All-Star Scholarship Graduate - Zoe Cottom
A World Series First
honor, and it’s the ultimate achievement. When it’s an umpire’s first World Series, you’d imagine that there would be extra pressure placed on their shoulders. There’s something you’ll notice about umpires though: they’re not like the rest of us. They embrace the stress to the point where they don’t even feel it. Jim Wolf is a shining example of this. Like his colleagues, the man affectionately known as “Wolfee” didn’t shy away from the pressure of the bright lights; not in the least. Jim Wolf seized the opportunity to become a member of a hand-picked crew representing the officiators of baseball. He took every moment of this incredible experience in stride and even found a way to share his career’s greatest accomplishment. Despite it being his first visit to the big dance, Jim Wolf and his fellow blues didn’t just relish in the spotlight of their own career achievement, they brought some of that World Series magic to share with children hospitalized at Mount Sinai Kravis Children's Hospital located in New York City.
New Year's Resolutions
One of the main goals of UMPS CARE Charities is to put a smile on the faces of the kids we visit with. Thank you to all our supporters for everything you do for helping us make sure that resolution is something we can easily keep.
The 2015 season has been a big year for UMPS CARE. So far the year has included our most successful Online Auction to date, new fundraisers such as our UMPS CARE & AMLU Bowling Tournament and a Hike for Bears, and the creation of an UMPS CARE Informational video. While new things have been added, a few things have not changed - the lives that are touched through our initiatives. Our programs bring joy to children and families in need whether through an evening at a baseball game, a teddy bear to hold while in the hospital or financial support for college. This edition will spotlight the power of connection through stories of individuals UMPS CARE has helped, and stories of supporters who help make it all possible. Thanks to each and every one of you who make these connections happen.
Get to Know an Ump - Gerry Davis
Gerry Davis didn't grow up wanting to become a major league umpire. Gerry grew up in St. Louis and like every red-blooded kid at that time he wanted to become a baseball player.
Gerry played baseball and basketball growing up and went on to play for a travel baseball team. During that time he hurt his arm so couldn’t pitch. His coach told him since he was hurt and couldn’t play, he would umpire the game saving the $8 or $10 the coach would have paid the umpire. After the game his coach saw Gerry had an eye for balls and strikes and suggested he go to umpire school. Unbeknownst to him, the coach sent away for the application and had it mailed to Gerry’s house.
While he wasn’t sure about umpiring as a career, he had a knack for it and it took him all the way to the major leagues. He said, “I knew I wanted to be involved in sports in some capacity because sports had always been my passion growing up.”
Gerry went to Al Somers’ umpiring school in 1976. He recalls, “Even when I went to umpire school I didn’t know that’s what I wanted to do. Once I got there and got immersed in it I fell in love with it. I got to learn everything there is about umpiring….positioning, mechanics and more. It was everything I had been looking for.” Gerry finished first in his class and began his minor league career.
Gerry spent six years in the minor leagues. “I was always fortunate enough to have very good crew partners. I didn’t make a lot of money but I have fond memories of that time.” Gerry umpired in the Midwest league, AA, the Eastern League, and American Association. During the off-seasons he went to the Florida instructional league and the Puerto Rican winter league. He loved his time in Puerto Rico. “It was a great time down there. It was my first time outside of the U.S. and I appreciated living in a different culture …….It was also great because the six umpires that were there pretty much all lived together in the same area so there was a lot of camaraderie.”
Gerry Davis (2nd from L) and his crew in St. Louis.
Gerry’s first big league game was in Montreal on June 9, 1982, the Cardinals vs. the Expos. The Expos were in the pennant race so it was a sold out game. Gerry recalls the day: “It was special. It was televised back in St. Louis so all of my friends and family got to see it. I worked 1st base – and after my first call one of my partners, Jerry Crawford, rolled the ball to me for keeps.”
Gerry is now in his 34th year in the major leagues and is the longest tenured crew chief. He has worked four All-Star Games, 12 Division Series, 10 League Championship Series and five World Series, giving him the most post season games worked by an umpire in MLB history. When asked what advice he gives to younger umpires, he stated, “Continue to work hard regardless of the score or the game. Someone is always watching. You need to treat each game like it’s the biggest game you’ve had.”
Gerry got involved in UMPS CARE back when it was first forming and the mission was to support people in the umpiring community who had fallen on hard times. He has stuck behind the cause throughout the years and enjoys doing the hospital visits, bringing smiles to the children’s faces.
In His Free Time
Gerry is a big country music fan. He likes Garth Brooks, Toby Keith, and George Strait. He gets out to concerts every chance he can. He is addicted to USA Crossword and Sudoku, so does those puzzles daily. Gerry is also a big Green Bay Packer fan. He said, “If you spend the winters in Wisconsin you are either a Packer fan or an ice fisherman.”
If Gerry were not an umpire he would be involved in sports in some other capacity. Gerry coached junior college basketball during the off-season at the University of Wisconsin at Fox Valley. For many years he also officiated basketball. He says he utilized a lot of the same skills but noted the biggest difference was, “ In basketball, after a call, you put the ball in play and the game goes on. In baseball, if a manager has a disagreement they come out on the field, stop the game, and argue with you; it doesn’t happen in basketball.”
Gerry also focuses on his officiating equipment business, Gerry Davis Sports. It all started when he redid the umpires plate shoe in 1997. He recalls, “At the time there were two different types of shoes. One was a very athletic shoe, which allowed us to run around but did not have enough protection, and one was a big steel worker shoe, which had all types of protection but was not athletic. I said, ‘Let’s combine these two into one shoe.’ I went to Cove Shoe company outside of Pittsburgh and we developed a shoe. It was immediately very successful so I started a business out of it.” Gerry Davis Sports has all kinds of officiating gear because, as Gerry knows, most amateur umpires officiate other sports as well.
The Real 'Fake Umps' Joe Farrell (L) and Tim Williams (R)
A long, long time ago (well, 2009) in a country far, far away (well, okay, it was Canada), a young man said to four MLB umpires he met in a restaurant, "Hey, my season tickets are right behind home plate -- wouldn't it be hilarious if you sent me two official uniforms and I could 'fake umpire' at a future game?" Forty-eight hours later a package appeared at his desk at work containing all he asked for, plus a challenge to back up his words with action.
And The Real Fake Umpires were born.
Yes, the antics of Tim Williams and Joe Farrell started perhaps as a lark, a joke when talking baseball with umps in a restaurant, but it turned into an extremely popular activity and led to a great relationship with UMPS CARE Charities to boot.
The two used their perch directly behind home plate to emulate everything the umpires on the field did -- they call balls and strikes, brush off an imaginary home plate, motion for foul tips, make out and safe signs, and even "help" eject players or managers who need an early shower. Their talent for mimicry and their enthusiasm for the craft helped build a strong fan base.
"We noticed right off the bat that fans really liked the creativity and effort we exuded to make this happen," explained Tim. The positive feedback encouraged the two to "take the show on the road" to a number of stadiums in the United States. The response, they say, was rabid.
"Many times it would take us hours to get out of the stadium," said Joe, "as fans would want pictures or autographs, believe it or not." The Real Fake Umps became so popular, ESPN sent a camera crew to Toronto for a weekend to document their antics for E:60. They also were invited by the Washington Nationals to "umpire" the ever-popular Mascot Race during a game.
At this point, the popularity of the Real Fake Umps made the duo realize they might be able to do some good with it. They did an Internet search and UMPS CARE Charities immediately caught their eye. "We found out that the MLB umpires' official charity was UMPS CARE," they said, "so it was logical to try to raise them some money via this fake umpiring act." The Real Fake Umps always pay 100% of their own expenses as well, making sure all donations go directly to UMPS CARE Charities.
