Everybody here knows Eddie Vasquez, so I’ll get right into it.

My name is Billy Beacon, and for a large part of my life I considered myself on strike from society. It was something of a reversal for me. Before then, I always tried play by the rules. But the rules kept changing on me.

One example. The kids of my generation, we had been taught to go to school with our backpacks filled with books and folders and maybe a bag for lunch. Then, one morning, two kids loaded theirs with pipe bombs and submachine guns instead, and for forty-nine minutes waged cruel, surreal warfare on their classmates. The day before that, Xochi had taken me by the hand to her parent’s basement and kissed me on her brother’s inflatable mattress. The next, we were like strangers. She got caught up in something I didn’t understand and disappeared.

A few years later I was walking down the stairs when I caught my father standing like a mannequin in front of the TV, staring as smoke rose in columns above NY. The dad I knew more or less disappeared then, lost in an endlessly unfurling, increasingly deranged scroll of online conspiracy theories.

By the way, I apologize if any of this strikes you as “oversharing.” People accuse my generation of it all the time.

When I graduated high school, I went to a state college and graduated with a degree in literature exactly eighty days before the economy collapsed. “The worst financial crisis since the Great Depression,” they said. I decided to go back to school, to better my chances in the difficult market. The month after I graduated from SJSU with an MA in 20th Century Studies, The Bust hit.

People in San Juan talk about The Bust like it was a biblical event. In a way, it is the Genesis flood-narrative of the modern San Juan: it lasted about forty days, and by the time it was over, nothing was really the same.

In my memory of it, The Bust was less an event, and more like the sudden onset of some collective mania. People were harried; ends frayed. A lot happened in a short time, but in the end it all came down to position. People in secure positions stayed secure, and people in precarious positions fell hard.

As for me, I was in no position at all just as I had always been, and there I stayed. Maltreated and underpaid, I went on strike. I smoked and drank and wrote poetry about beheadings. When jobs started coming back, I took gigs and contracts instead so that I never had to be anyone’s employee. On the weekends, I crawled in and out of dive bars without speaking to a soul, took trains to strange cities and took the next train home.

In my thirties the gig and contract work dried up. Worse, no one had joined me on strike. I suppose I should have spoken up about my cause more, but by then everyone was too busy: they had all returned to work.

I went increasingly long periods without making any money whatsoever.

One night, after twenty-one consecutive weekdays of silence from the temp agencies, substitute pools, and staffing centers, I got in the car and drove south, searching for the hem of existence. Instead, I drove around the suburbs for an hour trying to find somewhere to park. I had four Hamms that rolled around the backseat in a plastic bag, and one joint of the weakest recreational weed in the state of California. A little after midnight, I found a park with some empty spots near my old elementary school. The hand-carved wooden sign read: “Anderson Park.”

I parked the car near the baseball diamond and got out. The previous three weeks weighed on my neck like a yoke. I slammed a beer, trying to shake it loose; instead, it settled in. I sat in the chainlink dugout and cast my gaze out at the field.

Back then, I had been trying to study how to access suppressed emotions, mostly on YouTube. There was a woman whose videos I liked, Dr. Lucy. Anyone ever watch those? No? Ok, well, she ends every video with a visualization exercise. I counted to thirty while staring out at second base, trying hard to focus on what I really wanted.

Nothing came. I tried another Dr. Lucy recommendation: conjuration.

Don’t just picture your desires, she’d say, conjure them.

I don’t know where I found Dr. Lucy. I think maybe she was suggested by YouTube after another video ended, one that probably had more to do with accessing suppressed emotions than hers do. None of Dr. Lucy’s exercises worked, but I liked her energy.

I lit the joint. It was dry and crackled like a twig. Soon, even smoking depressed me. I drank the last two beers quickly and screamed into a hole in a tree.

When I took my head out of the tree-hole, the first thing I saw was a yellow vinyl sign hanging from the chainlink fence: San Juan Valley Little League: UMPIRES NEEDED. The next morning I called the number.

The phone rang a long time. Six or seven rings. I started pacing around my apartment. I was about to hang up when a strange voice answered with a single word:


This perplexed me.

