Umpires at Diamond Nation will be glad to return behind home plate this spring and summer.
A year ago, the COVID-19 pandemic changed life as we knew it and that was certainly true for Diamond Nation’s 105-man umpiring crew under the direction of Marty Clark.
Clark had to redesign how his umpires went about their in-game mechanics to adjust to state distancing restrictions under the pandemic. Home plate umpires were moved behind the pitchers’ mound, triggering a slew of rotational adjustments.
Thankfully, we are now seeing some COVID restrictions loosened nationwide and, as a result, Diamond Nation will return its home plate umpires back behind the plate to call balls and strikes.
“It’s a good thing and our umpires are excited about it,” said Clark, Diamond Nation’s Director of Tournaments and Leagues. “Our guys are cautious but want to get back to normal, as normal as that can be.”
Clark has been a high school umpire for 47 years and is highly respected in New Jersey’s baseball community for his work on the scholastic diamond. He has steered Diamond Nation’s tournament play with a deft hand the past six years after joining the umpiring crew at the facility in 2010. Clark assigns umpires to upwards of 6,000 games annually at Diamond Nation.
Clark played host to 84 of his umpires in a Zoom meeting on Sunday morning to go over plans for the 2021 season. He also invited a special guest, his older brother and longtime Major League umpire Al Clark, who discussed specific techniques with the group. Clark umpired in 3,392 major leagues games during a 26-year career that ended in 2001.
“Al has a lot to offer, certainly more than we do,” said Marty. “It was nice for our group to listen to a former major league umpire discuss technique. It can only help. He also discussed the importance of umpires approaching their assignments professionally, even at the youth sports level.”
Clark envisions minor adjustments for his umpires in getting back to their pre-COVID mechanics. “It’ll be a little different for them getting back into it, then it will quickly become normal,” says Clark. “
The changes due to COVID last summer were a much bigger adjustment for the Diamond Nation umpiring crew.
“The mechanics I incorporated last summer worked out really well,” said Clark. “Everyone was in position. We didn’t have too many holes. It went extremely well for the situation we were in. Everyone understood it was new, then it become normal to work the way we work. I give our umpires a lot of credit for working hard at it.”
Another “adjustment” in game management for umpires and coaches will be the installation of a game clock. Tournament games at Diamond Nation are on a time limit and the management of that falls on the umpires. But that time limit will be a bit more overt this summer. Diamond Nation will be installing new scoreboards on Fields 2-through-7 and each will contain both a game clock and pitch speed. Diamond Nation expects to install the new scoreboards in May.
“I think it will be good that the game clock is visible,” says Clark. “Coaches can coach accordingly and use it to their advantage or disadvantage. Coaches will have to use good time management.”
There will also be a slight change to when the games clock starts.
“The clock will start with the first warm-up pitch of the game,” says Clark, “as opposed to the breaking of the meeting at home plate.” While a coach may dilly-dally before getting his team on the field, Clark said, “Hopefully coaches respond, do the right thing and get their teams on the field right away so it doesn’t create a problem. Every minute we lose along the way seems to add 10 minutes at the end of the night. We expect to get back to a normal pace of play.”
Diamond Nation’s Field 7, also known as Musclelicious Foods Field, was opened for games in October and will provide a huge boost to the amount of games that can be hosted at the facility. The field at Jack Cust Baseball Academy is no longer in use.
Having the seventh field on site, instead of around the corner, will also aid Clark and his staff in managing the tournament.
“Field 7 provides a real nice atmosphere,” says Clark. “While we can’t see it from our booth at the scout tower, we can get there easily if we need to address a rules issue or if there is an injury or something else to tend to, like weather.”
Diamond Nation’s first tournament of the spring is the Spring Fling on March 13 and 14.
“We’re looking forward to getting back out there, for sure,” said Clark. “It’s been a long winter.”
Watch for a follow-up story this week on the coming additions and changes at Diamond Nation’s Flemington, N.J. facility.