The duo retired from umpiring for a while, but agreed to a special One Night Only comeback this year when they noticed a pair of imposters. "There was a game in San Francisco in early July where two 'fake fake umpires' sat behind home plate in the front row and stole the act we invented in 2009," said Tim. Added Joe, "These two 'fake fake umpires' put on a very shabby act and we decided that we needed to come out of retirement for one game to restore some integrity and proper fundamentals to the craft that is real fake umpiring."
As luck would have it, the game they selected (Washington Nationals at New York Mets) ended up being moved to ESPN's Sunday Night Game of the Week, providing national coverage for their triumphant return. The two were front and center behind home plate, receiving lots of camera time and even a shout-out from the broadcast crew, who talked about how the pair were raising money for UMPS CARE and putting on a great show for fans as well.
Tim and Joe ended up raising more than $7,000 for the charity with just one game. Their total donations now add up to more than $15,000 through the Real Fake Umps, and another $20,000-plus generously donated through sponsorships of the UMPS CARE Golf Classic by Tim and his wife, Caroline.
While they're again retired, the Real Fake Umps continue to support UMPS CARE Charities. "My wife Caroline and I have continued to be an annual sponsor at the UMPS CARE Golf Classic every January in Phoenix," Tim said, "and appreciate the efforts and the charity’s undertakings with ill children, under-privileged youth, and kids awaiting adoption."
And have we seen the last of the Real Fake Umps? Promised Joe, "Due to the popularity of the act, we reserve the right to come out of retirement in the future if or when the time calls for it and we can raise some money for the charity."
We'll all be waiting.
Written by Kevin Cuddihy
A Real Life Game Changer
Well hey there reader! My name Jeremy Adkins, and with any luck, I’ll be contributing on a regular basis to this wonderful organization’s newsletter. I got involved with UMPS CARE Charities due the kindness of Jim Reynolds, Jennifer Skolochenko-Platt, and Jennifer Jopling. I’m currently a college student, and previously served five years active duty in the United States Army as an infantry line medic in the 10th Mountain Division, and a medic at the United States Disciplinary Barracks (prison) in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. I got out of the Army and started college in 2011, and the summer of 2012 was the end of my first year. Let me tell you something, that year was difficult. Entering the college environment following five years of active duty, uncertainty and confusion loomed around every corner. I didn’t know who I was anymore, and I didn’t have any direction because I wasn’t sure what I was trying to accomplish. This led to a pretty serious battle, adjusting to a civilian lifestyle, as well as coping with my wartime service. I’d sought help through my local Veteran’s Administration, but that effort failed miserably. After being informed that I was going to be placed on an extensive wait list to receive any assistance whatsoever, I realized that I needed to come to terms with a very harrowing fact: I was on my own for this plight. Really though, I wasn’t, and UMPS CARE is a major reason for that, which is why I’m about to tell you this story.
Around the same time the VA put me on that wait list, my father won an auction from UMPS CARE Charities, a charity he’d discovered while ordering umpire equipment through www.ump-attire.com, for lunch with an umpire and tickets to a baseball game in St. Louis. My dad and I are both lifelong baseball fans, and we’d even umpired little league baseball together before and after my time in the Army, so knowing the struggles that I was going through, he invited me along. UMPS CARE arranged for use to meet an umpire in Kansas City, where we live, but still allow us to go to a Cardinals game in St. Louis. Enter Jim Reynolds. Jim was the umpire that we’d been afforded the opportunity to have lunch with, and immediately the three of us hit it off. Throughout the entire duration of the conversation, Jim conveyed the mission of UMPS CARE and absolutely lit up as he was discussing it. It was no secret how passionate he is about the charity, and you could tell that it genuinely brought him joy to make a difference in people’s lives! Since I’d been out of the military, I had never met anyone as dedicated as Jim towards charity and good will. As we talked, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “Wow, this is really something I can get behind!” That lunch, that ninety minute lunch with Jim, brought to focus what I needed in my own life. When I left the Army, I left with the impression that my life of service was fulfilled. Let me tell you though, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Jim, unknowingly, brought to me the epiphany that service can never be complete, no matter what. He lit the flame to the torch that I needed to guide myself down a path for not only creating a better life for myself, but to transfer my service from the military to my community. At the end of our lunch, he gave us his cell phone number and told us to call him if we needed anything, and I took that to heart.
Jeremy Adkins (R) with his father (L) and umpire Jim Reynolds (C) at the World Series in Kansas City
The next two years, Jim and I maintained contact with one another. He’d call just to see what I was up to, and I’d send texts. It was great to stay in touch with such a motivating and genuine person, especially as I was undergoing even more life change transferring to a four year university and becoming even more heavily involved in community service. Then, in 2014, the three of us were all destined to be a part of some serious baseball magic, though at the time, it was only Jim that was to have that experience. The 2014 baseball season was an insane rollercoaster ride that carried Kansas City through an epic undefeated post season run that revitalized the city and made us all crazy for baseball, and my dad and I were right in the thick of it. The newfound postseason glory came with a price though, as World Series ticket prices skyrocketed on the secondary market. With the rising ticket prices, there was no way we’d be able to attend the games, and this was a difficult fact to swallow. In 1989, the year after I was born, my dad was invited to attend the earthquake World Series involving the Oakland Athletics and the San Francisco Giants, and he made a decision that no die-hard baseball fan would ever dream of making. He said no! He told his friend he’d “attend a World Series when my son is old enough to go with me.” Little did he know that as Royals fans keeping that dream alive, he’d have to wait until 2014 to do so, and ticket prices would become the second most expensive in the history of the World Series. Like the great guy he is though, Jim Reynolds stepped in to rescue the day. Jim was elected to serve as a member of the umpire crew for the 89thAnnual World Series, and not only did he offer us the opportunity to purchase tickets to attend the Series, but the man invited us to the World Series Gala with him and his family. A gesture of kindness of that magnitude seems incredibly abnormal, but having been able to get to know Jim over the last three years, I’ve realized that that’s just the type of guy that Jim Reynolds is. He makes special moments happen.
A year later, he’s kept making special moments happen. I travelled to Pittsburgh on my way to a wedding party, and Jim was umpiring the series. Trying to complete an item on my bucket list of attending a game at all thirty stadiums, I gave him a call, and he set aside tickets for me at will-call. I met up with a friend of mine that I’d served in the Army with, as well as his wife and son. My friend had never been to a baseball game with his son, but that night Jim gave them the opportunity to make that memory happen. Later on in the summer, the popularity of the Royals continued to gain momentum, and they wound up having four starters elected to the All Star Game. Not wanting to miss that opportunity, Jim offered me the opportunity to purchase two tickets to that game so that my dad and I could go. Well unfortunately, my dad couldn’t get the time off of work, but Kaleb, a close friend of mine filled for him, and as of now he still owes my dad a steak dinner for that. Attending the All Star Game is an unfathomable dream for some lifelong baseball fans, especially the two of us, and this All Star Game became particularly special. Not only was our hometown team well represented for the first time since the seventies, but we found out that the All Star Game had some unexpected surprises for us in store, making it one of the most memorable experiences of our lives.
When we entered the stadium, we went to get our shirts pressed with our names and ages on the back of them, to commemorate the experience. My jersey was turned away because it was soaked from a rainstorm that pounded Cincinnati just prior to the gates opening. Standing there waiting for Kaleb I saw a ticket stand for the Cincinnati Reds 50/50 charity raffle. “Hey, wanna do a 50/50?” I asked Kaleb, “Eh, yeah sure,” he
Jeremy (L) with his friend Kaleb (R) at the All-Star Game in Cincinnati
said after some thought. “Ten bucks or twenty?” He mulled it over, as he’d taken three days of unpaid vacation to even be there in the first place, and said “Let’s just do ten.” So he gave me five dollars, and I went and purchased the ticket, put it in my wallet, and forgot about it. We made our way down to batting practice hoping to snag a baseball, and wouldn’t you know it, Minnesota Twins reliever Glen Perkins pointed out Kaleb and threw him a ball! At 33 years old, Kaleb had never received a baseball from a Major League Baseball game, and he about jumped out of his pants in excitement. He even posted a picture of it on Facebook with the caption “I’m a little kid in a candy shop today!” Yeah, we both knew by that point it was already the best day ever, but it kept getting better. When Hank Aaron, Sandy Koufax, Willie Mays, and Johnny Bench stepped on the field together, I felt like a little kid again. I couldn’t believe my eyes, as these were the legends I’d grown up reading about and idolizing, and seeing them stand there together sent chills down my spine and filled my eyes with wet memories. For any baseball fan, that moment at the All Star Game seeing the All Stars of our childhood, was a dream that could tide you over for a decade.
