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An Umpire's Long Championship Wait

People buy a lottery ticket thinking they might win enough to cover their cup of coffee, they don't scratch away expecting to hit the jackpot.

That was much the same for Gresham, Oregon-area baseball umpire Jason Smith when he joined many others in hopes of getting the golden ticket to work Little League's showcase event — the World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

“I felt like I'd get my name in line and maybe eventually, I would get it,” Smith said.

Eventually was a short wait.

Smith found out that he was one of 16 umpires selected for the 2016 World Series. 

“I know a lot of quality umpires, who are waiting for their shot — this is definitely a once in a lifetime thing,” Smith said.

Smith has been volunteering with Little League for more than 25 years — the last 15 spent specifically as an umpire. Twice he has called games at the West Regionals in San Bernardino, California for baseball (2011) and for softball (2016). Regionals are an exciting stage of the playoffs with the winner moving onto the LLWS, but also an intense time of learning and evaluation for the officials. 

“It's impossible not to walk away from that a better umpire,” Smith said.

He watches the LLWS on television each summer, but this will be his first trip to Williamsport in person.

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“We've always talked about going, so we're going to make it a family trip,” Smith said. “The opportunity to meet so many Little Leaguers and to see teams from all over the world — that's where the excitement is for me.”

When he's not volunteering behind home plate, Smith works as a mechanic keeping school buses in working order.

Another Gresham-area umpire, Brad Parker, got his first call to work the Little League Softball West Regionals in Missoula, Montana.

“It's all about the kids — this is a bonus for the umpires,” Parker said. “I've never been to Montana, so I'm looking forward to the trip and to seeing some pretty good softball.”

The Little League program relies on volunteers and its top-flight officials attend various umpiring clinics to become eligible for the league's all-star tournaments.

“We're in our rulebook year around,” Parker said. “It takes a lot of attention to detail and you have to be in physical shape — doing 300 squats a game is tiring.” 

So what is the toughest call he has had to make in his decade behind the plate?

“Catcher's interference is something you don't see a lot, probably twice in my career, but when you see an obscure rule like that play out there's a light that switches on,” Parker said. “You know the rule when you see it.”

From GameChanger and David Ball.

Baseball, Softball, Softball Features, Baseball Features