“Sorry,” I said, feeling flustered, “I think I have the wrong number.”

I hung up and did a few of Dr. Lucy’s breathing exercises. When I was done, I opened a browser on my phone and pulled up http://sjvll.weblog.com, the website printed on the vinyl sign at Anderson Park. The website’s splash image was a photo of the same sign. I typed the number back into my phone, flipping back and forth to the browser to confirm its accuracy, then hit Call. This time it only rang once.


“Hi Weathersley” I said, still perplexed, “I’m looking for San Juan Valley Little League — the umpires division.”

“Speaking,” Weathersley said gruffly. Then I think he said: “What do you say, sir?”

Confused, desperate, and a little hungover, my words spilled out of my mouth in a rush.

“The sign,” I said, “the umpire sign. I’m calling about the sign. You need umpires, right? The sign said you needed them. Umpires, on the sign.”

“Ah!” Weathersley said, his voice perking, despite my psychotic repetition of the word sign. “You know the great sport of baseball?”

As a child I had played AA less than a mile from Anderson Park on a team called the Houston Astros. I was given the position of right field and rarely interacted with the ball. I batted a .130 and once got evicted from a game for slamming a third base coach in the groin with a batting donut. It was an accident, but when the groin’s involved, they don’t care.

I did my best to summon an air of authority.

“I do,” I said, pitching my voice down. “I know the great sport of baseball well.”

So the following Saturday at 7:30am I returned to Anderson Park and pulled in to the rear lot by the stuccoed community center.

Inside room B401 I found three rows of tablet-armed classroom chairs before a blackboard and a rolling cart TV/VCR. At the head of the class, a broad, Lutheran-looking fellow in a polo shirt and shorts strolled around, yellow, hay-like hair sticking out from under the brim of his white embroidered SJVLL cap. I took this to be Weathersley.

As I sat down, I noted uncomfortably that the only other people in attendance were children. There were a few very young teenagers—the kid with the Sepultura shirt and queue haircut I guessed to be fourteen—but most appeared to be barely out of elementary. One, I noticed gloomily, was wearing his Boy Scouts uniform. The kid on my left’s shirt read: “Mommy’s Favorite.” This, of course, was Eddie Vasquez.

At the time, my stomach sank. It seemed my most outlandish nightmare had suddenly become true: I was back in middle school.

Sweat dripped from my brow. I tried to flee but got caught by the desk’s plastic table. Before I could dislodge myself, Weathersley spun around.

“Gentlemen,” he began in an alarming shout, “if among you there were any religious men, I tell you there are no longer! Today, with my help, you will cleave yourselves from all misplaced belief, forsake god and family alike and cast aside all ideology in favor of something infinitely more true. Gentlemen, welcome to your terminal calling: Umpirage. Now, take up your bible.”

He handed a small stack of pamphlets to the child nearest him. By then I had sat back down. When the pile of booklets came to me I saw that it was titled “Make the Right Call: The Casebook of Little League Baseball & Softball.” It looked like a poetry student’s zine. I took one, and passed the rest to Eddie.

Once the pamphlets were dispensed, Weathersley launched into a long, discursive diatribe about the necessity of rules, laws, bylaws, and infractions. He spoke repeatedly of “Forms” as he paced about the classroom, challenging the assembled tweens to defy his dictate that a sport is nothing more than its hallowed laws.

“Each rule sacrosanct!” he shouted, striking the chalkboard with performative flare.

From there, he began to detail case studies of little league games that evoked the games laws in sundry ways, events both common and un-. He broke the rules down into their temporalities — before the game vs. during; when ball is in play vs. during time-out.

When this was through, Weathersley slid a tape into the VCR and the ancient spools whirred to life. On screen, a bizarre story began to unfold in which major league umpire Mike DiMuro inherited an oil painting haunted by the spirit of legendary ump Jocko Conlan (1899-1989). Incensed at being trapped between worlds, the angry, anachronistic wraith forced DiMuro to relive all his professional miscalls, each past error of judgement becoming, in hindsight, a lesson of what not to do out on the field.

