They sat around the umpires' locker room at half past noon and joked that it would be just like Pittsfield, Mass., or Louisville, Ky., or Rochester, N.Y., or any of the dozens of other minor-league cities they once worked.
But no one was laughing.
This was Baltimore on a warm, spring afternoon, and it was Opening Day at Memorial Stadium. The catcher for the Chicago White Sox wasn't some struggling Class AA prospect, it was future Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk. The Baltimore Orioles lineup wasn't loaded with homesick teen-agers. It was sprinkled with millionaires Cal Ripken, Glenn Davis and Dwight Evans.
No one mentioned that it took a strike to make the umpires' dreams come true. These men were big-leaguers for a day, and they were going to savor every moment.
"We're not amateurs," Shawn Kimball said. "We've got 35 years of minor-league experience. We can do this job."
Yesterday, four replacement umpires covered all the bases in the White Sox's 9-1 victory over the Orioles. Their major-league careers lasted exactly nine innings, or 2 hours, 35 minutes.
"We knew it was going to be brief," Kimball said.
The two-day strike by major-league umpires ended yesterday at 7:25 a.m. Replacements worked seven of eight openers, with a regular crew on hand for last night's game between the Milwaukee Brewers and Texas Rangers in Arlington, Texas.
In a four-year agreement, the 60 major-league umpires won pay raises, increases in medical, pension and insurance benefits and a more lucrative postseason pay pool. The owners won the right to select All-Star and postseason umpires based on merit.
"Hey, we had no quarrel with the umpires' position," said Jeff Evans, the Baltimore crew chief who called balls and strikes. "This was by no means a stand on our part. We were called to come in, and we did. If we didn't, others would have."
Becoming a major-league umpire might be one of the toughest jobs to land in the country. The replacements who worked yesterday's game recently had given up their minor-league careers because of bleak big-league prospects.
Evans is a substitute English teacher in Northfield, Vt. Kimball is an office manager for a construction firm in Levant, Maine. Pete DeFlesco, of Trenton, N.J., sells real estate. Scott McDougall, of Tewksbury, Mass., was laid off a month ago from his job in the asbestos removal and demolition business.
"We felt we were good Triple-A umpires and could do the job in the major leagues," said Evans, an 11-year minor-league veteran. "There just aren't any openings in the majors."
Evans, an intense 31-year-old, is 5 feet 9, 155 pounds "soaking wet." He was dwarfed each time Fisk, 6-2, stood behind the plate, but Evans stood his ground with the major-leaguers. He threw a right hook to call out Chicago's Robin Ventura on strikes in the first inning, stared down Baltimore's Bill Ripken on a close strike call and refused to back down when Fisk hesitated at the plate and argued after being called out on strikes.
"I'm not going to lie and say I walked out there comatose," Evans said.
The umpires received positive marks from the players. Fisk called their effort "above average." Baltimore starting pitcher Jeff Ballard said: "Every umpire will miss a couple of calls and get a couple, but, all in all, we came out even."
After the game, the umpires didn't linger on the field. They headed back to their locker room and packed their battered equipment trunks. Their careers were over.
"I guess I'll go home and play a lot of golf," Evans said. "You know, there isn't a whole lot of baseball in Vermont."
Details of the four-year agreement reached yesterday between the American and National leagues and the Major League Umpires Association:
Rise from minimum of $41,000 to $60,000 and from maximum of $105,000 after 20 years to $150,000 after 20 years and $175,000 after 25 years.
Rises from $800,000 to $1.2 million, an increase from $13,333 per umpire to $20,000 per umpire.
Umpires selected by the American and National leagues and the commissioner's office on merit. Under the old agreement, all umpires with six or more years were guaranteed one World Series every 15 years and one postseason assignment every four years. Umpires were prohibited from working major events more than three times in four years.
Extra payment for the 13 crew chiefs rises from $4,000 to $6,000 per season.
Rises from $169 per day to $185 per day.
Increase from two to three weeks, but the league schedules vacations. Under the old agreement, umpires were guaranteed consecutive weeks off and could choose by seniority.
Reimbursement increases from 80 percent to 100 percent for all umpires after 1987.
Coverage rises from $200,000 to $300,000.
If umpires retire between the ages of 55 and 56, they get $300,000 in severance pay.