Little League World Series

In January, I received a letter from Little League that I had been selected to umpire at Little League’s Intermediate Division World Series. I wanted to clarify that there are many divisions in Little League baseball AND softball. Little League holds World Series for various age groups in both baseball and softball.

Most people hear Little League World Series and think of Williamsport, PA. That is the “majors” division. I could go into all the detail, but that is not the purpose of this blog posting. The purpose is the share my experiences at the World Series, to include what happens the months before through the months after.

So, I got my letter on January 17. Before I could tell a few select people privately, the District Administrator (who also received a copy of my letter directly from Little League) had sent a message out to our district staff and other friends. During the process, I found out that two friends also got letters to go to World Series for other divisions. Russ Tudor will be heading to Taylor, MI for the Juniors Baseball; Darren Schuberg will be heading to Easley, SC for the Big League Baseball. Darren and I went to Fort Lauderdale in 2009 for the Southeast Region tournament for Big League.

Spent the weekend checking my gear. I had ordered a new chest protector and shin guards. The previous set have served me well for over 10 years and they still have some life left in them, these will fall into place as my backup gear. My backup gear will probably be passed on to a new umpire.

January 22:
Ordered new field shoes. My plate shoes are still in great shape, so no need to replace them yet.

March 8:
Spent the day getting myself ready by reviewing the rules. What better way to review the rules that to help teach the District rules clinic.

March 15:
Worked with District 9 and District 10 umpires at the plate clinic. I spent my time focused on the softball group. I was really impressed by not only the experienced umpires that came out, but the rookies that came out willing to learn! I expect that this year will have some great umpires in Fairfax and Prince William Counties.

March 29:
Today I spent the day working a rules clinic for Prince William Girls Softball Little League. At lunch, we had the coaches join us to clarify a few rules that have always lead to confusion. Great set up, this allowed us to make sure that the umpires and coaches all hear the same thing! Clarified a few myths and fine tuned a few techniques for the umpires. Looking forward to spending some Saturdays with that group.

Here are a couple of links:
2man-mechanics
2014_D9_Clinic_Presentation

April 12:
A few weeks ago, I get a call… “Hey, been a while since we talked, how you doing?” “Not bad, you?” “Pretty good. Anyway, the reason I called was to ask if MaryJo would sing the National Anthem for Woodbridge Little League’s Opening Ceremony…”

Well, I put them in touch with each other. Last night I got to hear her sing it. We had arranged which way she would turn so I could video tape her singing. As she starts to sing, she turns the other way… At least I got her voice on the video.

Here she is:

July 10 (4:30am):
Last few months have been busy. Working with a PWCGSLL to help get their umpires ready for league play, league tournaments, district tournaments, and even trying to get one or two considered for the State tournament. Got in a few baseball games from Fairfax Little League on the “big field” to help get me ready for baseball.

A few weeks ago things really starting to kick into high gear. Guess it really started the weekend after Memorial Day when I headed down to Southeastern Region for their 4-man clinic. “Just” a weekend deal, but felt like the top of my head was opened and so much stuff just poured in. Got back, did a 4-man and tournament rules clinic for PWCGSLL, then their local tournament started shortly after that. Got in a few softball games this year (did the league championship and had a BLAST! Funny how even the coaches were shocked to hear “In-field Fly, Batter is out!”) and started working a few of the district baseball games. Managed to get a crew from the softball group to do a few baseball games (9-10 and 10-11) for our district.

Then, two weekends ago, it started to hit me. Did the plate for the first of the best of three for the Big League. Next day had the field for game two. Regretfully, having to pay bills kept me from getting to work the third game. Congrats to DTQ for taking the District. Just heard last night that they went undefeated in the State Tournament and are headed to SE Region Tournament in Florida.

Last weekend I did the Seniors on Saturday, and Juniors on Sunday. Got a quick refresher in 3-man mechanics, went off without any problems, no blown coverages! Not bad for a couple of guys that don’t do 3-man on a regular basis (I don’t consider one game a year as a regular basis).

Sunday got home, cleaned all my gear, got all my clothes washed, and packed my gear in to my “compact” bag to put on Scooter. State tournament is fairly close and is a beautiful ride, so I will be taking it down to Luray. Spend the week in the office finishing up projects and getting things handled so I can enjoy a few days on the ballfield without thinking about my projects at work. I did send out a message for work this morning already, but that is it! I am off for a few days. Just wish that the Blackberry understood that.