The film was confusing and mired in subplots. DiMuro’s neighbor “Jerry Boy” kept popping in with urgent neighborhood concerns. I spent most of its runtime underlining important passages in “Make the Right Call,” rules that struck me as occult and Byzantine that I could never have intuited on my own, like A protest of an ineligible pitcher must be made before the umpires leave the field, and All runners, including the batter, will be awarded two bases for the use of ‘detached equipment.’

When thirty-five minutes had passed and the film had only just reached its second act, the crowd began to grumble and shift in their seats.

“It seems you still haven’t learned to belieeeeve your calls,” Jocko’s ghost wailed.

“I believe in you, Jackoff!” called the tomato-faced pre-teen on my right.

Weathersley didn’t take very kindly to that. That is, until he found out it was PJ who said it. I didn’t know what was up with PJ, but I knew something was up with him. He had a mischievous, contented look, as if in possession of some hidden power.

“PJ,” Weathersley said, wagging a finger, “save that spunk for the field.”

When the movie was over we all filed onto Anderson Park’s C Field, the small one normally used for t-ball and single A games. That day, it had been converted into a makeshift obstacle course for aspiring rulesmen. Cardboard players stood propped up on the field, two-dimentional coaches and managers spilling out of their dugouts and onto the first baseline. On a folding table set out by first base were official SJVLL baseball caps for each of us.

Outfitted in our regalia, Weathersley handed us tally sheets with a diagram of the field. We set about cataloging all the rules broken by these paper-men, blotting up our field-diagram with a constellation of illegalities. Right away, I noticed a manager in the bullpen warming up his pitcher, a clear violation of Rule 3.09, Situation A:

The umpire should inform the manager that coaches and managers may not warm up the pitcher. This includes any designated bullpen area or practice.

As I jotted down the violation, Weathersley slid by me. He seemed to have already clocked me as a ghoulish millennial devoid of self-worth, and regarded me cautiously.

When the sheets were full, we lined up behind the plate to call pitches.

Like I said, I had played baseball a bit as a kid, so I had already spent some time behind the plate. But standing there that morning as an umpire was different. The field snapped into a new kind of focus. It seemed, suddenly, as if all of reality lay before me. The bright white diagonals converged like leylines beneath my feet. I started to wonder if Weathersley’s rhapsodizing hadn’t affected me somehow as the wheels on the pitching machine began to spin.

First up was Armando, the kid in the Sepultura shirt, his queue poking out from the half-moon hole of his SJVLL snapback. Out on the mound, an ancient league official in short-shorts fed the machine baseballs from a paint bucket. The wheels sucked in and then violently expelled any inserted balls or globes, projectiles flying through the air as Weathersley waxed poetic on the great sport of baseball.

“The strike zone is the only box that cannot be opened,” he proclaimed opaquely, “a gift neither given nor returned. Preserve that gift, gentlemen!”

Armando took a shot to his protective grill.

“The sting of the crowd!” Weathersley shouted as the ball pinged off his face.

PJ stepped up next and immediately began calling every pitch a strike, no matter how far it was from the strikezone.

“Wrong,” Weathersley shouted, “but never admit it!”

When it was my turn, I hiked up my pants and squatted like I had seen the umps do on TV. The first ball hit my chest-protector square in the solar plexus. I stood up and called it a strike.

“Actually it was a little low,” Weathersley shouted, “but good instincts. Stand by your call.”

I squatted back down and focused, trying to ignore my periphery, staring straight ahead at the whirring barrel of the pitching gun. The ball shot out of the machine with a thump. I watched the stitching as it hurled through the air toward me, getting larger, and closer, until it slammed directly into my facemask. The inevitability of the process felt like the truest thing I had experienced in a decade.

After everyone had a chance to be bruised by the pitching machine, Weathersley made us run the bases to show that we had the “physical fortitude as well as the mental” (his words, not mine), then lined us all up along third base. Solemnly, and with uncharacteristic silence, he handed us each our official SJVLL umpires patches.

“You’ll be expected to iron these onto your polo shirts yourselves,” he said.

The next Saturday I rose in the dark like a crepuscular deer and donned my official umpire garb. Then, I drove to Anderson Park while the sky turned a deep, bruised blue.

