Baseball has been my passion for years. I quit playing the game at 13, yet there was something about it that compelled me to stay involved. The way to do that was to umpire.
I've been fortunate in that regard. When umpiring became serious for me, and it wasn't until I was in my 30's, I found myself around great umpires who knew the game and how it was to be officiated.
I was hungry. I'd been refereeing basketball even longer, starting at 12, and I had a handle on a pretty good basketball officiating schedule that included state playoff games for boys and girls high school play. But baseball, it was a bigger challenge. The rules are complicated and the intricacies are many. I wanted to learn.
Those great umpires around me taught me well. Then one of those younger umpires went to pro umpire school. He came back and the lessons he taught made me even more inspired to get this challenge down and to take it on headfirst.
Through his tutelage and connections I began working college baseball. It was a stroke of luck met with desire and willingness to learn. The Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Umpires Association was instrumental in that education.
The fever didn't leave. There was more to learn and more to accomplish. I was working a fairly busy college schedule with a couple of games a week, but the biggies were conference play on weekends. There were higher levels to work. And as I learned I discovered I also had a knack for umpiring.
There is something, some intangible, in every good umpire. They fit on the field and they just get it. It being the spirit and flow of the game. You can't teach it, it's just there. Others knew I had it before I did. Their encouragement made a world of difference for me.
Still, there was more. I found myself, again through the men I met because of the game, at the Jim Evans Academy of Professional Umpiring. It was one of three pro school that existed at the time. It was the right place for me and the classwork was intense. I was 37 with no real chance to get a job in the pro game, but the education was still worth it. My collegiate schedule expanded immediately and I was working those weekend conference games in addition to the weekday games. The friends I still have today were worth the time and investment. The experiences I had in about 5 years of working some level of minor league baseball made it worthwhile. It's the same for the friends made then, too.
I haven't umpired seriously in some 17 years. The passion is still there, but since the radio career began, the time just isn't. Early to bed and up at 3:15 just won't allow being on a ball field until 10 or 11 at night and back ready to work the next morning.
And, something I hadn't anticipated: once you work those higher levels of play, umpiring even high school games becomes more difficult. I initially wanted to keep umpiring even in lesser quality play. I did for a couple of years. It was hard. The standards were different. The behavior by players and coaches did not reach the level of professionalism I had become used to. There are those unwritten rules of respect and conduct that even experienced high school coaches don't understand. It wasn't fun anymore and the quality of play made it less enjoyable. It was time to hang it up.
Still, I enjoy the game. Watching good baseball is something that is just hard to beat. Even more, watching those men I met in my time in the game succeed is even more of a joy. It's fun to see those guys you worked with or those guys who taught you and see them working at the highest levels. In most TV games I see an umpire I ran into along the way.
These last couple of weeks though have been something special. First, we talked to David Speaks on the show last week. He had umpired the congressional baseball game just days after the shooting at republican practice. David is one of those guys I was fortunate to share field time with in some very good college games. That friendship has endured.
And as I watch this week's College World Series I see two of my former Evans instructors. They are working together as I write this. Adam Dowdy and Steve Mattingly were instrumental in my baseball education. In fact it was Steve who pointed me in the direction of the Evans Academy for my baseball training.
It's exciting to see them working and doing the great job they are ever so ready to do. And as I watch it I am texting with a friend made at the Academy, Dan Mitolo in Pittsburgh. We share in this joy at watching these great umpires work high caliber baseball. They taught us well and we benefitted from it.
Who knew then that the real benefit would be lifelong friends and even more joy in a kid's game that we already loved?