The All Star Game wasn’t done with us yet though. Around the fourth inning while we made a beer run, Kaleb looked at me with this ridiculous grin and said, “Man the only thing that would make this day better is if we won the 50/50 raffle.” I looked at him and laughed, and he kept grinning, both of us knowing the improbability of that actually happening. In Kansas City, they announce the numbers in the seventh inning, so when that inning rolled around, he smacked me and yelled “Dude get out the ticket! We gotta check!” I pulled it out and gave it to him, and went back to a conversation I was having. They didn’t announce the numbers, so he tried to give me back the ticket. I looked at him and said “Dude, with the day you’ve been having, just hold onto it and rub some luck on it or something.” Eighth inning rolled around, and I continued the conversation I was having with some folks in front of us. All of a sudden I feel this smack on my back, “We won, oh my God dude, we won.” I looked at him and told him to shut up, and went right back to my conversation. He smacked me again, “No, we actually won!” I looked at the numbers, and I couldn’t believe my eyes. We split $53,000 that night.
None of this would’ve happened if it wasn’t for UMPS CARE, and the continued kindness and generosity of Jim Reynolds. He’s given me the opportunity to have experiences I’d never thought I’d live to see, and at the same time, experiences that seemed impossible. When I see Jim in his position knowing full well that philanthropic service doesn’t need to be a priority to him, I’m in utter disbelief. But he does it anyway, because he can. Since meeting Jim Reynolds, I’ve been attempting to continue a life of service through volunteer projects at my university, including going on a weeklong mission trip to Guatemala last Spring Break. I’ve also flourished in college, maintaining a high grade point average and even winning a research award. When I look back the service projects, the successes, and that ninety minute lunch Jim shared with my dad and I, I often wonder if my life would be the same without that fateful meeting, and honestly I don’t think it would be. Jim Reynolds changed my life.
Written by Jeremy Adkins
In This Issue:
Spring Training is nearly over, but the anticipation of baseball season is upon us. Some of you had lunch with an ump at spring training, others just attended some games, and still others ran or bowled in support of UMPS CARE. We started the year off with a bang, hosting three successful fundraisers. We hope to continue the year with a spring in our step, reaching new donors and supporters by widening our network and sharing the stories of those we have touched.
Get to Know an Ump - Phil Cuzzi
Phil Cuzzi grew up in Belleville, New Jersey in a tight knit Italian family. He played baseball and football at Belleville High School. While in school he officiated some little league games, not because he wanted to be an umpire, but because it paid $15 cash. He had no inkling that this is what he would end up doing later in life. Phil went on to Glassboro State College (now known as Rowan College), and graduated with a BA degree in education. He worked for four years teaching 9th grade Graphic Arts at Burnett Jr. High School in Union, New Jersey. While Phil enjoyed being a teacher and working with kids he wanted to try something different. He decided to go into sales for a computer accessories company based out of Worcester, Massachusetts. Phil was successful in his sales role but felt that something was missing, “I was still young and I came to a crossroads in my life. I could go any direction and decided I wanted to follow my passion….baseball.” At about this time Phil went to a Yankees game with some of his friends. He remembers sitting in the stands as the umpiring crew walked out of the tunnel and for some reason they caught Phil’s attention. He watched them very closely during the game, noting how they moved around the field and said, “What a great job”.
Phil looked into the profession and found out about umpiring school. At the time he remembers his parent’s reaction, “My father thought that I was crazy because he really wasn’t a sports fan, and it was such a long road to [become a professional umpire]. He was supportive but he wondered what I was doing. Keep in mind, my father had a 6th grade education. I was the first child in the family to graduate from college and become a school teacher – to him I had made it. He couldn’t understand how I could leave this noble profession and chase a crazy dream of becoming a professional umpire.”
Enjoying Every Step of the Way
Phil started his umpiring journey at Harry Wendelstedt’s umpiring school in1982 and then attended Joe Brinkman’s school in 1984. He entered the minor leagues and worked for 13 years up and down the eastern part of the country in the New York-Penn League, Carolina League, and South Atlantic League among others. He recalls his time in the minors with fondness, “The minor leagues were a lot of fun. I always worked with good guys and there was a lot of camaraderie. It was great because we didn’t know any better. After you get to the big leagues you look back at the minor leagues and think, how did I do that? It was a step that you had to go through to reach your goal of becoming a major league umpire.”
Phil remembers two of the most pivotal moments in his umpiring career. The first was when he got the nod to be a big league roster call-up. At the time, everyone in the minors wore plain blue hats. That winter, Phil received his uniform and hat in the mail. He remembers, “I opened up the box and saw the ‘NL’ on my hat. It was one of the biggest thrills of my life.” The second was when he stepped on the field for his first big league game on May 4, 1991, “… it was in St. Louis against the Dodgers and I was working with Harry Wendelstedt, Frank Pulli and Charlie Williams. I remember it like it was yesterday. The feeling was indescribable. You go from working in all these minor league parks to walking in to Busch Stadium. It was a packed house. I was mesmerized. Once the first pitch came, it was a matter of business as usual, but when I walked to home plate for that first meeting I’m not sure my feet hit the ground.” Since then, Phil has worked the Wild Card game in 2013, Division Series Games in 2003, 2004, 2009, 2012, National Championship Series Games in 2005 and 2014, and an All-Star Game in 2008 at Yankee Stadium.
Phil first got involved with UMPS CARE Charities when funds were being used to help umpire families who had fallen on hard times. He says, “As a major league umpire, when guys decide they are going to give back and put something together as great as UMPS CARE, there is really no way you can’t get involved with that.” Phil is an avid supporter of the UMPS CARE programs and has participated in a number of hospital events and blue crew ticket visit. He also looks forward to playing in the annual Golf Classic every January. Phil also runs his own charity, the Robert Luongo ALS Fund. Robert Luongo, one of Phil’s childhood friends, died from ALS at age 49. The Robert Luongo ALS Fund raises money for ALS research and helps support the children and families of people with ALS.
In His Free Time
Phil still lives in New Jersey with his wife, Gilda, a former classmate of his from junior high and high school. While they were not high school sweethearts they grew up in the same circle of friends. Phil and Gilda carry on their families’ tradition and host Italian Sunday dinners that last all day. In their free time Phil enjoys playing golf and Gilda likes to do interior design. They both enjoy cooking, but he leaves most of it to her. Since Gilda likes to keep him out of the kitchen he put a wood burning pizza oven in his backyard, which their family and neighbors enjoy. Phil notes, “It seems like all of our passions revolve around food.”
When asked what he would doing if he were not an umpire today he responded, “I would be an astronaut.” All jokes aside, he said he may well have been in the restaurant business as he is a big foodie. “My favorite thing is to work a day game then go out to dinner with the crew that evening.” If you want to dine like MLB umpire Phil Cuzzi, be sure to visit Joe’s Stone Crab in Chicago, Sardinas in San Francisco, Peasant in New York, and of course La Sicilia in his hometown Belleville.
Umps Need Spring Training, Too
“Pitchers and catchers report.”
From the day the World Series ends, those are the words baseball fans long to hear. Pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training signifies the unofficial beginning of the Major League Baseball season. Soon all the players will make their way to Florida or Arizona to shake off the rust and get ready for the grind.
Another group makes the trek to shake off the rust, too: MLB umpires. After a relaxing offseason, umpires need Spring Training to get back into the groove just as much as the players do.