The idea behind umpiring is that you stack a few games each day. At $50 each, it’s not a lot of money. But if you work three games on Saturday and three on Sunday, you could clear the weekend with $300.

Since it was my first day, I had only signed up for one game: a Single A bout between the Orioles and the Rays. I was behind the plate. Umping with me out on the field was Eddie Vasquez.

I got to Anderson an hour and a half before the game was set to begin. Already, the parking lot was filled with Teslas and luxury SUVs. Out on the field, uniformed boys lobbed balls around, bobbling helmets falling over their faces as they swung bats and ran to the bag. Just past the foul lines, grown men dressed the same as the children barked out commands.

At the lockers behind the snack shack I gathered my league-issued facemask, kneepads, and padded chest-protector, and strapped them to my body. The day before, I had gone to a sporting goods store in a strip mall and bought a clicker and hand-broom. I was really looking forward to sweeping the plate with that little broom. It looked fun.

Once I was strapped in, I posted up against the fence and played with my clicker while I waited for the game to begin. Soon after, the coaches came over to conference.

The coach of the Orioles was a tall, gangly man with a strangely teenager face who I thought I had seen somewhere before, though I couldn’t place where.

“I want a clean game, ump,” he said.

“No wonky calls,” said the Rays’ coach, a short guy scribbled with tattoos.

I gave them both my best thumbs-up.

The Orioles won the coin toss and chose to take first at-bat. An hour later, a tottering child walked up to the plate. I squatted down behind the Rays’ catcher and said: “Play ball.”

For the first few innings things went well. I called balls and strikes, and out on the field little Eddie Vasquez made dramatic fist-pumping motions whenever someone got tagged out on base. The Rays scored once in the first inning, and the Orioles once in the third.

Then, in the fourth, things started to go downhill.

Heckling, is what it was. It started during the Rays’ at-bat. In the blink of an eye between when the ball left the pitcher’s hand and when it sank into the catcher’s mitt, a voice — deep, and guttural, and projected from out of some human diaphragm — called out:


“How can you call that a strike, ump?” yelled the first base coach.

I shot him a look, read the count off my clicker.

“Ball two,” I announced clearly.

He looked relieved and went back to chumming it up with the nearby ten year olds.

The next throw rolled off the pitcher’s fingers wrong and went careening up towards the top of the clam-shell fence. Long before it connected, the voice again came from the crowd.


“Ball three,” I rebutted, looking over my shoulder for the voice. The bleachers were filled with wealthy white men in bluetooth ear-pieces and wrap-around sunglasses. I didn’t like looking at them for very long.

For the next few pitches, the voice let me call like normal. Then, when the count was full, it came back, erupting obscenely over a pitch that had already struck the dirt before crossing the plate.


I sent the batter to first and called time, then turned to the crowd.

“Whoever is doing that needs to stop or they’ll be evicted,” I said.

Silence. A sea of sweaty faces smiled impassively at me. I stared them down, then returned to the game.

“Play ball,” I said, squatting down.

This time, the voice returned before the pitcher had even finished his windup.

I called time again, ripping off my mask and baring my face to the crowd.

“Who’s doing that?” I yelled. “I will evict you if you don’t stop.”

“Calm down, ump,” called someone on my right, “It’s just a game.”

“I know that!” I replied, pivoting to face them better. “But a game is nothing without its hallowed laws!”

“Cop,” yelled another voice.

“Fascist,” shouted a third.

That one stung. I put my mask back on and returned to the game, calling off the time out in a grumble.

In the sixth inning Weathersley showed up and started lingering around the foul line.

Great, I thought, now the boss gets to watch me be heckled.

By then, the coach of the Orioles had begun to antagonize me, accusing me of “playing favorites,” and even confusing some of the crowd-calls with my own.

“The count is three balls,” I repeated, as his clean-up batter, number 32, waited patiently outside the batter’s box.

“That’s not what I heard!” the coach shouted through cupped hands.

“Then allow me to repeat myself,” I said, enunciating in a clear voice: “the count is three balls.”

