Spring has brought with it the irritating realization that I need to start looking for a job to last me through the summer.
At the end of March I devoted a weekend to Craigslist. Thankfully, I was in a right mind for the results – “Summer Seasonal Scooper” came up more than once, as well as a couple of adult co-ed softball leagues seeking part-time umpires. I applied.
A couple days pass, then a voicemail from Kevin at Underdog Sports. I call back, answer a few questions about my background and my current situation, the whole time thinking “man, this Kevin guy sounds a little slow.” I figured they were desperate for a ringer: we set up a time and I slipped into the cocksure fantasies of an utterly unqualified applicant.
The thing about interviewing to be an umpire when you have never been an umpire or even a referee is that there’s not a lot of real things to say about yourself. I knew this fact but chose to ignore it, figuring that I’d be sitting down with a Vince Vaughn lookalike in a cramped office with a yellowed box fan propping open the window and old boxes of XXL tee shirts scattered across the floor – that I could fake it for a few minutes, then just coast.
The Underdog Sports office is a bright loft that hosts the thickest frosted-glass doors I’ve ever shut behind me. Once inside, a cute blonde named Molly led me up another flight of stairs into the interview room. Our conversation was breezy and pleasantly inane enough to distract from the oddness of being isolated in a glass vault with only a chair and a desktop computer and a browser with three tabs open. In those tabs were a series of preliminary tests. Eric – the big boss, I gathered, and my interviewer – was running late, and these modules were the first order of business.
I admit that their personality questionnaire was one of the more riveting I’ve encountered. This was no ordinary Likert scale: there was a question about what you’d do at a party when you don’t know anybody except the friend that brought you. I had to think hard on the choice between “walk around and talk to as many people as possible” and “hang out and get to know your friend’s friends.” What kind of man would Eric want running the show out on the diamond??
Then a “grit” questionnaire, then three trials of a cognitive reaction game: if the word and picture match, right arrow; if the word “Carrot” is paired with a picture of a stapler, it’s no match, and a left arrow – but, when “REVERSE” pops up at the top of the screen, you do the opposite.
Thankfully the computer froze after my first two goes. Once Casey came up the stairs and fixed things up, I watched a video that told me only 30% of applicants make it out of this room and onto the field, reminding me that I have not played an organized game of softball or baseball since I was 8 and that I am not even a G1 and only a G7 – having completed the mandatory shadowing period, orientation, and two written exams – receives $15 an hour.
By now the notion crept up on me that perhaps, as their very candid video suggests, I was more fit to play with Underdog Sports than to work for them! After all, informing a chortle of Intel data analysts that they can’t drink in the dugout is no task for the weak.
The video ends, I rejoin the fray on the main floor. I chat up Casey, who also strikes me as sort of slow. A momentary tickle of encouragement.
Enter Eric, an artillery shell of a man in a nylon polo shirt, with a slick red bald spot and a patch of spiny black shoots sprouting from his dome. In passing he told Casey how his son is waiting in the car, covered in sweat streaked camouflage paint from his field day at school. There was a joke about remembering to crack a window for him. At the time I was slightly relieved that Eric is a father, that his experiences raising a scrappy and curious youth may lend me and my profession some sympathy, considering I spend all day tooling around in a farty room full of ADHD sixth graders trying to get them to read The Hunger Games. I now focus more on the fact that Eric made his son wait in the car so he could interview me for a position I am egregiously unqualified for. Poor kid.
“Alright, so tell me about yourself.”
I was toast. Anyone who has gotten this line to start off an interview knows that things are already not going well. His expression never deviated from in between a smirk and a scowl. I was banking on Vince Vaughn from Dodgeball, but I got just plain Vince Vaughn.
Eventually I mentioned something like “kids can be a handful,” and he offered a vintage “yes, yes indeed” grin-and-nod combo. This was promising. Ultimately, though, my attempt to relate the split-second decision-making needed for a confident strike call to my more well-honed ability to tell kids to stop staring at their crotches didn’t really hit the mark.
Then the showstopper arrived: “why not just play for Underdog, Jack?
“Well Eric,” I said, “the money is not trivial!”
Then I just kept talking. At one point I said the word “ideal” with accompanying okay symbols in both hands. Eric’s interview was over by then, I think, even if our conversation lasted a few more minutes. I got the rejection via email the next day.
And I still do not know if there are strikes in slow pitch softball.