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Pace to umpire in state tournament

By Mike London
Salisbury Post
Salisbury’s Lloyd Pace works for Rowan County Planning and Development as an enforcement officer, so he has to settle disputes now and then.
Pace expects a few more grumbles and arguments this weekend, but he’s actually looking forward to it. He’s one of the umpires chosen to work the NCHSAA softball tournament at Raleigh’s Walnut Creek Complex.
This is the second state-tournament assignment for Pace, who also umpired in the marquee event in 2005.
“Things went smoothly up there last time,” he said. “So I’m looking forward to going back.”
West Rowan was in the 3A tournament in 2005. Pace, whose sons, Jeremy and Jacob, graduated from Salisbury High, remembers watching the Falcons play Kings Mountain, but he wasn’t part of the crew.
“We really want know the schedule until we get up there, but they don’t ordinarily want you umpiring teams that you’ve already seen,” Pace said.
That will probably rule out Pace umpiring 2A games involving Central Davidson.
Pace often works CCC games and has seen the Spartans, who have won 51 in a row behind celebrated pitcher Chelsea Leonard, many times.
He also umpired a game involving one of the 3A teams ó Southwestern Randolph ó when the Cougars played East Davidson.
Pace also umpired in the 4A Metro Conference in Guilford County and he was also booked for games in the rural 1A Yadkin Valley Conference that North Rowan will be joining in the fall of 2009.
“Usually the booking agent tries to keep you close to home, but sometimes I’m in Greensboro or High Point or maybe even North Moore,” Pace said.
Pace said the the tight games are the easiest to call.
Umpires can maintain a high level of concentration on every pitch for a Ledford-Central Davidson matchup, but attention can wander when struggling programs who are spending an afternoon trying to wade through three innings are walking five batters in a row.
“The more competitive the game, the easier it is to call balls and strikes,” Pace said. “Sometimes, with teams that aren’t so good, you might have to use that old Baptist strike zone just to try to move the game along.”
Pace developed an interest in umpiring when his boys were playing in Little League. His mindset mirrored that of many parents ó “these umps are terrible, and I know I can do better.”
He attendedclinics, got certified and found out the umpires he’d been growling about weren’t so incompetent after all.
“Watching my boys play, I was sure I could do better than the guys who were calling games,” Pace said with a laugh. “But then you find out it’s not nearly as easy as it looks.”
Pace said fans have been relatively kind to him this year, and only once did someone loudly take exception to his strike zone.
He’s learned over the years that looking professional and “selling” the bang-bang calls by being authoritative are a huge part of the battle.
Forty years ago, fans yelled “Kill the umpire” with regularity, although the threat was never literal.
Now the screams from the bleachers are usually “Get help,” “Be consistent” or “Call it the same for both pitchers.”
Pace does his best, but fast-pitch softball isn’t an easy game to call.
Pitchers, who are just 40 feet from home plate, attack the 17-inch width of home plate and dominate games.
Exceptional high school pitchers can throw 60 mph, the equivalent of a 90 mph baseball pitch from 60 feet, 6 inches, and those pitches are rising or dipping in a hurry.
Pace has to call them, and with just the right timing and voice to convince the pitcher, catcher, batter and the fans that he knows what he’s talking about.
Out of the 200 or so pitches he’ll call in a state-tournament game, he’s bound to miss a few, but nobody’s perfect.
Calling the bases is easier, but no picnic. It’s all about getting in position and close enough to make a call, without getting too close to the play.
“It’s mostly about angles, really,” Pace said. “And the thing is you can be in the right position and still not have a great angle.”
Pace hears the occasional shout that he’s just administered a “makeup call.” He gets a kick out of those.
“Believe me, things are going on so fast out there, no one’s brain is moving quick enough to think about a makeup call,” he said. “Makeup call? What’s that?”
A second state tournament assignment is a reward for Pace, who has maintained a consistent strike zone and control of games. His judgments on fair or foul, out or safe, ball or strike ó the decisions that umpires have to make every few secondsó must have been pretty good.
He also knows the rulebook better than casual fans who scream strange things like, “Tie goes to the runner!”
Like any good umpire, Pace knows a girl was either out or safe. It’s never a tie.
Pace worked as part of a two-man crew all year, but state-tournament crews will expand to three, just to make sure there’s always a close eye on all runners, bases and foul lines.
“We’ll get the crash course on the three-man crew, and we’ll go out and do our jobs,” he said.
His goal for the tournament is perfection. He understands the teams that reach Walnut Creek have been busting it in practices and games for months, and he wants to match their level of commitment every time he takes the field.
“You want to be able to leave each game saying to yourself that you gave it 100 percent and that you didn’t miss a single call,” Pace said. “And you definitely don’t want to be leaving with a police escort.”
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Contact Mike London at 704-797-4259 or mlondon@salisburypost.com.

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