“During spring training I always focus on my timing,” explained Brian Knight. "Timing in the umpire world refers to the amount of time between when a pitch or play happens and when you decide to make your call. As umpires, we try to see the pitch or play again in our minds before we make our decision. This allows our brain to process what we've just seen happen. When we start working again in Spring Training it takes a game or two to catch up with the speed of the MLB game.”
Jeff Kellogg explained the process a bit. “With plate work, you’re trying to get in position where you see pitches like you always have—making sure you’re getting set up where you need to get set up, getting your timing down, working on your timing and everything else. On the bases, you’re working on setting up your angles and trying to see plays the way you’d normally see them. It doesn’t take long, but it takes a few times out, especially working the plate, to get back in the swing of things where you’re comfortable seeing any and every pitch. It’s no different than the players.”
Even with the hard work ahead, though, the umps still enjoy themselves. “Spring Training is my favorite time of the baseball season,” enthused Knight. “I get to see all of my longtime umpire friends and work with multiple guys. We rarely see other umpire crews during the regular season, so it's a great time to be around everyone. Umpires are a very tight knit group and it's great to be around the guys and their families.”
Kellogg also mentioned getting to see the other umps as a highlight. “Spring is an enjoyable time for us down here,” he said. “It’s a little more relaxed ... we get to play a little golf, we get to enjoy umps we don’t really see during the season.”
There’s a little bit of added pressure this Spring Training, though, as all of MLB is getting used to the new “pace of play” rules instituted in the offseason. But both Kellogg and Knight are optimistic about the process. “It’s no different than replay,” said Kellogg, “ it took a little bit of time to get to where it was working best and you knew what to expect. I don’t foresee this taking long either and hopefully it’s something that does work. If we can shorten the games up, I think that’s good for all of us.” Added Knight, “As with all change in baseball, there will be growing pains, but I know we will all find a way to make it work.”
And you can bet all the umpires will be ready for Opening Day.
Written by Kevin Cuddihy
Anticipating Opening Day
Major League Baseball’s Opening Day is like the best of every holiday rolled into one. The anticipation of Christmas, the fireworks of July Fourth, the appreciation of Thanksgiving, and Halloween’s treats for some fans while those backing other teams have tricks awaiting them.
Everyone involved in baseball looks forward to Opening Day—the players, the fans, and even the umpires. Yes, while it’s “back to work” for umpires on Opening Day (which includes long road trips, missing family, and more), there’s still a sense of excitement for the new season.
“For everybody, Opening Day is pretty exciting,” explained MLB ump Rob Drake. “A little more for the players than us—for us it’s back to work and you have to be perfect from day one. But fans are excited, players are excited, and everyone’s ready to get back and going at it.”
This is an extra special Opening Day for Drake, too. He’s on the crew of longtime ump Joe West, who will set the record for most years as an umpire when he sets foot on the field this Opening Day. “It’s cool to be a part of history like that and be around Joe as legendary as he is,” said Drake. “When you’ve worked that long you never know when his last year will be, so it’ll be cool to be a part of his career and accomplishments.”
Bruce Dreckman echoed the excitement. “Opening Day is always an exciting time,” he said. “Everyone is eager to get the season going.... The fans are excited about getting outside and everyone is in a great mood. Opening Day is always just a fun, happy, and exciting time.”
An ump’s first Opening Day after being hired full-time to MLB is an even more special event— “To know I’d be doing this for the rest of my life was pretty cool,” remarked Drake. “To stand there and look around and say, ‘Hey, I made it.’ That’s what Opening Day is more than anything—for us and even for the players.”
That’s not to say it’s all sunshine and roses, however. “The one thing that is always the toughest about Opening Day,” Dreckman explained, “especially when you have kids—people don’t understand that we don’t live and umpire in one city. We travel for weeks at a time and when we go to Opening Day we might not get to see our families for several weeks.” There’s a silver lining on the horizon for those in this situation though, according to Dreckman. “They do grow up fast,” he said, “and then they become part of some Opening Days, as they can travel to see Dad and the rest of the crew work.”
And while maybe some players are still rounding into season shape, the umps don’t quite have that luxury. “For us, the pressure starts on day one to be perfect,” said Drake. “It’s fun to be a part of MLB’s Opening Day, but we’re in full concentration mode because we want to be perfect from day one. The focus starts really early.”
So whether you’re in the stands for Opening Day or watching on TV, keep an eye on the umpires as well; they’ll be enjoying the experience while focusing on the long season ahead. “We are human too,” said Dreckman. “We feel the excitement just like everyone else. We smell the fresh spring air and cool nights that makes everyone want to get out doors and enjoy the festivities.”
Written by Kevin Cuddihy
In This Issue:
UMPS CARE Charities would like to dedicate this edition to give thanks to all of our sponsors, supporters, donors and volunteers who make our programs possible. Without you we would not have touched the lives of so many children and families across the country. In the coming year we will have an informational video to showcase just how large an impact your support has made. Enjoy the winter months with your family because before you know it, Spring Training will be here.
Like many umpires growing up, Dale Scott had a strong love of baseball but didn’t believe he had the skills to take him to the major leagues as a player. “Once I figured out I wasn’t going to be a player….I quickly decided that umpiring was the next step for me.” He started at age 15, umpired throughout high school, and when he turned 21 he enrolled in Bill Kinnamon’s San Bernardino Umpire School in 1981.
Many umpires have to work in the minors for 10-15 years before they see a major league game, but as Dale admits, “I was very lucky. I was on an accelerated track” and only spent five years in the minors, most in the western part of the country. He officiating games in the Northwest League, California League, Instructional League in Arizona, and Texas Double-A League. In 1984 he started in Double-A, then Triple-A American Association. In the winter months between seasons Dale was given assignments in the Dominican Republic so he was umpiring year round. He describes his time in the Dominican Republic as intense because he worked more plate jobs in a three-month period than an entire regular season in the U.S. On top of the umpiring experience Dale appreciated getting to travel and live in another country to pick up a bit of the language and some of the culture.
During his first year in the minors Dale was the assigned driver. He and the other member of his crew, Keith Maestas, drove from game to game in his personal car. “We had to pack two huge equipment bags in the car, our personal suitcases, and of course because this was the 1980s, my car had two huge speakers in the back which took up a lot of room.” Dale and his family appreciate a good sense of humor, so when Dale and Keith were out to breakfast with his parents and Dale’s dad saw an old beat-up car packed to the brim, he told the boys to get in a photo with it. They thought it would be funny since it was a parody of their life on the road. Dale and Keith posed for the photo and sent it home to their friends, joking that this was what they had gotten themselves into.
Dale had been umpiring in the minor leagues for a few years before he had the chance to officiate in Eugene, Oregon, where his family lived. His whole family came out to see him—his parents, grandparents, brother, aunt and uncle, along with the local umpires he had grown up with. He was excited to see everyone who came to show their support, but little did they know the excitement they were about to witness. At the top of the 1st inning Dale called the third batter out and the visiting team’s manager was furious. The manager got in Dale’s face and they started exchanging words, so Dale ejected him. To add to the excitement, a local TV station had him mic’d up as part of their coverage of his return to Eugene, so the whole fight was recorded. Later, keeping up with the family’s sense of humor, as Dale brushed-off home plate his mom said, “Well that’s the most cleaning he’s done in the last 10 years.”
Getting the Call
Dale remembers the day he got the call to umpire his first big league game. “I was working in Omaha Triple-A when I got a call from MLB saying they wanted to work the make-up game between Kansas City and Detroit. I worked third base. It was on August 19, 1985, 4 days after my 26th birthday.” Dale was honored to step on the big league field with two of the best teams in the country. He remembers, “Detroit was the 1984 World Series Champ and Kansas City went on to win the World Series in 1985. So it was a big deal for me.” That was his first call-up. He was not hired on as a full-time big league umpire until the next year, but he will never forget that first game.