Anyway, that brings me to now. Actually, this prose started in my mind a few hours ago. Yes, it is now about 5:30am and I have been awake in bed for a while. Blue nudged MaryJo and wanted to go for a little walk, so I got up too. Which brings me to my mental wanderings…

I remember many years ago, my first State Tournament. It was Seniors and was hosted by D-9 at Fort Hunt. Lowell Easterly, our District Administrator invited me to come out and fill in. I was UIC for Dale City Little League and had asked what it would take to get to the next level. I did several games, even had the plate for a 12 inning game. I remember the District UIC (Bill Snyder) commenting on how impressed he was on my timing (play at first, ball comes in ahead of runner, first baseman drops the ball, looks down reaches over, then races back to the bag to actually beat the runner, THEN a second later, I call “OUT”). Funny how something that minor detail can stick in your head for all these years.

My first State Tournament where I went away was hosted at Plaza Little League the following year. It rained so much and so hard that the fields were flooded for a couple of days. A picture in the paper showed a medevac chopper hovering low over the field to try to help dry the field so we could play. I got in a few games, did stay for a few extra days, but couldn’t stay since the tournament was extended for almost a week. Something about having to pay bills.

Looking back, I remember my excitement at those letters the first few years. Waiting in anticipation for the selection, wondering if and where I was going to go. Had some fun ones, had a couple of rough ones. One time I ejected a coach (which I REALLY don’t like to do and avoid at all costs). Even started doing softball a couple of years ago. Last few years I have managed to work in doing two tournaments. As the years progressed, I began to take getting that letter for granted. I “knew” I was going to get a state tournament, sometimes even knew which one and had everything planned before applications were due. Even this year, I “knew” I was going to a state tournament, 99% sure it would be Luray for the Intermediate. Nothing out of the ordinary. Until the last few days.

It hit me. I am going to the World Series! Even when I went to SE Region in 2009, I wasn’t humbled. I was excited! I felt I have paid my dues and I was ready. Not saying I am not excited now, but this is different. It dawned on me this morning why I have been feeling different. I am honored, excited, and humbled. But it was more than just paying my dues. This year is different. I can’t just go out and do good job as an umpire, doing an average job as an umpire is out of the question! I have to set myself as an example to others! People are watching. In the past they watched to give me a rating so I can move up. This year I have to set the standard! People are watching so they can see what they need to do to get the chance that I have been given. I have to show others what it takes to get here. And not just mechanics on the field, but attitude also counts!

So, at 3:00 this morning I was awake. Gear is packed. Clothes washed and laid out. Just need to put them in my bag. Got a few errands planned before heading out. Ready to load up the bike. Got to check in by 1:00 this afternoon. About a 2 hour trip, I will plan on 3 hours (yeah, ANY chance to put the bike on Skyline Drive is worth the extra time!) Excited and humbled. Almost giddy! Ready to hear the National Anthem, sing along in my mind, remember what it means, then say those last two words… “Play Ball!”

July 20:
Been back from Luray for a few days. Had a chance to rest and recuperate. Got my gear packed and it has been shipped to Livermore. Just need to spend this week packing last minute items, re-reading rules and mechanics (how many rotations in a 6-man crew?), trying to give my ankle every minute or rest as possible, and finishing up a few things in the office before heading out.

Luray Final Crew
Had a great time in Luray. Worked a couple of games with the guys that are now at the SE Regional tournament in Apopka, FL. I had the plate for the state championship. Other than one brain fart in my game management, everything seemed to go well. Pitchers throwing strikes, batters  swinging at the strikes, and catchers catching the ones that aren’t hit. My partner and colleague from D-9 got the plate for the championship game in the Region. Well earned! (Go David!)

Every day it gets more and more real. Nervous, excited, scared, humbled, honored. All seem to come to mind.

Well, I am sitting here waiting to here which team (Florida or West Virginia) will join me in Livermore.

July 27 (noon):
Been a busy day and a half. We left home before 4:00am yesterday (Saturday). Flight left at 6:00am, we arrived in San Francisco about 9:00 (Pacific Time). Picked up the rental car and immediately realized we were in a different world, but that is for a completely different blog…

We have lunch with MaryJo’s family in Union City. Visited a couple of Filipino bakeries on our way to Livermore. Got checked into the hotel and went to check out the area. Stopped by Target to pick up a few necessities that we did not bring due to space or weight. Then stopped by the field.

Got to the field and visited with a few of the people there. Dave Wetmore (the tournament director) talked with us for a few minutes and told us that the league will be doing the webcast of all games except the last one, which will be on ESPN2. The schedule and link to the webcast can be found at www.intermediateworldseries.org.

We also talked with the head of the field staff, he told us to go ahead and walk the field. We stepped out on the field and I asked MaryJo to take my picture next to the Little League 75th banner. Then it hit me…

I had a flashback, actually several… Thinking back to my first game, and the reason I had to umpire it. Back to my first confrontation with a parent (first year of “kid pitch”). Then remembered my first State Tournament and my Regional tournament. It has been close to 20 years umpiring Little League. With the support and help of countless friends and family, I now stand on the field where I have been given the chance to support kids that have earned their way to the World Series.