Thankfully, Weathersley was bouncing between games, flitting across Anderson Park from field to field and observing his legion of subjects from the shadows like a little Jeremy Bentham. As for the coach of the Orioles, he went back to his team’s dugout, an agreeable distance that made his petty complaints harder to hear.

By the seventh, both teams had started to get grumpy. Their little limbs were growing tired. The sun was high above us then, and a fine summer torpor had set in. Innings stretched like taffy. For hours, the score sat limply at 1-1.

There was one person, however, who never seemed to tire. During nearly every pitch of the seventh inning, the voice called out behind me.




Finally, in the bottom of the eighth inning, I threw my mask on the ground. I called time and walked around the chainlink fence to the bleachers. In my restrictive shinpads, it took a painfully long time. By the time I got there, angry mumbling filled the air.

I stood on the concrete and stared down the crowd.

“Who’s doing that?” I asked.

Boos erupted. A red-faced man in a sleeveless shirt that read “My Truck, My Life” told me to go back to the game, then called me a communist. I was pretty sure he was the same person who had called me a fascist earlier.

“This game will not continue until the person who keeps yelling ‘strike’ steps forward,” I said.

The boos intensified. I started listening to each individual boo, trying to pick out the timbre of the offending voice when, unexpectedly, the culprit shouted out again:


The voice came from two rows up on my left. Sitting there with his mouth tinted green from a Ninja Turtles popsickle was PJ.

“You,” I said, pointing at him. “It was you!”

The man sitting next to him stood up. Immediately I recognized him as Peter Tyler, the CEO of Dysrvp, a secretive tech corporation that had made headlines recently when they were exposed as the company behind the government’s immigrant-debasement software.

“You can’t talk to my boy that way,” Tyler protested.

That’s when I knew for sure: he was the voice.

“So it was you.”

He didn’t say anything to my accusation, just stood there between me and PJ, who I now understood to be “Peter Junior.” PJ Senior had a pageboy haircut and skin so pale I couldn’t help but be a little concerned. He stood awkwardly before me, positioning himself sideways astride two levels of bleacher seats in a kind of Horse Stance.

“You’re causing a disturbance,” I told him. “These children can’t play baseball because of you.”

“Maybe if you knew how to call a pitch I wouldn’t have to do it for you,” he said, twisting his little mouth into a smirk.

As this was happening, a protest began to form out in the Orioles dugout. The tall, gangly coach led his players out onto the field, demanding that I be replaced with a different umpire.

“Send in PJ!” he shouted.

At that point, I realized why I had recognized him earlier. Inside the report on Dysrvp and ICE was a quote from the company’s head of PR, Michael Dingly, who had said (and I quote): “Listen, like any government organization, ICE needs quality programming, and we’re ready to bring them the best.”

After reading it, I found Dingly on Twitter. His sneering teenage face was right there in his profile pic. I counted at least fifteen tweets full of affected passion for immigrant rights on his page. He was what those of us on strike refer to as “a hypocrite.”

Now Dingly had half his team marching on the field, chanting “Umpire, umpire, send a real umpire” (which doesn’t even rhyme by the way) and banging their bats against the fence, sending the gathered mass of seagulls just beyond left field into a frenzy.

Back in umpire class, while Weathersley was playing his weird video-tape, I had underlined a passage in “Make the Right Call” that struck me as something like the Nuclear Option. Anyone who’s taken the class with me knows it by now. I see a few of you here, say it with me: Rule 406(a):

SITUATION: As the game progresses the manager of the Senators is becoming increasingly upset     with the umpire’s strike zone. While his/her team is on offense he attempts to incite his/her fans     into a loud demonstration of disapproval regarding this umpire.

RULING: The umpire should stop this immediately. The umpire may warn the manager to stop     this behavior immediately or eject him/her for unsportsmanlike conduct.

Standing there in the bleachers, I realized the time had come for Rule 406(a).

“That’s it!” I shouted. “You’re ejected!”

No one seemed to know who I was talking to. They all just stood there, exchanging glances as if to say is he talking to you?

I started pointing.

“You,” I said, pointing at PJ Senior, and then at PJ.

“You,” I said, pointing at the guy who had conflated communism and fascism.

