Baseball and softball are great sports for officials to get started in. Working the field of an amateur game is usually pretty straightforward: fair or foul, safe or out. The plate requires a bit more knowledge of rules and mechanics, but I find it more fun. (You know those kids who stood in the infield and doodled in the dirt during youth baseball? That was me. I need to be behind the plate and see constant action or else I drift.)
That said, baseball and softball require a lot of gear in order to get started. You’ll need all of it for safety purposes, so I don’t suggest trying to cut corners here. I get most of my apparel at GeaRef, a local provider and great friend of the Silbo community. You can also look for gear from the good folks at Ump Attire or even Dick’s Sporting Goods.
Here’s what I wear when I officiate baseball and softball:
Grand Total: ~$550
A black, short-brim cap ($12)
Umpires call them “caps,” not hats. These short-brim bad boys are good for wearing both behind the plate and in the field. Saves you from having to buy 2 hats!
These are about as close to industry standard as you can get. You can wear black or navy to any game and no one will blink an eye. I suggest buying both for a few reasons. First, because one may be in the wash while you need to wear the other. Second, because you might need to put on a clean, dry shirt after working the first game of a summertime double-header. And third, because you should always coordinate shirt color with your partner before a game, so having both on-hand is good call.
Optional: short-sleeve powder blue umpire shirt
Some umpires suggest buying this one for hot summer days, but I’ll leave that to your discretion.
Optional: long-sleeve umpire pullover jacket
If you’re not a fan of the cold, or if you live in a cooler climate, you may want to consider investing in one of these. I’m in North Carolina, and only work baseball in the summer, so I don’t have one.
Grey/charcoal slacks ($54) and a black belt
These are your bread-and-butter pants. They match the black, navy, or powder blue shirts, so they’re incredibly useful. Apparently there’s a difference between “plate” and “base” pants — I guess one has more legroom? — but I only own a single pair. You can also just go buy some at Belk or Macy’s. Just regular ol’ grey pants.
Black knee socks
I wear compression socks since I’m standing the whole time, but you really just need something that covers your knees. The officiating community considers it poor form to show skin around your calves and ankles if/when pants ride up.
Balls & Strikes Indicator/“clicker” ($6)
It’s impossible to keep track of the count in your head, hence the umpiring world invented indicators. I prefer the plastic ones because they don’t slide in my hand like the metals ones. I also like the ones with the inning indicator so I can keep track of where I am in the game.
Plate Brush ($5)
You can’t see home plate if it’s dirty. So you need a hand-brush to sweep away the dirt.
Ball bag(s) ($15)
This is pretty straightforward. You need a bag to hold balls, your indicator, and your brush.
Chest Protector (~$160)
Okay, here’s where the buying process gets tricky. Depending on your discretionary income and what level of games you’re going to umpire, you may want a certain chest protector. For instance, if you’re doing a younger age group who don’t throw as hard, you might be fine going with a lower-priced chest protector. If you’re facing a pitcher throwing real heat, you might want some armor at a higher price point.
All in all, though, I’d endorse the Wilson West Vest, invented by our friend and umpire advocate Joe West. If Joe, the MLB umpire with the 2nd most games officiated, can feel protected wearing it, then so can you.
Mask or Helmet ($~110)
Optional: Protective Cup
No explanation needed.
Protective Plate Shoes ($130)
You aren’t going to win any fashion contests in these, but the metal plates will keep your little piggies safe from foul tips. You should wear them behind the plate, and can probably get away with wearing them in the field.
Optional, but recommended: Field Shoes
If you don’t want to wear the bulky plate shoes in the field, you should consider buying a pair of black cleats or sneakers.
Hopefully that’ll give you a good idea of what to wear the next time you take the field. If you need any advice, feel free to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll be sure to help you out.
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