On an unlined ball field overrun with weeds at Newark's Vailsburg Park Saturday morning, a bunch of men — some with scraggly beards, pot bellies and cigarette smoke pluming from their mouths — warm up for an Amateur Baseball Association recreation league game between the Bombers and Mets.
Once the game starts, it takes less than a half-inning to realize this will not be a typical beer league game — because the umpire, Eddie Reed, might be the most outrageous official to ever wear blue.
Adam Emusov, a 29-year-old from Bloomingdale, is first to chase a fastball and strike out swinging, and Reed erupts like a shaken bottle of champagne suddenly uncorked.
He sprints a couple feet down the first-base line, crouches low, and with a groan drawn deep from his belly, drags out every ounce of the call: "STTTTTTTRIKE!" He then adds, "DON'T THIS BEAT MAKE YOU WANT TO JUMP, JUMP!" an homage to a song from rapper Busta Rhymes. Finally, Reed punctuates the punch out with a sharp jab with his right fist and another, "Huuaaahhh!"
The players smile, laugh and shake their heads, and even Emusov cracks a grin as he trudges back to the dugout. As they all know well, there's nothing quite like being punched out by Eddie the Ump. A 25-second video clip of him referencing rapper 2 Chainz and pop music hit song "Gangnam Style" while punching out batters was uploaded to YouTube, gaining more than 730,000 views and turning Eddie the Ump into a celebrity of sorts.
For more than two years, Reed, 47, has been calling adult rec league games with the same bombastic flair, becoming a cherished — and quirky — part of the league's charm and appeal. And last week, the rest of the world finally caught a glimpse of Reed's act.
"I just try to bring some funk," Reed says. "I just love officiating. I love getting out there. I love the game, and I enjoy bringing some excitement to the game."
A lifelong Newark resident, Reed played baseball and football and ran track at Central High, and a decade ago started umpiring games as a way to get out on the weekends and stay involved with sports. Reed, a computer technician by day, says he always had a distinct, guttural punch out, but about two years ago he started adding to them impromptu music lyrics. Players enjoyed the theatrics, so he kept it going.
Reed's full repertoire was on display Saturday morning, as the two teams combined for more than a dozen strikeouts.
Among the gems Reed unveiled:
* In the second, he referenced the LL Cool J song, "Mama Said Knock You Out."
* In the fourth, he pulled from the MC Hammer classic, "U Can't Touch This," and danced a jig in the infield dirt for good measure.
* From there, he referenced "Peanut Butter Jelly Time," singer James Brown — including another dance — the rap group Run DMC, the wrestler The Rock and hip-hop singer T-Pain, among others.
At different times, Reed twirled, grunted, shook his hips and even took punch out requests from fans. The crowd consisted of the typical groups of wives, children and family members, and a few extra people curious to see the newly famous Reed in action.
"I love it," Emusov says. "At this level of play, obviously we're amateurs. We're not professional baseball players. It's just another part of the game that adds a little fire, a little energy."
While it may be easy to imagine batters would get angry over Reed's punch outs, players insist they love his flamboyance and encourage his antics. In fact, several players, as well as league co-commissioner Larry Frank, say teams constantly request that Reed call their games.
"He's a good person and he's a good umpire," Frank says. "He's not there to make anybody look bad."
Before games, Reed approaches the dugouts and asks the teams whether they want him to call the game straight or have a little fun. And he only adds his signature calls for the rec league adult games, and never the Little League, high school or collegiate games he might work.
Jeff Bendix, one of the league's players and the person who filmed and uploaded the initial video clip, says having Reed behind home plate makes the games more fun.
"Everybody's anticipating it and kind of hoping everybody strikes out," Bendix says, chuckling. "When you strike out, even before he does anything, you're laughing because you're just waiting to see what it's going to be. If he only did it to one person, that person would be pissed. But he just does it the entire game and you just want to hear the next one."
As Saturday's game wore on, each time a batter reached two strikes, both fans and players watched more closely.
"Uh-oh!" a fan shouted during a 2-2 count. "He's in the danger zone! Get him blue! Get him Eddie!"
The final punch out the fan desperately wanted never happened, and the game ended with a 5-2 Bombers victory.
One by one, the players lined up, slapping Reed's hands, thanking him and wrapping their arms around him.
"That's it," Reed calls out. "That's a wrap. Hope you enjoyed the show."