Editor's note: Todd Stanford is on vacation. This is a reprint of a column that originally appeared in 2004.
Most area softball games begin at 4:30, so it's not easy for a lot of working stiffs to get there in time for the first pitch.
But many parents and other fans give it their best shot. They slip out of work a little bit early, maybe hit the gas pedal a little harder than they should, and then plunk their lawn chair down just in time to catch the beginning of the game.
No sweat. They haven't missed anything, right?
While they were passing off their work to some just-out-of-college Gen Xer, the umpires were already earning their checks.
All PIAA umps have to go through each team's equipment to make sure it's up to code before the game starts.
I recently had the opportunity to follow Joe Nickey and Dave Jansky around as they inspected equipment before a Mifflinburg/Selinsgrove game. The first thing they do is look at all of the bats.
Please see PLAY, C3
op PLAY, from Page C1Through testing, it's been determined that the balls come off of some bats at an unsafe speed. As a result, some bats are banned.
Coaches must print out the PIAA's Non-approved Banned Bat list -- available on the PIAA Website -- which is updated every Monday. The umps use this list to check each team's bats.
To make things even more interesting, many of the manufacturers that make approved bats also produce the ones that the PIAA has outlawed. For example, one "Louisville Slugger" could be illegal, while another is not.
Nickey and Jansky also check for any dents and cracks in the bats. Jansky has a "bat ring," which, contrary to popular belief, has nothing to do with Bruce Wayne's telephone. It looks like a drink coaster with the middle cut out, and he runs it over the bat to see if there are any tiny dents which can't be seen with the naked eye.
After the bats have been inspected, it's off to the helmets. To be legal, all helmets must have a warning label and a NOCSAE (National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment) sticker.
The umps also make sure that all of the padding's there and that there are no major cracks or dents. Jansky explains that there are often cracks around the brim, "because they do this," he says, mining the act of ripping a helmet off and throwing it to the ground in frustration.
Naturally, the catcher's equipment comes under scrutiny. (In another game I covered last week, one catcher told the umps that her equipment was "over there," pointing toward a gym bag. The umpire told her, "You get the stuff out: I'm not your mother.")
Some catchers masks come in one piece, others are in two pieces. If it's the latter case, then both pieces have to come from the same manufacturer. If they don't, then the team must have a letter explaining that tests have determined that the pieces are compatible.
It's the home team's job to supply the balls, and they're scrutinized, too. Under the rules established by the National Federation of State High School Associations, all softballs must have the NFHS Authenticating mark, a COR of .47, and a compression no higher than 375 pounds.
The umps get the coaches and team captains together at home plate for pregame instructions. The day I was there, Nickey went through the PIAA's sportsmanship rules and explained that the girls can't wear any visible jewelry during the game.
He then turned things over to Selinsgrove head coach Joel Rogers, who explained any ground rules pertaining to the Seals' home field.
Finally, after all that, it was time to play ball.
— Sports reporter Todd Stanford covers high school softball for The Daily Item. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.