Youth Baseball Continued: Is Umpiring Changing?
Youth Baseball Continued: Is Umpiring Changing?
In this episode, we continue the conversation about youth baseball and get Nathan Bliss’ input on umpiring. Is it headed for a change? Does it need to change? Will parents be able to handle a missed strike call if there’s no home plate umpire?
We also discuss the parallels we see with sports and business. Those skills athletes learn as a teammate just might be the same ones they lean on as adults working on a team. (Spoiler alert — they are!)
Enjoy this episode and other episodes of Hustle and Pro in our archives.
Show Notes:[00:35] Umpiring & Technology
[07:53] Coaching as it relates to business strategy
[14:02] Shifting to Little Elm
[16:12] Red Raiders!
Resources within this episode:
- Nathan Bliss: Twitter @Nathan_Bliss | LinkedIn
- Kelly Walker: Bio | Instagram @kelly_walkertexas | Twitter: @kelly_walker_TX
Welcome to Hustle & Pro. I’m your host, Kelly Walker. We have Nathan Bliss back again for another episode. So, our previous episode, we were talking about youth baseball in Dallas, the Dallas area and parenting and tournament culture, and so much more. And we have more to get to. So let’s jump into Part 2 with Nathan Bliss. Alright. So, Nathan Bliss, we are in the middle of a discussion about youth baseball and, um, we’re continuing that on. But, what I want to ask you, we were talking about change and tournament structure and league in the last episode. And now I want to ask you about umpiring and sort of where we sit in that ’cause I also feel like change is on the horizon there, maybe. So what are you seeing as a, uh, majors coach? At the 13-year level, what are you seeing out there on umpiring?
Yeah, I see, um, this is a passionate topic for me cause I’m a technologist by trade. So I’m a, I’m a vice-president of sales and marketing in the software industry. You know, in my background, I have seen software’s ability and positive impact to impact a lot of different industries. And I think we see this at scale happening in baseball right now. One of my favorite companies is Rapsodo. Um, I mean you are seeing fundamental pervasive change at the, at the professional level happening with the optimization of pitching so much so that I don’t know how many professional Chicago Cubs hitters right now are hitting over 200. Like, that 10, 15, 20 years ago would have been unheard of. And, and a lot of what has happened is everything is so dialed in and so optimized in a way that software has clearly made an impact there. Well, I read about the sport just like you do. And we know that an electronic strike zone is probably at this point an inevitable outcome at the professional level. So yeah.
Yeah, it’s moving, it’s been moving there for, I don’t know what five, six, seven years, like, tracking.
Right. If you’ve visioned this forward, you know, I’ve talked to people at Rapsodo and other, uh, organizations, just because I have a, an interest in software and an interest in baseball. I’ve asked them if they’ve thought that this is coming to the youth level and unequivocally the answer is “absolutely.” And I would say being in the metroplex that I think it’s needed. And, and why would I say that? We have, we have difficult- and I know there are well-meaning organizations that love baseball that are passionate about the game and want to see it grow that run umpire organizations that it’s a supply-and-demand thing at some point, you know, because it’s difficult to find enough staff to be able to permeate all of the, all of the games happening in the metroplex. Yeah. So if there was a way to supplement that through technology, I think that’s an interesting idea.
How much supplementing? Like what can you, what do you not have a home-plate umpire? The way that I think- is extreme, I get the calling balls and I get a strike zone. I get that. But I mean, yeah. What do you see that moving to?
I think there will be a way. If somebody were to ask me to make a prediction about what that will look like in 10 years, let’s say. I think that you could have, let’s say an individual official, let’s say station behind the pitcher that has like a supplemental camera system that’s calling balls and strikes. So, if that’s happening that individual could be relayed, you know, through a camera system installed at a facility, if a pitch is a ball or a strike. And I would argue pretty accurately with the ability, the technology’s ability to determine a ball and strike, it’s going to be pretty accurate in a way that almost makes it difficult to be argued against if it is a ball or strike.
But it has to be real time to relay and “Oh, you don’t want to slow anything down.” Right. So, has to be the technology has to be able to do it in real enough time where it’s like, oh, you know, just like a normal human reaction would be. That’s right. It could be faster, but to get it back, to get the information back out loud to the catcher, the pitcher, whoever how you know, that’s interesting. It’s like, how do you then relay what the technology says it was quickly enough for everybody to hear it move on to the next pitch?
Right? And if you’re familiar with technology like Rapsodo, or like, uh, for example, one training tool that we use in my home is a pitchLogic baseball, which is, has sensors inside of a baseball. And we know exactly every time it’s thrown stings that give us data, spin rate, spin access, the arm angle of the thrower and the miles per hour, the ball was thrown. Like, a lot of data. Right. And it’s all real time. So there will be ways to extrapolate out that information that is necessary for it to be real time. Now, versions of this will have to bubble up and there could be a different way to do it than what I’m describing. But the way I’m describing it, I think answers a lot of questions. Number one is, well, maybe you only need one official to control 8, 9, 10, 11 game, as opposed to 2. Uh, if you’re getting supplemental help on the balls in the strikes. Because then it’s there a petition behind the pitcher, for example, well then they can make those calls out in the field that are necessary as well.
