Local umpires learn that confidence is key
BRECKENRIDGE – There are certain personality traits one needs to maintain control of a couple dozen Summit County adults playing a kids’ game on a local ballfield.
Chief among them are confidence and a thick skin.
Dylan Berger figures he’s got both – enough so to begin the process of becoming a local umpire by attending Saturday’s Amateur Softball Association (ASA) umpire clinic and orientation at Colorado Mountain College.
“I’m not worried about it,” Berger said. “I’ll make sure I know what I’m doing before I make some tough calls. I won’t let the guys push me around.”
That’s exactly what Colorado Umpire in Chief Bill Sturdevant wants to hear from his rookies. Sturdevant runs more than 10 orientations each spring in Colorado. During Saturday’s clinic, hosted by the Summit County Softball League, he stressed three keys to successful umpiring: rule knowledge, mechanics (i.e., knowing the correct position to be in to make a call) and an ability to deal with coaches, players and fans.
Perhaps most of all, good umpiring is a state of mind.
“It takes a certain degree of self-confidence,” Sturdevant said. “It takes leadership ability and knowing how to get along with people, and certainly a thick skin.
“The good ones are steady people who command authority without drawing attention to themselves.”
Indeed, the best umpires are the ones who go unnoticed. What makes up for the thanklessness of the job, though, is the $17-per-hour rookie salary.
The money is a big selling point for Summit County Softball League assistant director Dale Tuel, who spends the winter recruiting potential officials. He also sells people on the enjoyably aspects of the job: being outside, being around the game and getting exercise. Plus, the hours are flexible and in the evenings, and umpires can still play in the league on nights they don’t work.
“There are times you’ll take some heat,” admitted Tuel, “but if you’re confident and having fun, umpiring is really fun.”
With the economy soft, the extra money has been a good lure. Sturdevant said there’s still a shortage of umpires in the state, but it’s nothing like when the economy was roaring in the late-1990s. At that time, when part-time money was less alluring, the ASA was severely understaffed and the umps were severely overworked.
For Tuel, who has been with the Summit league for eight years, the numbers have always been decent. There is a veteran crew of about 10, and four or five new officials sign up each year. This year, the league will have about 20 umpires.
“I would never say I have enough umps, but I’m doing pretty well with numbers right now,” Tuel said. “I’ve been fortunate. I recruit all winter long so I don’t come up with a shortage.”
Saturday’s clinic was supposed to conclude with a practicum at Kingdom Park, but weather forced a cancellation. In the coming weeks, Tuel plans to stage some practice games, at which the new officials can get live game experience before league play begins May 27.
Jason Starr can be reached at (970) 668-3998 Ext. 231 or at email@example.com.
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