Dale has since worked in the majors for 29 years, working in the American League from 1989-1999 and officiating both leagues from 2000 on. He umpired the World Series in 1998, 2001, and 2004. He has also called the 1993, 2001, and 2011 All-Star Games and worked in six League Championship Series and eleven Division Series. Dale became a crew chief in 2001 and worked his 3,000th career, regular-season game on his 50th birthday, August 14, 2009.
His Other Calling
Dale had two passions in high school—one was umpiring baseball and the other was being a radio disc jockey. If you aren’t in the inner circle of umpires you may not know that Dale has a booming voice, unique and distinctive, perfect for radio. Dale says that if he was not an umpire he would be working in radio. Back in high school while he was umpiring he also had a job at a local Top-40 radio station. He was a radio DJ for five and a half years and went to a two-year college to get a degree in broadcasting. After he got his degree he decided to pursue umpiring full time and went on to San Bernardino.
Dale’s voice is notorious around the major league umpire circuit. Many of the umpires have Dale as their voicemail recording. Dale’s voice was also used by the umpire’s union to send messages over the call tree. In fact, that’s how Dale got his first introduction to UMPS CARE Charities. An UMPS CARE Board Member asked Dale to record a voice message to go out to the umpires reminding them about the Golf Classic. Want to know what Dale’s voice sounds like? LISTEN IN.
From there Dale got more involved in UMPS CARE programs. He particularly enjoys the BLUE for Kids program. “The hospital program is a very unique thing to do. It gives you a great perspective on life. When you light up a child’s face and see the joy you bring to them, not to mention how thankful the parents are, it is just incredible. You have to put on a brave face and smile but there have been a couple of times where I’ve had to take a step back or walk away because I feel so much empathy for those kids and what they are going through. I feel fortunate because this is an opportunity to give back in this profession that we wouldn’t normally have.”
In his Spare Time
Dale resides in Portland, Oregon. Having grown up in Eugene, Oregon, Dale has been an University of Oregon football fan his entire life. He says, “You have to understand, when I started following them, this football program was absolutely horrendous, but I have always been a fan. When Oregon plays Oregon State they call it the ‘Civil War.’ Since 1973 I have only missed three ‘Civil Wars’ because I was working in the Dominican Republic for winter ball.”
Dale also loves history, following politics, and watching movies. In the off-season he spends time with his partner of 28 years, Michael Rausch, and his dogs Roman and Rollie both Labradors. Dale and Michael enjoy traveling to Europe, taking the dogs to the Oregon Coast, and spending much of the off-season in Palm Springs.
Dale recently let the general public in on his personal life and relationship through an article in Referee Magazine. He had no idea how quickly word would spread or if it people would notice at all. He said, “After the article came out the first two days were a whirlwind. I got so many phone calls, text messages and emails…over 200 emails, 95% of them from people I don’t know.” A week after the article came out Dale happened to have The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon on and all of a sudden he heard his name in the opening remarks. The next thing he knew, they had mentioned his name on Conan O’Brien, The Colbert Report, and The Jimmy Kimmel Show. He never guessed the article would get so much attention. Dale has been overwhelmed by all the kind words and support he has received but feels that nothing has changed for him professionally. As he noted in the Outsports article by Jim Buzinski, “I am extremely grateful that Major League Baseball has always judged me on my work and nothing else and that’s the way it should be.”
Behind the Scenes - BLUE for Kids
MLB Umpires aren’t usually in the business of making people laugh and smile, but through the BLUE for Kids hospital program as part of UMPS CARE Charities they do just that. The BLUE for Kids program, a favorite among the umpires, takes Build-A-Bear Workshop experiences to the bedside of critically ill children in hospitals across the country.
The program was started in 2006 by MLB Umpire Marvin Hudson and Samuel Dearth, the former Executive Director of UMPS CARE. Samuel recalls, “Marvin and I brainstormed a variety of things we could do [during the hospital visit]… we wanted something that could bring a smile to a face quickly because the umpires would only have a couple of minutes to connect with the children in their rooms. We guessed that many of the youngsters would know little about baseball but most of them would immediately connect with a teddy bear. The fact that we could order MLB uniforms for the home team in each city made it a perfect fit!” In the first year the program consisted of events at six different hospitals. In 2007 the program was held in 10 locations and then in 2008 it grew to 12 events per year.
The event includes 100 stuffed animals from the Build-A-Bear Workshop along with outfits galore to appeal to boys and girls, young and old. For some visits the umpires go room-to-room delivering the furry friends. In other locations, a hospital playroom is set up like a Build-A-Bear party. The patients and their families mingle with the umpires, color cub condos, and play with their stuffed animal. Since each visit happens in a major league market, the local team’s mascot typically tags along to add to the fun. The umpires bring laughs, high-fives, and words of encouragement.
A lot of planning goes into each visit as well. There has to be coordination between the umpiring crew (keeping in mind which city they are coming from), the baseball schedule (game time, travel day, off-day), and the hospital event calendar. Once a date is pinned down, UMPS CARE staff works with the Child Life Department at each hospital to ensure it is a positive experience for all. “I only met [the umpires] for a few moments in the playroom today, but I cannot begin to tell you what a home run they hit," said one Child Life Department head. “The visit confirms that sometimes children need more than medicine to get well!”
While this program may seem like a small and simple gesture, it is more than that. As Jenn Skolochenko Platt, UMPS CARE Executive Director, explains, “This visit is a way for children to focus on something other than their treatment and prognosis. It gives the children a chance to socialize and just enjoy being a kid.” Oftentimes these visits evoke tears from parents who are overjoyed to see their child just being a kid. Umpire Jim Wolf recounts one of the visits he attended: “We would go room to room … and just spend some time with these kids. This one kid was just 19 years old, and we were told he hadn't smiled in weeks. I thought, ‘This kid may never experience the things that most guys his age look forward to.’ It crushed me, it really crushed me.” The group spent some time talking to the boy, and by the time they left, there it was: his first smile in weeks.
That type of response is fairly typical for the umpires. After all, they’re fathers or brothers or uncles themselves, Dearth explained. “BLUE for Kids offers insight into who the umpires are personally more than any other setting,” he said. “In some ways, they’re transformed into little kids themselves when they’re given the opportunity to do something so unique and special.”
UMPS CARE Charities would like to thank Bristol-Meyers Squibb and all of our supporters who help make this program possible. It touches the lives of children, parents, and umpires, reminding everyone what a big difference a small act of kindness can make.
How Umps Unwind in the Off-Season
Major League Baseball’s offseason is a time to recharge, rejuvenate, and revitalize, and that applies doubly for MLB umpires. While players may go off on a 12-game road trip here and a 10-day West Coast swing there, umpires are essentially on a season-long road trip with a few short breaks only. “Just to sleep in your own bed” at the end of a long season is a big deal, said Tim Timmons. Tim Welke borrowed a phrase from holiday songs, calling the offseason a “wonderful time of the year.” And Alfonso Marquez, when asked the first thing he did for his offseason, laughed and replied, “After hugging my wife at the airport, the first thing I did was come home, sit on my recliner, and watch my own TV for a bit without doing a thing.”
Coming up through the ranks of minor-league ball, however, not even the offseason was a time for rest. Most umpires at the lower levels take on part-time jobs to help make ends meet. Timmons, for example, got his realtor’s license and also worked at restaurants and in country clubs. Welke took on a part-time gig with UPS in the offseason and worked some winter ball as well. And Marquez never met a job he wouldn’t take. He worked various offseasons as a car detailer for a body shop, at Target on the third shift stocking shelves, as a gofer at a mortgage company, and even in a warehouse.
But now, as umpires for Major League Baseball, the three (and others in the ranks) relish their time off. Timmons lives in Columbus, Ohio, where he grew up, and said that his first act upon returning home for the offseason was to take his family to Dante’s Pizza. “I grew up on Dante’s pizza,” he said, “and there’s nothing quite as good as that first slice after you’re off.”
