When my son was 8, he asked me to stop coaching him in baseball. I didn’t ask him why. Instead, I swallowed my pride and simply informed the head coach of his minor league team that I could no longer help out.
The coach took it well. In fact, in the next breath he asked if I wouldn’t mind calling balls and strikes for the games. “There is some gear in the shed,” he said.
Thus, my umpiring career was born.
Over the next several years, I graduated from doing Little League games and joined the local umpire’s association. I started doing games at the middle school level, and eventually moved into tournament and high school ball.
On Vinalhaven, we were met by the school’s athletic director, who personally drove us to the school just ahead of the brand-new electric school bus…
Living in South Portland, I umpired games for schools all over York and Cumberland counties. Highlights included games at Hadlock Field and The Ballpark in Old Orchard Beach.
Five years ago, my work in nonprofit finance brought me to Island Institute (publisher of The Working Waterfront) as the organization’s chief financial officer. Last fall, my wife and I moved full-time to the Rockland area, and part of my relocation included the decision this spring to join the Midcoast Umpire Association.
My territory now covers Knox, Waldo, and Lincoln counties. The towns have changed, but the games are played by the same rules and the kids are just as eager to make a running catch or leg out an infield hit.
Recently, I was notified that I was being assigned a varsity double-header on Vinalhaven. Even though this meant setting aside an entire Saturday, I saw it as an opportunity to do something quite different and readily agreed to the assignment.
I met my umpiring partner at 8:15 in the morning at the ferry terminal in Rockland, then departed for the 75-minute ferry ride. Along the way, my partner and I talked about baseball, and eventually about our careers and families.
On Vinalhaven, we were met by the school’s athletic director, who personally drove us to the school just ahead of the brand-new electric school bus which was ushering the kids and their families from Rangeley who had accompanied us on the ferry ride.
At the school, the AD gave us a quick tour, and informed us that of the 30 kids at the high school, 25 (including a few 8th grade call-ups) played on either the baseball or softball teams. We were led to the guidance office which would serve as the umpires’ locker room for the day. He also told us that our lunches would be waiting for us in the fridge in the teachers’ lounge, when we returned for a break between games one and two.
After putting on our umpire gear, we headed to the field. The Vinalhaven School serves grades K-12, and the field therefore serves multiple purposes and can be configured for either baseball or softball. A portable mound is installed for baseball and removed for softball, and can be moved closer to the plate for younger kids. The all-dirt infield, not usually seen in baseball games, is a must for softball.
At the pre-game meeting, the Vinalhaven coach went over the ground rules.
There is no fence except the backstop, so balls thrown into the woods or over by the school stop play. A ball hit into the outfield woods is a double if it rolls in, a home run if on the fly. That would be a poke, we all agreed.
I stood next to my partner while both teams lined up along the foul lines and were individually introduced to the crowd of several dozen onlookers. The AD even thanked the umpires, acknowledging the shortage of officials in school sports.
The crowd clapped for us, and we waved appreciatively. I couldn’t help but notice the smell of burgers and hotdogs coming from the concession area. The national anthem played, and it was time for baseball.
The two, five-inning games were both won by the Vinalhaven team. The group of parents from Rangeley enthusiastically cheered on their kids from beyond the first base dugout, even during warm up-pitches. The day was bright with sunshine, the kids competed hard, did not complain, and the smell of food was in the air. If Norman Rockwell were present, I’m sure the scene would have been captured in a painting. It was perfect.
After again being personally escorted back to the terminal by the AD, I spent the ride back to Rockland taking in the scenery on the top deck of the ferry and contemplating how much I had enjoyed the day. Several Rangeley parents noticed me and smiled. I was back in Rockland by 4 p.m. I couldn’t have imagined a better day umpiring baseball.
On the island, I learned that Vinalhaven has two home game dates per year. I hope I get asked to do the next one.
Pete Rand is chief financial officer for Island Institute, publisher of The Working Waterfront. He may be contacted at email@example.com.