Why would anyone take on a job that has a description of an umpire? Most umpires ask themselves that question at least once or twice every season. Umpires are out in the cold, heat, and sometimes rain. The job offers little appreciation. Extra innings can mean late hours with no extra compensation. It is almost a certainty to be criticized at every game, yelled at sometimes and even threatened once in awhile.
"It is for the love of the game. Money is not the right reason. We do get paid, but it really doesn't compensate for the time, training, traveling expense and the clothing we have to purchase. Most of the time we would come up short on the money side," long time umpire Scott Townsend said.
Townsend began his umpiring career 10 years ago calling games for the Manila Youth Association. He has called for T-ball, machine pitch, little league, junior and senior Babe Ruth teams, and high school baseball. He has also called some for summer softball games. He has umpired high school games throughout the area, but this season he calls mostly at Manila, Marked Tree and Piggott.
When his son started playing summer baseball, he realized there was a need for volunteers, so he took the test and got his umpire license to help with the program.
Townsend said there is still a need for umpires in order to keep the summer programs going. He admits that sometimes it is not pleasant, but overall it can be very rewarding.
"Umpires have to realize that it is difficult to please everyone. We have to call it like we see it. When we are out there we cannot look at who is playing who. We should just know there are two teams and we have to call it play by play. We have to be able to not take the comments from the fans personally. I will be the first to admit that we are human and we can make mistakes. We have to watch everything that is going on in the field, in spite of the distractions that are going on behind the fences. I have seen parents get carried away screaming at the umpires, other fans and even the players," Townsend said. "The game is for the kids and adults need to remember that it is a game. The game ceases to be fun for the children when yelling and arguing are going on. I love to umpire games when the little ones are playing. When the game is over they ask "who won?" and "can we go to the concession stand now?"
Townsend admits that at one point in his life, he was one of those fans he describes but, he has learned more than just the rules of the game by being on the inside of the fence.
Most umpires have a full time job and the games they call are after a full day's work.
"It is time consuming and when there is a change or a rain out, it takes several telephone calls to get it all coordinated," Townsend said. "Our families have to be supportive and sometimes it is difficult for them to enjoy a ballgame because of the criticism they hear in the stands. It is not fair for our families to have to distance themselves from the other fans so they don't have to hear what is being said. Our spouses have to listen to us when we get home. Sometimes we have to vent, and it is not good to do that in public."
Townsend's partners this year are Shane Birmingham, Johnny McCain, and Robert Frasher. This group has worked a lot of ballgames throughout the area.
Townsend said there is always a shortage of umpires. He gave the umpire test recently in Manila and only five people took the test. He pointed out that the test is not difficult.
"To umpire we have to be able to keep our minds on the game and not listen to what people are saying around us. Especially when we are dealing with children, we need to set an example no matter what side of the fence we are on.
"God has put us on earth to accomplish certain things. I'm not saying God put me in the umpire position, but when I am there, I need to be an example. I have to be fair. When we are dealing with the little kids we have a great opportunity to correct them on where they stand, or what they say or in other ways. As they get older the correction is over. Calls are calls and there are no `do-overs.' The games should be a good experience for our young people," Townsend said.
Townsend said in all of the years he has been umpiring, he has only had to throw out two people, one was a player for using profane language and the other was a fan that would not "quit mouthing."
"When we step on the field and take the lineup, we have to be in control. It is not just in control of the balls and strikes, fair or foul, it is being in charge of the equipment, fans too close to the fence, watching the weather to make sure everyone is safe, safety equipment for catchers, watching for missed bases, and so much more. In addition to all of that we should not have to be harassed," Townsend said.
"It is important that we have summer sports for our children. We can make a difference in young people's lives by being there and setting the right example. Hopefully, it will be a good 2003 season for everyone - players, coaches, fans and umpires," he said.
Townsend urged people to volunteer to help with the summer youth programs.
All of the umpires agree that coaches need to be more mindful of how they approach situations, arguable calls, and even the tone they use.
"A lot of potential umpires could be sitting in the stands or watching a game and wanting to get involved. Why would they want to volunteer if they think they will hear nothing but criticism throughout the game. Working together, we can make a positive situation and a fun summer for all our area youth," he said.