Welke’s home debut wasn’t quite as exciting—he said the first thing he did was “powerwash some things outside.” After months away from home, the “honey do” list for many of the umpires can be quite long, but just getting back into family life can be very special to these men. Timmons enjoys his time as “Mr. Mom” with his three sons, and Marquez and his wife spend a lot of time visiting their kids in southern California as well. Welke’s offseason isn’t all work and no play, either; he and his wife live in Kalamazoo, Mich., and get up often to northern Michigan, “first to feed the deer, and then to harvest them,” he said.
All three men are active in UMPS CARE Charities, and that giving attitude doesn’t end when the season does. Timmons goes out every Wednesday with Meals on Wheels and is involved in their fundraising as well, while Marquez and his wife stay busy with their church.
Most of all, umpires have learned to appreciate the simple pleasures of home and family—things many take for granted. Welke stated that “you have to have a strong family network” to support this type of schedule, while Timmons praised his wife, Leslie, who “carried the water for a long while” for their family. And even before the offseason, Marquez and his wife plan road trips for her throughout the season so they don’t go too long without seeing each other.
And while the umpires know what they’re getting into—as Timmons admits, “You do the job; they pay us to be away”—that doesn’t diminish the joy of the offseason. “Just to sleep in your own bed is a huge deal,” Timmons explained. “And there’s no substitute for sitting down to dinner with your wife and kids.” And while they wouldn’t trade jobs with anyone, Marquez still admits, “It’s nice knowing that your season’s over and you’re coming home.”
Written by Kevin Cuddihy
In This Issue:
As the post season nears, UMPS CARE will wrap up its seasonal programming and begin planning for upcoming fundraising events. This year's programs have been successful, bringing joy to children and families in need whether that be for an hour, an evening or a lifetime. Through the BLUE for Kids program umpires brought smiles and teddy bears to the bedside of sick children. Through the BLUE Crew Ticket Program, umpires gave at-risk youth a once-in-a-lifetime experience at their first-ever ballgame. Through the All-Star Scholarship, young adults are fulfilling their dreams of attending college. Thank you to everyone who has made these moments possible. This off-season we are pushing to get the word out about what we do and raise awareness for our cause. We hope you will help us continue to make a difference.
Jim Wolf— known as Wolfee amongst his fellow umpires—has been working in the Major Leagues since 1999. Jim’s story starts out in Los Angeles, where he played baseball at a junior college with the hope of going on to play in the majors. While there he realized, "My playing career wasn’t going anywhere because I couldn’t run fast and I couldn’t hit for power, the two things teams want out of a catcher.” Wanting to remain in baseball, Jim made a quick transition to umpiring and is now one of two major league umpires in history to have a sibling that plays in the majors.
Seeing the Strike Zone
Jim grew up playing some form of baseball his whole life—whether it was wiffle ball on the field, tape ball outside the garage door, or nerf-ball inside the house, he was dedicated to the game. Jim played at Pierce College from 1989-1991, where it became apparent he did not have the skill set of a catcher to take him to the next level. To stay involved in baseball he started umpiring for PONY baseball, trying to figure out his next move. Jim enjoyed it and wondered if he could make a living being an umpire. A friend told it was possible and that he should give umpiring school a try, so Jim went to Harry Wendelstedt’s Umpire School. Thanks to his experience as a catcher, Jim had great knowledge of the strike zone. This turned out to be the skill set that would take him to the next level as an umpire.
Minor League Life
The life of a minor league umpire is far from glamorous and requires a lot of work. They drive from town to town in their own car, call games in dingy and poorly lit ballparks, and work the plate every other night. As Jim states, "It can be taxing on the body, but at that point you don’t know any different. The hardest part was spending all that time away from my family—minor league umpires only get two vacation days during the season.” They do it because they love the game. Jim knew where he wanted to be and worked hard to get there. Minor league umpires don’t make enough to live off the rest of the year, so each umpire finds some line of work to do in the winter. "To supplement my income in the off-season I worked as a pool cleaner, a Limo driver (before there was GPS), a salesmen in the shoe department at Bloomingdale’s and for my cousin Rick's contracting business (who is now a big supporter of UMPS CARE). I will never forget what life was like in the minor leagues, which makes me thankful and appreciative for the job and the benefits that I have now.”
Big League Debut
There is nothing quite like stepping onto the field to call your first big league game. Jim remembers, "I was nervous and excited for two reasons – one, it was my first major league game and two, my brother was there to watch me.” The Phillies were taking on the Giants at Candlestick Park and Randy, Jim’s younger brother, was a pitcher for the Phillies. He was sitting in the 3rd base dugout for Jim’s first game, and as luck would have it Jim was the 3rd base umpire that day.
Jim no longer umpires any games for his brother’s team; he switches crews for that series so there is no question of conflict of interest. But he remains one of only two umpire-player brother combinations in MLB history; in 1972 brothers Bill and Tom Haller were in the same game, with Bill umpiring and Tom catching for the Detroit Tigers.
Jim has seen his share of excitement in the big leagues. He was the home plate umpire for both Dallas Braden’s perfect game and Derek Jeter’s 3,000th hit against the Tampa Bay Rays. He has officiated two Division Series and one League Championship Series. He also worked the 2010 All-Star Game.
Off the Field
Prior to working with UMPS CARE Charities, Jim had never volunteered for a nonprofit. He first got involved by participating in the BLUE for Kids program and has been hooked ever since. Bringing joy to sick children as they get a new cuddly bear and high fives from the umpires is priceless, he says. He never guessed some of the parents would cry tears of joy because they had not seen their child happy in days. "Putting smiles on the faces of these children, even if just for a moment, is so rewarding.”
Jim is now a member of the UMPS CARE Board of Directors. With golf being one of his passions he was recruited to serve on the golf committee for the UMPS CARE Golf Marathon and Golf Classic. He is dedicated to making these fundraisers successful so UMPS CARE can continue to touch the lives of children and families in need across the country. Not to mention, he helps ensure the tournament polos are up to par.
In the off-season Jim lives in Arizona with his wife of 15 years, Lara, and their Shitzu, Bentley. Jim credits Lara for giving him some fashion sense. "When I first met her I only wore white t-shirts, jeans, and white high tops. I’ve come a long way since then, thanks to Lara.” When he gets together with the whole family, Jim and brother Randy don’t talk shop—they keep it to current events, music, and movies, because as Jim says, "We get enough baseball during the season.” Jim is an avid cigar smoker and golfer. He gets to the golf course at least four times a week in the off-season. He plays early in the morning so he is done by 10:00 am to enjoy the rest of his day. Lara, also a golfer, will join him two times a week. "My two favorite things about being a major league umpire are that I get to visit almost every major city in America, and that I have the winter off to spend time with my wife and dog.”
Written by Jennifer Jopling
Behind the Scenes - All- Star Scholarship:
The All-Star Scholarship is one of UMPS CARE Charities core initiatives. It is open to children adopted out of the U.S. Foster Care system at or after the age of 12. When children are adopted at this age many parents had not planned to take on the financial burden of paying for college within a few years. This leaves them only a short amount of time to save after the child has been adopted. Children still in the foster care system are often given federal financial help, but once they have been adopted many of those opportunities are no longer available.
A college education is a valuable milestone in life that can bring new experiences and open doors. Many children in the foster care system have had a tough go with varying levels of support throughout their life. There are numerous hurdles for these youth to overcome, but UMPS CARE hopes that the financial burden of paying for school will not be one of them. Below, Betsy Miles, the adoptive mother of the 2014 All-Star Scholarship Recipient, gives some insight as to what this scholarship means to Katy and her family.
