- Associated Press - Saturday, May 10, 2014

PASADENA, Md. (AP) - Rob McQuay needs just a second to decide if he’s going to call a batter out or a runner safe.

For McQuay, 51, umpiring is easy compared to the day he had just seconds to save his own life.

It was Aug. 1, 1990. The Hanover resident was with his wife and 2-year-old son in Ocean City. Two days earlier, Hurricane Bertha had barreled north parallel to the Eastern Seaboard. Bertha had left some outstanding body surfing waves in her wake.

McQuay couldn’t wait to go in the water. It would be the last time he walked.

“I went in the ocean to catch a wave, but it came down on me and broke my neck in two places,” McQuay said.

“The next thing I knew, I was being tossed and turned in the waves. I didn’t know anything was wrong. My first thought was to swim to get out of the current, but nothing moved. Then I knew I was in trouble.”

It was the first glimpse McQuay had of his new life.

“I held my breath, and had a vision of myself and my 2-year-old son on a track like you see around a high school football field. I was in a wheelchair,” McQuay said.

“I did something I hadn’t done in at least 10 years. I prayed to God. I told him I’d lived the fun life, the fast life, but that life is over. I asked for him to let me live.”

McQuay held his breath long enough to wash up near shore. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see a woman running toward him.

The next thing he knew, he was out of the water and heading to a hospital in Salisbury. From there, he was flown to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore.

His old life was over and a new life began. For the last 16 years, that life has included umpiring baseball games.

McQuay has worked sub-varsity high school baseball for the Anne Arundel Umpires Association for 10 years. He worked previously with the Christian Athletic Association in Catonsville.

So what makes a man in a wheelchair want to umpire?

“I love this game, thinking about what will happen next and where do I need to be,” McQuay said. “I enjoy the kids. I even enjoy the coaches.”

McQuay found umpiring the way he ended up in a wheelchair - by accident.

“My wife was tired of listening to my neighbor and I complain about the coaching when my son was playing baseball,” McQuay said. “The next season I was coaching when the league’s director asked me about umpiring. That was 1998, my son was 10 years old and I haven’t stopped.”

Because he is paralyzed to different extents in all four limbs, McQuay is classified as a quadriplegic. He is numb from both pinkie fingers to his elbows and has no use of the muscles from his stomach down to his toes.

The paralysis extends to his lower back, and he must secure his feet in his chair with a bungee cord to combat involuntary movement.

But McQuay has learned to adapt to his lack of mobility on the baseball diamond.

“I trade distance for angle,” McQuay explains. “I get stopped, sit still and make the best call I can.”

McQuay’s biggest limitation is staying ahead of the play after a ball has been hit.

“No matter how hard I try, I’m always trailing the batter-runner into second on a double,” McQuay said. “I could work from the infield exclusively and forgo the A position on the foul line behind first base, but I don’t because the chances of me getting hit increase.”

There are positives, too, especially when he’s behind the plate.

“When I’m slotted between the hitter and catcher, my head is in the same position every time,” said McQuay, who umpires three to four games a week. “I would like to think I’m consistent at calling balls and strikes because I’m not moving up and down on every pitch.”

The AAUA’s Michael Wolfe, who assigns umpires to county schools, praises McQuay’s ability and attitude.

“I get a lot of compliments on his work behind the plate from the coaches in high school and summer leagues, as well as his fellow umpires,” Wolfe said.

McQuay also adapts to odd situations, like when a live ball becomes lodged in his chair. That has happened two or three times.

“My chair is like any other piece of umpire equipment,” McQuay said. “It’s a dead ball and we put runners where they need to go.”

He has spent the last seven years teaching at the Institute on the Constitution, focusing on the U.S. and Maryland constitutions as well as the duties of jurors. Since the accident, McQuay has also become an ordained Methodist minister.

“The person I was before the accident died in the water that day,” he said. “I was the classic prodigal son, but I wasn’t doing what God wanted me to do like I am today.”

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Information from: The Capital of Annapolis, Md., http://capitalgazette.com

Copyright © 2017 The Washington Times, LLC.

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