliberately. “Look,” he said. “You’ve been debating what’s fair. Why can’t I just tell you what’s fair? I’m the head umpire.”
“But, there are rules.”
“So? We stopped playing by the rules long ago.”
“When we decided that being fair was more important than the rules,” Frank said.
The people standing around him stared without responding.
“Sure, the rules say that the bases will be positioned just so. But, why isn’t the left field fence the same distance from home plate and the one in right? And it’s different in every stadium, isn’t it?”
Everyone looked at each other and nodded. Fans in the stadium nodded. Viewers at home nodded.
“Then the grass is trimmed in a way that will favor ground balls hit by the home team because most of their players hit ground balls.”
Everyone turned to look at the grounds crew who shrugged and looked at their feet.
“So, what’s really fair?” Frank asked, and no one answered.
“Well, now you have a man in the White House who likes to announce what’s fair and what isn’t, and some of you like that.”
“But, that’s not baseball,” someone complained.
“No, but there are rules,” Frank responded.
“There are laws. There’s the Constitution,” Frank replied. “You want to know what’s fair? Don’t ask the President. Read the Bill of Rights.”
The silence lasted about thirty seconds, before someone said, “BS.”
Frank chuckled. “You’re right, no one person should get to decide what's fair and what's foul,” he said and turned to the chief of the grounds crew. “Take down the tape,” he ordered and the men happily complied.
Turning back to the men surrounding him, Frank announced, “Play ball,” and the players, the crowds in the stands, and the viewers at home breathed a sigh.
When all was right in the stadium, Frank bent to sweep the dust from home plate and took up his stance behind the catcher as the first batter stepped into the box. There was a smile on his face. He was going to enjoy running for office. His first stump speech was, in his estimation, a success.