“You,” I said, pointing at Dingly, the coach of the Orioles and apologist for tragedy-profiteering.

“All of you,” I said, pointing to every player who had participated in Dingly’s undignified and unrhyming chant. “All of you are ejected.”

Pandemonium erupted at Anderson Park.

“I have a right to be here!” PJ Senior shouted.

The guy in the truck shirt waved his hand in the air yelling: “Communist gestapo! Communist gestapo!”

Out on the field, Dingly’s collaborators formed a circle around their coach, pounding the dirt with their bats and sending the nearby seagulls back into a frenzy.

No one took my ejection seriously.

That’s when I noticed little Eddie Vasquez standing out in center field, the corner of his iron-on SJVLL Umpire patch already starting to fold up on one side.

“Eddie!” I yelled, waving my arms. “Eddie!”

He seemed lost in his own world, bobbing his head to an inaudible beat as he waited for the game to resume. After some time he saw me and jogged over.

“What’s up Biwwy?” he said.

(As you know, little Eddie Vasquez still had a hard time with his Rs and Ls then— they all kind of came out like Ws. I won’t do it the whole time.)

I said, “Do you have your copy of ‘Make the Right Call’ with you?”

Little Eddie Vasquez tapped his chest. He reached inside his polo shirt and, like a magician, pulled out his dogeared copy. Later he would tell me that he had asked his mother to sew a pocket on the inside of his uniform, so that he could always keep the rules close to his heart.

I searched through the booklet and found Rule 4.06(a). In my best approximation of Weathersley (i.e. in a loud, condescending voice) I read it to the crowd.

“The umpire should stop this immediately,” I said, darting my eyes around at the various offending parties.

I added some Weathersley-esque flair when I got to the Ruling.

“The umpire may warn the manager to stop — or!” I said, darting a finger in the air, “eject him-slash-her (-slash-them) for...unsportsmanlike conduct.”

I loitered ruthlessly on the words unsportsmanlike conduct.

The tension at Anderson Park at that moment was incredible. No one said a word. I had thought that the rule, once evoked, would have a conjuring effect on people, perhaps somewhat like an exorcist reading a final benediction on a possessed body. But no. No one understood. They all stared as though my words were in some ancient tongue. Finally, I looked at little Eddie Vasquez. He gave me a nod.

“You’re outta here!” he yelled, pointing at the Orioles coach, then at half the team.

“You’re outta here too!” he said, pointing towards the crowd, singling out the PJs and anyone else still standing or reaching for a bludgeon.

Confronted by the authority of little Eddie Vasquez, something finally changed in the crowd. It was as though people had suddenly seen themselves. I had done all I could, but in the end it took the words of a speech-impeded child to finally reach these scabs.

“You heard the umpire,” I said. “Vacate.”

Slowly, and begrudgingly, the offending parties began to file out to the parking lot, where they lingered, conspiring just out of earshot.

Eddie called the game back in. With the bleachers thinned and roughly half the Orioles’ dugout empty, it proceeded with ease. Right away, the catcher for the Rays caught a fastball down the center and hit a ball that bounced out, sending the man on second home for a run. Then, in the top of the ninth, the Rays struck out two batters in a row. The next watched two pitches before swinging on a sinker and popping the ball up into left field. For a few seconds, the only sound at Anderson Park’s D Field was the shuffling of cleats as the left fielder ran through the grass. Then, the chunky slap of ball in pocket.

Game over. 2-1, Rays.

The remaining Orioles lined up on the mound and the Rays at home base and then the teams zippered, holding out hands to high-five amid a chorus of muttered good games. When I caught sight of him, Eddie had already begun trudging through the tall grass past the outfield, moving on to his next game.

I don’t know what I would have done without Eddie that day. I’m sure many people here feel that way right now. I was struck earlier by the words of his sister: “Eddie could see things in people no one else could.” Some days I look out and see nothing but sadness — this giant, unspeakable pain that hums like an engine in all us. Today has been one of those days.

Eddie didn’t deserve what happened to him. He didn’t deserve it. Thank you.

# # # 

Mike Huguenor is a musician, writer, and former preteen umpire from San Jose, California.