The letter…

It’s mid-December and no news isn’t good news.

It was the middle of December and, as usual, I had come back from a business trip.

Wait, I should probably back up….

Hi there!  Welcome to my blog about my journey as an umpire for the 2017 Little League World Series.  Here you’ll find, hopefully, entertaining anecdotes about all the things you ever wanted to know about, well, such an experience!  Please feel free to leave comments, ask questions, give me grief….whatever floats your boat.  I hope you enjoy it.

So, back to the story…

In my other job (the one that pays the bills), I travel extensively for business…and by extensively, I mean, 40+ weeks out of the year.  The other ~12 weeks?  You guessed it – Little League Baseball and Softball.  We’ll get to that later.

I’ve been active in Little League as a volunteer since 1980, when as a 12 year old, I started umpiring at Dolton-Riverdale Little League, in Dolton, IL – a collar suburb on the southern border of Chicago.

Back to the real job – I was out of town on business, as usual.  I’m (very) active on Facebook in most, if not all, of the umpire forums and started seeing notifications about ‘golden tickets’ being received and the anticipation and excitement that those who had gotten their letters were having.  So, I got back home around December 16, dropped my stuff, and looked for the magic letter and…..nothing.

I’m grateful, of course, for being a part of Little League.  I’ve had an incredible ‘career’ in Little League as an umpire, a District Umpire, an Assistant District Administrator, District UIC/Umpire Consultant a 9-time Regional Umpire and a two-time World Series Umpire (JRSBWS, BLSBWS).  I’m also the Assistant Tournament Director and Tournament UIC for the Central Region Junior Softball Regional Tournament (http://www.crjrsbtournament.com) and a member of the year-old Central Region Umpire Advisory Committee and Umpire School staff – so I have plenty of accomplishments and have had plenty of great experiences – more than many have.

But like most umpires who seek to do post-season tournament work, I too set out to get to Williamsport and the Little League World Series.  Several of my colleagues have been, and my umpire mentor (Bill Hyman), mentor and former CR UIC (Jeff Knoebel) went, my fellow CRUAC members Pat Griffin and Jason Kelley went, and I’ve been fortunate to have known and/or worked with the Central Region umpires who went over the last 10 years (John Ignacio, Tom Sauer, Jeremy Kautza, Bob Rigg, Rick Castle, Bruce Cline, Sam Fontecchio, Chet Cooper, Jerry Millage, Jesse Howard, Mike Legge and a whole list of others…) as well as many of the umpires I’ve met throughout cyberspace and have become friends with (Brian Henry, Mark Bernstein and others)  I wanted to be a part of their honored company and, hopefully, live up to their example in the greatest show Little League offers.

But, there was no letter, and it seemed like, at least from the frequency of posts in the forums, the selections were done and it was time to move on into another season.

So, like the career-minded guy I am, what did I do?  I went on another business trip!  Seattle, which is where my current company (and supporter of LL), Slalom (http:/www.slalom.com) has its HQ, and spent the majority of the week before Christmas there.

So I came home on Thursday night, expecting to deal with last minute Christmas plans, etc. and there, on my desk (my other half, Tracey, leaves my mail on my desk when I’m out of town) was a letter from Little League, International.

Thankfully, she didn’t open it.  Tracey supports my umpire thing.  She was a very competitive softball player in high school and later as an adult, playing for three different countries as well as Junior Olympic level softball (at that time).  She understands the commitment it takes to do this thing, and she’s very supportive about it.  So, she also knows how important this journey has been for me and didn’t want to ruin the surprise.

But, there it was, the letter, on the desk.

I actually didn’t want to open it.  I mean, I wanted to open it, but I didn’t want to open it.  If it wasn’t ‘the’ letter, I was going to be really disappointed and….well, you get it.

So, I opened it and started reading….that first word ‘Congratulations!’ was all I needed to see.  I get the chance to represent the Central Region, all of the umpires and fans of umpires I’ve worked with over 36 years of working Little League Baseball and Softball, my umpire mentors and friends, the Illinois District 6 Umpires over the years, and my Mom and Dad, my Brother and his family, Tracey and Chris (Tracey’s son) – all of whom have given to me along the way.  Without them and without their support, I simply wouldn’t be here and wouldn’t have this incredible opportunity and honor.

It’s a humbling thing to know that you are going to be on an international stage surrounded by 13 of your soon-to-be friends doing this thing that you love….and doing it in front of millions of people and for millions of players, coaches, scorekeepers, concession stand workers, team moms and dads,  groundskeepers, other volunteers and, of course, the hundreds of thousands of volunteer umpires out there in the Little League universe.  I’m going to do my best to live up to their expectations and be the best I can be, and honor them too.  The kids deserve it, the volunteers deserve it and the program deserves it.

The journey to the 2017 LLWS begins!  I hope you’ll come along for the ride.





Time to get oriented.

It’s the middle of May, and baseball (and specifically Little League Baseball and Softball) seasons have started.  It’s also time to start, officially, on the Road to Williamsport.

In order to get the future Little League World Series umpire crew acclimated and oriented, LL International has flown the umpires out to Williamsport for a two-day orientation session.  We’ll cover the uniqueness of the event, communication and social media protocols, uniforming, and the like.  We’ll do cage and field work to ensure that we are sound mechanically.  We’ll start to gel together as a crew and, eventually become the third team out there.

The ability to realize a goal and achieve a dream is an incredibly powerful and humbling thing.  Especially when the way go get here wasn’t certain, relied on the convictions of others and was frought with twists, turns and unforeseen circumstances – including some just a few months ago that could have up-ended the opportunity altogether.

But, I’m here now, alone, sitting in my dorm room where the Manager/Coaches of the teams who will eventually be here stay, sitting at the small pressed wood desk with a single incandescent lamp illuminating the room (far better than the hyper-bright soul sucking fluorescent overhead light) trying to take it all in – not too quickly, but in measured doses, like sips on a straw.

The trip started today at O’Hare International Airport, meeting fellow umpire and proud Canadian, Brad Johnston from Calgary, AB.  We shared a delayed, short flight from Chicago to State College, PA where we were greeted by ‘Bill’ who drove us from the airport at State College to the complex at Williamsport to meet the rest of the crew who were already well into dinner.

The crew, save for two of our Western Region colleagues, all met at The Mountaineer for dinner.  The Mountaineer, a short walk down (and then back up) the hill from the LL Complex is the quintessential central Pennsylvania bar and restaurant.  The town watering hole, the public house, the place where everyone goes and where everyone knows your name – even if they haven’t met you yet.  Dinner was graciously provided by the Umpire Coordinator and staff (Tom Rawlings, Mike Legge, Frank Policaro, and others).

After dinner, I found my assigned dormitory – New England – and even a door with my name on it.  Convenient.

The assigned dorm room - complete with name tag
They even know your name at Williamsport!

Breakfast at 7:30am sharp and orientation starts promptly at 8:15am.  One moment, one day, one step closer to August!