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Halladay: The View from 62 Feet

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35 seasons.

35 seasons!

That would make it 1976, a year of bad hair, bad clothes and disco.

Need I say more?

That was the year John Hirschbeck began his career as a professional baseball umpire in the Florida State League.

And just like the players starting out, where just three of 25 on a minor league roster get ONE DAY in the Major Leagues, no promises were made.

John Hirschbeck persevered, working two seasons in the Class-A FSL, moving up to the Double-A Eastern League in 1978 and then advancing to the Triple-A International League in 1979 and staying four seasons, one large step away from the Major Leagues.

In between seasons, he worked in the Instructional League in 1977 and '78 and in the Puerto Rican Winter League in 1979 and '80.

Finally, in 1983, he was added to the American League umpiring staff. Imagine how the guy who began umpiring Little League games as a part-time job during high school felt.

On Wednesday night, in the opening game of the National League Divisional Series in Philadelphia, John, as he put it, "had the plate."

Never in his 35 seasons had he ever been a part of a history-making effort.

In the fourth inning, Hirschbeck "began thinking to myself, 'Wow, he's got pretty good stuff tonight.' And then, at the start of the fifth, I looked up at the scoreboard and realized, 'Wow, there's no hits so far.' From then on, I was conscious of it."

John Hirschbeck thinks the closest he ever came to a no-no was in the eighth inning of a game in early September. But he can't remember who was throwing.

Did he get nervous like everyone else with a pulse?

"No, I was telling Tim Welke, who had the plate yesterday, too, in one of the other series, that maybe the older we get, the better it gets. I may have been a little apprehensive before the game but I don't think I was as nervous as I'd get before other games in the past or during it. You got all the coats and ties coming into the umpires room and my son was with me. But I wasn't nervous. In big games, you get nervous and I really wasn't. As the game was going on, from experience, I was calm. And the crowd was wild. But as crazy as the crowd was getting, as they get higher, you have to come down that much lower. You can't get caught up in the excitement because the next thing you know, you'll get quick and you'll call a pitch that's ready to bounce a strike. So I really had to keep myself low as the crowd got high."

And the last play was far from routine.

Brandon Phillips hit a squibbler in front of the plate toward first base that seemed to roll up the entire length of the bat. Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz bounded out, ripped off his mask and, from his knees, grabbed the ball in what seemed like slow motion and fired a strike to Ryan Howard at first.

Roy Halladay, author of a perfect game in May, was in the history books.

Again.

For Hirschbeck, a lot went through his mind.

"First of all, I had the ball going up against the bat. And I had the guy out of the baseline. And I'm thinking the throw is gonna get him in the back and I'm gonna call him out."

So what is the rule if the ball hits the bat?

"If the bat is on the ground like it was and the ball rolls up against it and doesn't alter the course of the ball, it's nothing. If the bat's rolling, then it's interference."

And when it was over, how did he sleep after working the first no-hitter of his professional life?

"You know what? I slept well. We hung in the locker room a little bit, relaxed, came back to the hotel and I slept good."

After missing time in 2007 with a concussion and in 2008 with disc surgery, it was a night John Hirschbeck will never forget.

"I tell my crew, 'Baseball is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get'. Some of those nights, when you wonder what you're doing in this profession, you'd stay locked in your room if you knew what was gonna happen."

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