Right. And then moreover, what I would say is this. This would be my advocacy element of this part of the conversation as well. It’s everybody, when they got to the ballpark just took a deep breath, I think it would help because these umpires are often committing long hours in a day. And I don’t know about you, but you know, at the end of an 8 or 10-hour long workday, I can get fatigued and I can get mentally fatigued. And make mistakes. Exactly. And that can often be the game, the way that things are currently structured that has most, let’s say gravitas to it or the most at stake, if you will. Yeah. So I try as much as I can to give the officials the, the benefit of the doubt. Now, if you see something that is consistent, I think it’s okay to ask a question. Sure. But sometimes the erosion of trust has happened between officials and coaches on both sides that I get met with contention if I just have a question. Um, yeah, exactly. So I think that there, there are ways that we could go about this that are, that are better. And if everybody just takes a step back for a moment and something that seems really, really big on Sunday, maybe doesn’t feel the same way on Tuesday afternoon when you’re back at your office working. So, that’s another thing I would say.
And, you know, we are talking about youth baseball here. Yeah. This isn’t the pro leagues and everything’s going to be okay if there’s a missed call. It sucks, but it is sports. Every sport has them. Yeah. That’s exactly right. And very rarely is it the cause of a win or loss. It’s usually a small factor in the big picture. And I always tell my kids, if they walk off the field and blame one last thing I’m like, “but what about the first thing in the first inning when y’all made that error” or “this base ringer happened” or whatever, like there was, there’s always other things that could also change the game if we would have gone the other way and you know, it’s, it’s sports.
Exactly. But I think for some parents, it’s always easier for them to shift the blame on some other circumstance other than maybe taking ownership of what could have they, the athletes could have done to put themselves in a better position.
Right. Cause that’s usually the case. Exactly. There’s, there’s always more that your team could have done collectively to not make the last play come down to the being the determining factor if you’re winning or losing a game. Yeah. Um, you’ve mentioned a few times like work and how your coaching can, um, sort of also mimic some of the ways that you’ve learned to deal with people in business. Right. I know. I mean, we’re sports people, so we can easily draw those parallels and non-sports people probably go, “Oh my gosh, the sports isn’t business. It’s a total different life.” But, um, but I agree, you know. So talk to me about like, what, what have you kind of learned, like, managing people? And, and I’m, I’m wondering the difference of managing kids that you’re coaching and also the adults that you’re involved with as parents and umpiring and that kind of thing.
Yeah. So as a vice president of sales and marketing, I have let’s say about 40 or people or so that are in, in our departments. And I use, uh, I would say cross-analogies all the time. I talked to my athletes a lot about the business context and I talk to the people that work in our departments and sales and marketing for Kinsta a lot about athletics. And, you know, I think that one, one key lesson that I’ve learned cause I, my, my coaching career started up in Omaha, uh, with, uh, with a travel baseball team. And one thing I learned that I thought was a little bit of a notion for myself that I had to dispel is the idea that you treat everybody the same or with parody across every individual. And I had, uh, an athlete that was on our, on the team that I was coaching up in Nebraska, that he was, I would argue our best athlete, but he needed the most coaching. You know, if, if I were to, and then I had another boy that maybe wasn’t quite as athletic, but didn’t demand as much from me as a coach. He was quieter and um, let’s say, a little bit more stable.
Yeah. So like not even not demand it, but doesn’t respond well to it. Like he would rather, his style is to let, like hear you and let him go do it without you, you know, being on his back.
Right. I didn’t have to reinforce the concept three times to him versus this other, this other boy on the team where I might have to do that. So I think there’s a lot of value in that because in business it’s very similar. You have those that will, will be maybe a little bit more, not demanding, but extrapolate out more bandwidth from you with that rapport that you have with that person on your sales or marketing team. And then you have those that are others that are high autonomous individuals that don’t require the frequency of let’s say a one-on-one type meeting, or even the length of that meeting.
Like, it’s a burden. It can be a burden. Yeah.
So, so being able to make those, that sort of alterations in my mentality has served me well in both contexts.
Yeah. And, um, I had some middle school athletes on here once, and that was one of the things that I thought was so interesting hearing their feedback is that when they get into middle school playing for their school- ’cause it’s the first time that many of these young athletes have played for their school compared to their club or their recreational teams. And that was a big adjustment. Is they said, “well now for the first time, I’m on a team with such a range of people that are not all at my level, that are not all here for the same reasons. Somebody just walked on and made B-team basketball ’cause they thought they wanted to try it today. Whereas I’ve been playing really good basketball for five years” and, and that having to adjust to those personalities where everybody’s at on your team, all those things, and it’s a such a different vibe, but that is such a good real world life experience because that is how life and work work.