This morning, got up and had breakfast in the courtyard of the hotel. We enjoyed some of the pastries that we got yesterday at the bakeries. After breakfast, went to church then to the Farmer’s Market in Livermore. Spent our daily meal budget on fresh fruit, bread, and home-made hummus (shameless plug for Hummus Heaven, a family business in the area, Google them!)

Enjoying lunch in the hotel before my umpire meeting at 3:00 this afternoon. After the meeting, we will head to the field followed by an open house for the umpires and families.

We will try to update later today…

July 28
Wow, meeting at 3:00 yesterday and we have been on the run ever since.

We got our assignments for the first two days. I got lucky and have the plate for the first game (9:00am). Not sure if it is good luck or bad luck, but I get to call the first pitch of the Intermediate World Series this year.

I get a break after the first game, then have the left field line for the 4:00 game. On Wednesday, I have the 12:30pm game on the right field line, then move to third base for the 7:00pm game.

We had the Manager/Coach meeting this morning. Emotions almost kicked in again when we announced our names and where we live. Talking with a couple of the other guys afterwards, we all felt like it was surreal. We have been preparing for this for months, but just now realizing it is coming true.

After that, we headed out to the field to check helmets and bats. Easton donated 14 bats to each team, but some kids still wanted to use their old bats, so we checked them. One helmet was split about 3-4 inches right up the back of the helmet. “I never noticed that all season…” Also had a couple of bats that were flat which we removed. One team commented that the bat we pulled had been pulled because it was flat at the Regional tournament. Come on! It isn’t going to magically become round traveling from your home to here!

Back at the hotel for a little break before heading to the parade this afternoon and out to eat with the crew later tonight. Games start in the morning. Now we will all kick into auto pilot and do what we were called out here to do.

July 29:
Well, I can officially report that I am now a Little League World Series Umpire. As I state above, I was selected to work the plate for the first game.

The announcers introduced the umpires first. Still had butterflies as were went out onto the field. The teams were introduced, National Anthems of Canada was played. Due to technical difficulties, they were no able to play the Curacao  National Anthem, so the coach sang it!

Gary at the plate

The umpire coordinator said that we could have a ball from our plate game. So, I started the game with my usual “PLAY!” First pitch came in, I called time and asked the catcher for the ball. Gave him a new ball and tossed the first pitch ball of the 2014 Little League Intermediate World Series to the side. After the game, I took that ball, had all my partners sign it, and wrote that it was the first pitch of the series. I bought a case for it at lunch. Needless to say, it will have a special place in my heart.

After a few pitches, I just focused on doing my job at a baseball game. Saying it was just another game would not be fair. But I had to focus on it being just another game.

Game went pretty well. I got a shoe “check”, a chest protector “check”, a shin guard “check”, and even a cup “check”. Felt like I was being used for target practice. Hit with baseballs and bats a good part of the game. Flinched a bit near the end since I was becoming skittish.

Curacao won the first game. We were off for the second game, and I had the left field line for the third game (Korea vs. Puerto Rico). Fairly close for a while, but PR finally won 8-2.

Sitting in the hotel, I hear that West Virginia defeated Host (California D-57) 12-2 in 5 innings.

August 22
Sorry that I haven’t updated since the fist day of the tournament. Things just were non-stop, then our vacation, finally had to get settled back in at work. Wow. It has been almost a month since it started, two and a half weeks since it ended, and I am still awestruck by the whole experience.

Actually, WOW would be an understatement. I don’t know how to express in words how it felt. So many feelings. And so many people that thanks for making our visit as exciting as it was. Dave W., Dave M., Melanie, Dana, Gerard, Kamlesh, all the field people, all the concession people, and so many others that were there to support us.

I have heard other umpires mention that they stay in touch with the others on their crew long after the tournament is done. It is true. I gained 11 new brothers in blue on the ball field. We were passing text messages during a recent game.

Thinking back on the whole experience still sends shivers up my spine. Very humbling to know that we were able to make it there.

My kids and many friends watched the championship game. My co-workers checked out some of the pictures and the live stream video throughout the tournament. After the championship game, I got back to the umpire trailer and I had a text message. Expecting it to be my bride to tell me where she would meet me, I did a quick glance. Nope, wasn’t her. It was a close friend from Virginia that had watched the game. He said that when they said there was a balk, he knew that it had to be me. Claimed I was the only person with the cajonas to call a balk in the championship game, with a runner on third base no less! We got home and watched the replay to listen to what the announcers would have to say. I was excited when they simply said, “Oh, that was a balk” then explained to the viewers right away without having to check their notes!

So much more I have to say, and MaryJo wants to add a new section for the trip.

 

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