One baseball play, one lasting memory

With my view clouded by the dust in the air, I looked up at home plate umpire Jim Smith and he calmly called me out, but what happened moments later almost got out of hand.

It was early spring of 1981 and my Princess Anne Cavaliers were playing our rivals from First Colonial High School. It was late in the game and we were down one run. I was on third base with 1 out and nothing was going to stop me from scoring.

The moment the ball left the bat I started home. Never mind that it was a hard hit grounder to the shortstop, I had already made up my mind. The throw was well ahead of me, but high. The catcher came down and blocked the plate. I lowered my shoulder and took him out. The both of us sprawled out on the ground looking up at Smith. I was out and I knew it.

That was the moment First Colonial head coach Norbie Wilson came screaming onto the field. “Throw him out, throw him out!” yelled Wilson. He stood tall in the late evening sun pointing at me with venom and veins popping. “Throw him out!” he demanded.

This irate coach with fire in his eyes could be heard screaming all the way to the oceanfront. But Smith, always the voice of calm and reason, quickly diffused the moment walking Wilson back to the dugout.

Jim Smith had that type of presence on the baseball diamond. While three highly emotional and competitive players and coaches await the outcome, Smith with his ever calm and poise quickly changed a potentially ugly situation.

As a player and coach, you want to know who is calling your game behind the plate and in the field. Jim Smith behind the dish was always a welcome sight for coaches and players. You knew, regardless of what would happen in that game that you were going to get an honest and fair ball game.

Thankfully I was not thrown out of the game. This was before the rule change. A stickler for the rules, no doubt Smith would have sent me to the parking lot if that were the case back then. Smith always let the players decide the outcome of games. He got it right that day and most days after.

As for longtime FC coach Norbie Wilson, his voice still echoes across baseball fields in Hampton Roads, but now his tone is turned down with an emphasis of lifting up players of all ages.