I don’t think I could agree with that. More like it’s exactly like you walk into a team dynamic or something like that, where you’ve only known it to be one way and then something changes and it’s a totally different world. And that’s why I like sports, too, because you have to be able to adapt in life to situations like you just described and what a great, you know, not breeding ground or proving ground for something like that. But that, that’s where I just, I can tell you this as a sales and marketing professional, I have never failed hiring a former athlete. Not one time, not one time, since I’ve been leading teams since 2017. I have had some incredibly disciplined individuals in sales and marketing that have been former athletes. And I can’t think of a single exception to that rule right now where that hire that I made that had that athletic background- I’m just, I’m seeing their faces and then their names right now and without exception basketball players right now, I have a head of outbound sales for my sales team and she was a soccer player at the Division 1 level- Skills transfer. Oh, yeah. They just, and they translate so well with tenacity and all these other really beneficial characteristics. Yeah.
Yeah. And some of that is though, because that’s your person, that’s your vibe, too. And so it, it gels well probably with you and your organization, but I do think a lot of it is all those life skills and lessons that you do learn over the years as an athlete. I mean, when you pull out some, some of the different kind of sports like gymnastics and martial arts, when you think about like dedication or, or golfer, right? These are things that, you know, if you’re a hiring professional, like these people can work on their own and, and get things done and be structured and accountable for, you know, their job responsibilities because they’re trained to do that.
Right. I mean, they take well to feedback. They’re precise. They pay attention to detail. You know, they’re, they’re the type of ambassadors you went out there for your companies. And I, I strategically look for people with those backgrounds because until it fails me, I would argue it’s a sound business and sales and marketing strategy. And it’s helped grow brands that I’ve been associated with without exception.
Last thing I want to ask you about, and it’s, it reminded me when we’re talking about kids, adapting to teammates. Um, so you guys are making a shift, right? Where, um, I guess your family is about to be on different teams because of like high school when they’re at the high school level playing. So can you tell me like what, what change you’re making and where y’all are going to be?
Yeah, my family and I are looking to relocate to the Little Elm area. And I would say we’re doing that actively right now. And I would put baseball like 17th on the list for why we’re wanting to do that. But I will say this: like, you know, knowing who someone will be mentored by, you know, when they go into that context, I think has a lot of value to me as a parent, you know. For as long as I can. I think that we, as parents get the opportunity to, you know, sort of like define the terms of who our children associate with and try and set them up for success as best we can in that direction. So, I think that has a lot to do with it. And I really love this area of the city and the way that it’s, you know, I see it growing and it gets me excited, uh, being a person that has the potential to be a citizen of an area like that as well.
Yeah. Have you driven by the, I mean, you’re probably in the area a lot, but it’s that large high school being built off of 380, yeah? Is that what you’re talking about or is that a different high school?
Different high school. Which one are you referring to, though?
I think it, I mean, it says Little Elm on the building and I’ve, I’ve been back and forth from lots of baseball practices and things lately where I keep seeing this high school being built. And every time I think, “wow, like, that looks amazing. It looks like it’s going to be just the latest and greatest facilities.” Now, Frisco has some pretty sweet high schools and facilities too, but, but I think that has Little Elm on the, on the wall. And, um, I wondered if that was the school you’re-
I wonder if it could be a middle school ’cause I know Little Elm is going to have a, like a single high-school-type feel to it like Allen does, for example. Yeah. Um, so that, that could be what you’re referring to.
Might be the middle school, yeah. So I mean, there’s so much, um, growth and opportunity happening in that area. Yep. Y’all just be my neighbors on the West side of Frisco, though. We’re in Little Elm all the time. There we go. Um, but yeah, that’s awesome. So I also found out we’re both Red Raiders.
That’s right. Wreck’em. Uh, yep. I’m uh, proud class of ’06. My wife and I met in, uh, uh, Campus Crusade for Christ at Texas Tech. And uh, yeah, we just had a, a, an incredible experience and love it.
We loved it, too. My husband and I met there also, um, in the sports world, um, on the, on the soccer field.
Oh, that’s awesome. Yeah, that’s really cool. Yeah.
We still love and follow all things, Tech sports as much as we can. Yeah, ’cause there’s a lot going on, but had some good years lately, some good basketball years and baseball years. And now I’m getting to see some Red Raiders coming up through the Ranger system. And so that’s fun.
It’s been incredible. Like, uh, Coach Tadlock is just an incredible individual and they’ve spent a lot of time in Omaha the last six years, let’s say. And getting to see them up in Omaha. I’ve been my wife and my, my boys and my daughter and I have been to a lot of, uh, College World Series games wearing our black and red and it’s been a ton of fun. So,
Very fun. Cool. Well, thanks, Nathan. Um, there’s so much baseball nerd stuff we could go into. So, I feel like even though we’ve talked a while, we’ve still scratched the surface. But, I appreciate your time coming in here and talking to me and giving us your input on some things.
Yeah. Thanks for having me on. I had a ton of fun. Appreciate it.
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