There is something to that “for the love of the game” attitude in baseball.
Umpires working the Little League District 13 All Star playoffs at the Tempe Sports Complex are all volunteers.
But that doesn’t mean that someone drags some “Baseball Dads” or coaches out of the crowd before a game.
“That’s old school,” explained Cruss Myers, one of the umpires working 66 games in three age groups over 12 hot days and evenings this season.
Myers and most of the umpire crew are veterans who have called high school, college and even professional baseball games over their careers.
“If you love baseball, you’re a kid forever,” said Bill Siebles, who has worn the blue uniform for 28 years and worked high school and National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) college games in Idaho.
Siebles was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles and was a Major League prospect for the Orioles in the early 1970s. He played seven different positions, including pitching and catching, before he was hit above the right eye with a ball during a spring training game and wasn’t able to reach his potential.
Siebles got into law enforcement, then banking before moving to a home in Chandler where he was close enough to a diamond that he could see the stadium lights on summer evenings.
“That’s when I decided I had to get back into umpiring,” Siebles said.
Umpires for the District 13 tournament are drawn from six teams in the area.
“We’ve got some really good umpires in this league,” said Joe Diaz, who is in charge of the district tournament.
“The umpires live in the area and most have been associated with the league for a long time,” Diaz added. “Little League is a big draw and there is always a chance that one of these teams will be in the Little League World Series in Williamsport.”
Diaz has made three trips back to Williamsport, Pa., over the past 10 years of the district’s history when two Chandler teams and one Ahwatukee Foothills team went all the way.
It doesn’t take many phone calls to get volunteers to recruit a crew.
“They have a lot of experience and they want to be here,” said Terry Gerson, who is the district chief umpire. “We’ve got guys from all levels of baseball and they want to give back to the program. What a lot of people don’t realize is that they aren’t paid, but they still have to take care of their own expenses if they go on to regional or national tournaments.”
Myers did two professional spring training games earlier this season.
“It was a hoot,” said Myers, who has been at it for 16 years.
He realized the level of play he was involved with when he was handed eight Major League baseballs before the start of the game.
Darnell Calhoun, a native of Seattle, Wash., is one of the younger members of the volunteers, but is the umpiring chief of his local league.
“I never played Little League but I did play as a freshman in high school and my playing career was less than stellar,” Calhoun said. “With all the rain-outs and cancellations I think we played five games and went 0-5 that year.
“But I realized that I loved baseball and just kept coming back,” he added. “One of the fun things about coming back every year, besides the game, is the camaraderie among these guys who have been doing this for years.”
Little League play can be slightly different from the high levels and even the veteran umpires keep a rule book handy.
“After doing college games I had to keep a rule book in my equipment bag and read it over again every two or three days,” Siebles said. “It’s just the love of the game. You can sit around and get old or be out here. I still love the game and this is a chance to give back.”