"I want to share something that Katy failed to mention. Her original plan was to attend a different college. Longwood was her first choice, but as a private college, the other institution was able to offer more funding. Her Dad and I are in our fifties and have two more daughters, 11 and 13, that we adopted from foster care in 2012. All of our kiddos understand that because we adopted them when they were older we didn't have an opportunity to plan for their college education, but that we fully support and encourage them to earn at least a bachelor's degree. Katy's older brother, Haisten, (non-bio and adopted at 16) just set the standard this May when he graduated from the University of Richmond on full scholarship. Soooo...Katy was all set to attend the other private college when she received the first call from UMPS CARE letting her know she had been selected for the scholarship! Knowing that our contribution, loans and a smaller scholarship would cover the rest of her first year at Longwood, we decided to make a trip to Farmville to talk to Financial Aid. We left that meeting deflated, but not surprised. Katy had enough money to attend the first year, but it was unlikely that Longwood would be able to offer additional funding for years 2-4. She and I sat on a bench together outside the financial aid office, wishing we could find other scholarships as generous as the All-Star Scholarship that could offer $10,000/year for the remaining 3 years. We decided to stop at the Farmville Goodwill for a little retail therapy before her previously scheduled 2pm conversation with the Executive Director from UMPS CARE. We returned to the car just before 2pm and it was there, sitting in the Goodwill parking lot on a 100 degree day, that she and I learned the scholarship would be renewed annually. I wish I had recorded her reaction, but neither of us expected it and we sat in that hot car bawling our eyes out and hugging for I don't know how long before we were able to pull ourselves together for the drive back to Richmond. Katy's Dad and I would give her the moon if we could, and for her to be able to attend Longwood because of the generosity of this scholarship means more than we can ever fully express in words. The depth of our gratitude is endless.
Katy's Dad and I both wrote letters that we shared with her on the trip to Longwood. We had planned to leave them tucked behind the pillow in her dorm, but we wanted her move-in day to end on a positive note and we feared reading them when she got ready for her first night away from home might be emotional. We also gave her a necklace with two pendants: one a horseshoe and the other, a message of love, luck and happiness. It's a tradition that my grandmother started when my mother went to college, and that my mother continued with me. Little did we know that Katy had her own letter for us. When we returned home that night, finally feeling somewhat composed after a tearful farewell, we found a big red heart on the kitchen counter addressed to mom and dad. On the reverse was a riddle that we had to solve to find her letter. Our clever gal had us searching for a while before we finally located the letter hidden inside the picture frame that holds her senior portrait. It was a beautiful, heartfelt letter of thanks that caused the floodgates to open again.
We have now negotiated this new territory without Katy for one week and a day. It hasn't been easy and we miss her terribly, but we also know this is absolutely the right thing for Katy and that brings us much joy. She reports via text that she is adjusting well and loving Longwood, and tonight we get to see and talk to her for the first time via FaceTime. Can't wait!”
Written by Jennifer Jopling
At July's Major League Baseball All-Star Game in Minneapolis, the players weren't the only all-stars to take the field based on their first-half performance. The umpires for the game were also selected in part due to their on-field ability, making it an honor for them as well. We recently spoke to one ump, Todd Tichenor, about what his appearance meant to him.
Todd started by calling his selection "a lifetime of goals met up into one place." "Not many people get a chance to umpire one Major League game," he admits, "and then all of sudden you get that call from your boss that says one of your goals has been reached." Adding to the specialness for Todd was receiving the call that he'd be working the game on Father's Day, with thoughts of his own father and his children running through his mind. He had called his wife to check in on their day, but quickly got off when his caller ID said "Joe Torre" on it. "It's a special feeling not only for myself but for my family," he said. "It's not going to make up Daddy time but it sure does help to show them what I've been working toward. For my two sons to see that if you set your sights on a goal and sacrifice for that dream then it can come true."
True to this theme, Todd said that the highlight of the event for him was "being able to take my two older sons to all the events and let them meet my colleagues and spend time with them." Then when he first set foot on the field for the game, "That's when it set in that this was quite an accomplishment. To look up where my mom was sitting and my wife and kids and tip my hat to them was pretty special. All the years of my mom and me and my sister just plugging away trying to make ends meet kind of met up at once."
Written by UMPS CARE Volunteer Kevin Cuddihy
In This Issue:
Spring is an exciting time, bringing the anticipation of warm weather, buds on the trees and of course, Major League Baseball. UMPS CARE was busy this off-season coordinating fundraisers and gearing up for our 2014 programs. Change is in the air as the Umpires usher in a new era with the implantation of Instant Replay in Major League Baseball. We hope to keep you informed of our whereabouts, the work we do, and give you a glimpse into the the life of a Major League Umpire.
Get to Know an Ump - Gary Darling:
Entering his 35th year as an umpire, Gary Darling is known to some as Gary and to others as Zap—but to everyone as a man of integrity. Gary grew up with baseball in his blood, playing the sport most of his young life all the way through junior college in Sacramento. When his playing days were over he wanted to find a way to stay involved in the sport and umpiring seemed like the logical next step. There was a lot of baseball in Sacramento so he got involved with the local little league, umpiring 13-15 year olds. One umpire he worked with introduced Gary to the idea of being a Major League ump. Little did he know this suggestion would change his life.
A Shocking Nickname
Despite not knowing what the life of a Major League umpire would be like, Gary dove in. He attended Bill Kinnamon’s Umpiring School in San Bernardino, CA. Even though the odds of being a Major League umpire were slim, he was determined to succeed. He worked hard and never got discouraged—and he consistently moved up the ladder one rung at a time.
Umpiring school can be like the military, long hours in the outdoors with grueling Chief Instructors calling you by your last name. His instructor didn’t want to be calling someone "Darling” for five weeks so he referred to him as the generic "Jones". He wasn’t "Jones” for long, though, thanks to a story from his past. A classmate noticed Gary’s crooked elbow and bad leg and asked what happened. The story came out that at the "mature" age of 21 Gary had climbed an electrical power pole while camping to check out the view. He knew not to touch the wires, but didn’t know that if he got too close to the wire the charge would carry. He got an electrical shock and he was thrown from the pole. After telling the story, Gary earned the nickname Zap—and it stuck.
The Major Leagues
Gary has been in the major leagues since 1988. He still remembers his first "plate job” in the Majors. He was nervous and excited for the big role. The Cubs’ Shawon Dunston came to the plate against the Cardinals’ Greg Barger. These players had a history, so when Barger hit Dunston with a wild pitch, the batter headed for the mound. Gary held Dunston back but the skirmish escalated and Gary got knocked down. Welcome to the big leagues! He survived that start, however, and Gary is now a Crew Chief and a veteran umpire respected by players, coaches, and fellow umpires. He has called two All-Star Games, ten Division Series, five League Championship Series, and two World Series.
An Ump’s Softer Side
One thing many people don’t know about Gary is that he is a very caring guy. Sure, he may put on a serious face and jab you with his sarcastic humor, but Little House on the Prairie still gets to him. That caring side makes him the perfect person for the role of President of UMPS CARE Charities. He has a tough exterior and doesn’t put up with nonsense, but at the end of the day he really and truly cares. As fellow umpire Jerry Meals says, "Gary is always looking to do good, taking the extra step to help the cause.”
Gary started his philanthropic endeavors helping fundraise for umpires’ families who had fallen on hard times. He helped a former minor league umpire who battled cancer while his wife stayed home to take care of him and their young son. Gary felt fortunate that he and his wife Cheri were in a place to help. They wanted to grow the good work they did, and over time this program merged with the BLUE for Kids program, started by other Major League umpires, to form UMPS CARE Charities.
Gary has been president of UMPS CARE for eight years. Gary cares about seeing smiles on the faces of sick patients when they get a teddy bear and a visit from the umpires through the BLUE for Kids hospital program. He wants people to understand the value of the All-Star Scholarship program, which gives youth adopted from the U.S. foster care system the opportunity to attend college. He stands behind each of the programs at UMPS CARE. Gary feels part of his role as president is to encourage the other umpires to get involved and find their own way of giving back. He understands what truly matters. It’s not just about the balls and the strikes, but what goes on beyond the diamond—enriching lives of children and families in need across the country.
Gary calls Phoenix, AZ his home base, where he lives with Cheri, his wife of 26 years. Besides raising their two wonderful children, Cheri is a retired teacher who is currently working in real estate with Keller Williams. Their son, Cameron, does yield management for American Airlines/US Airways in Dallas, TX. Their daughter, Courtney, will graduate in nursing from the University of Arizona this May. Gary admits that the most difficult part of being an umpire is the time spent away from family. Travel during the baseball season is grueling, so Gary always appreciated the four to five months off when he could be home all day, every day for his kids. Whether you know him as Gary or Zap, the "Darling” umpire is dedicated to the work he does on and off the field.
Written by Jennifer Jopling
UMPS CARE Charities is proud to partner with the Dave Thomas Foundation, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, and Most Valuable Kids for our popular ticket program to provide underprivileged children an amazing experience at the ballpark. UMPS CARE works with the partners by providing not only tickets to a baseball game to their selected participants, but also a bunch of extras to make it a special day.
"We work closely with the nonprofits to coordinate dates in their specific cities,” explained UMPS CARE Charities Executive Director Jenn Skolochenko-Platt, "and we work with the community relations person on each team too, so everyone is on the same page.” Everyone works together toward the common goal of providing a memorable experience for the kids. The participants involved include children in foster homes, potential adoptees, siblings placed with different families, and other underprivileged children.
The kids and their chaperone arrive at the ballpark early to meet with the umpires and get a tour of the umpire clubhouse. They take photos on the field, sometimes even get to go into the dugouts, and get a goodie bag filled with souvenirs and treats for the game. Included in that goodie bag are all things baseball; a ballcap from the hometown team, Big League Chew, sunflower seeds, Cracker Jacks, peanuts candy, UMPS CARE eyeblack, and money for lunch.
Since 2006, almost 6,000 kids have root-root-rooted for the home team in every single Major League city thanks to the BLUE Crew Ticket program, with many more events planned for this season. On an average weekend there will be 12 events hosting six people each, with each team hosting three or four times throughout the long season.
The program wouldn’t be successful without the teamwork of the nonprofit partners, the Major League teams, and the sponsors: Ford Gum, Frito-Lay, Giant Sunflower Seeds, and New Era Cap. "It’s a team effort for sure,” said Skolochenko-Platt. "It’s a lot of moving pieces to make this program successful. But it’s so worth it.”
Written by UMPS CARE Volunteer Kevin Cuddihy
A few weeks into the season and the expansion of instant replay remains a hot topic. It’s a major change to the game and one that all participants are keeping a close eye on as it evolves and everyone learns the process. Included in that list are the people affected most—Major League Baseball umpires.
Jim Reynolds, a 15-year veteran, said during Spring Training that he expects the new replay system’s introduction to flow much like when baseball introduced the replay rule for home runs. "Any time there’s change you have a little bit of trepidation in terms of implementing something,” he explained, "but it seemed to work out pretty well. You’re never going to be perfect, but the implementation and the process got better as it went on. I’m sure three years from now it’ll be running just as smoothly as the homer/no homer reviews did a couple years in.”
Jim Joyce, who referred to himself as "the poster boy for replay” during an interview in the second week of the season, cautioned that it’s far too early in the season to draw any conclusions about the full impact of replay, but "my gut feeling is that I think it’s going to be a good thing for the game.” He expanded later, saying, "It’s going to help make us right ... we’re not 100% and players aren’t 100% but I think this is going to be good for the game.”
Joyce also pointed out a perhaps unintended—but valuable—side effect of instant replay. "Last week Ron Washington [Rangers manager] came out after a disputed play,” he explained. "There was no shouting, no screaming, no argument. We were waiting on a request for a replay from the bench. ... They’re coming out and asking about a replay, not yelling about the play. I can’t remember the first week of a season that didn’t have an ejection in it. this year, the first week went through without an ejection.”
Replay rules allow a manager one challenge per game, gaining a second challenge if their first is correct, and the umpires can institute a replay in the seventh inning or later. Reynolds didn’t foresee any issues with the umpire-initiated replays. "We’d be foolish to not look at things” if a manager requests it in the later innings, he said. He further explained, boiling replay down to the main point: "This is about getting it right. It’s not about pride—it’s about getting a play right.”
Joyce concurred, stating, "If we had a play that could potentially affect the game, I’m not going to hesitate to use replay. Why wouldn’t we? We have the tool, and if that play is going to make especially a big impact on the game, I’m gonna look at it no matter what.”
Joyce, as longtime fans know, was involved in one of the most infamous games in recent baseball history, the "Imperfect Game” where a missed call at first base by Joyce cost Armando Galarraga his place in history and renewed calls for expanded replay. His stand-up response to that game and the class he (along with Galarraga) exhibited are still in place today as he’s asked if he wishes this level of replay was available in 2010. "It was the worst day of my life but it was also the best day of my life ... you might find this odd but I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Both umpires predicted that most replays will be of calls at first base, simply because it’s where more calls are made in the game overall. Reynolds suggested that on average, however, more calls at second might get reversed, "and of course any time you review a play at home plate that can affect a score, that’ll be a positive effect on the game.” He reiterated again, "One of the things we’re about as umpires is getting the call right. We don’t want to have a negative impact on the outcome of the game, and this is going to help us do that.”
Their biggest concerns about the system aren’t about being proven wrong on a call but rather teams and fans who might expect 100% accuracy. "I think fans and the teams are going to expect more conclusive findings with replay than might actually be available,” cautioned Reynolds. "Fans and teams see what they want to see on replay. One of the edicts that we’re left with is that there has to be clear and decisive evidence that a call should be overturned. I think we’re going to run into some frustration with fans and teams on that aspect of replay.”
Joyce explained that, similar to football, baseball’s replay officials (current MLB umpires will take turns manning replay in New York) will tell the crew on the field that the call stands, is confirmed, or is reversed. He doesn’t expect many calls to be confirmed, though, simply because he doesn’t think those calls will be challenged thanks to the video angles available to the teams. Many calls, he thinks, will still be difficult to determine on replay because of that "clear and decisive evidence” clause Reynolds referenced. "Even after some of the replays,” he cautioned, "people won’t believe it. But we can agree to disagree, that’s the beauty of baseball.”
Where he thinks replay will be most effective, however, is in "the off-kilter, the offbeat, the plays that don’t happen all the time. That’s where replay will have the most impact.”
(Joyce knows about making an impact, by the way—in 2012 he witnessed a worker at Chase Field having a seizure near the umpire clubhouse. He administered CPR until paramedics arrived, helping keep the woman alive. "I think everyone should learn CPR,” he insisted. "It saves lives.”)
Replay has changed baseball as we know it—and in ways that were perhaps unexpected. More calls are made right, which is the main goal of replay, but it’s also reducing the "violent” arguments from managers and players while providing a better avenue for disagreement. And it’s still evolving as players, managers, and umpires are all learning together how to best use the system. Managers must decide if an early play is worth risking a replay on; players must learn to continue playing even if they believe a call might get reversed by replay; and umpires need to walk the line between allowing legitimate reviews after the seventh inning and managers who might use replay as a strategy for delay, all the while focusing on the goal of "getting it right.”
Neither umpire, though, expressed much concern about the addition of replay affecting how they approach the game. "You just go out there and you umpire,” Reynolds commented. "I don’t think our job description is going to change. We’re still going to go out there and officiate the same way we did without it. Replay is out there to help fix mistakes that were made in the process of doing our job. Baseball has been very clear in that aspect.”
Joyce jokingly wondered if statisticians will keep numbers on how many times a manager comes out on the field to discuss a call and gets the "thumbs down” from the dugout on challenging the play. He explained, "We’re pretty good at what we do anyway. I’ve heard some say this will show how well the umpires do their jobs.” He laughed and added, "Maybe not everyone will agree with that, but it’s gonna show we do our job pretty well.”
Written by UMPS CARE Volunteer Kevin Cuddihy