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Orange County | Dana Parsons

Don't Kill the Umpire; Respect Him

April 19, 2002|Dana Parsons

To talk with him, Dan Edwards seems like a perfectly normal guy. He's 36, is married with four kids and owns a software business. He's a reserve officer for the Garden Grove Police Department and, for what it's worth, a pretty funny guy.

So why in the world, I ask him, do you want to be a Pony League and high school baseball umpire? Why would you want the abuse, the aggravation, the antagonism--and all for a pittance in pay? In short, what in the world is wrong with you?

Edwards looks across the desk in his Fountain Valley office and says, "That's a really good question. Now that you've got me thinking about it, I don't know why!"

He says it with a laugh, so I guess that means he's not quitting. For one thing, he has been umpiring since he was a teenager, not counting the 10 years or so he took off in his 20s and early 30s to start his family. But he has been back in full swing the last few years and plans to work about three games a week now that youth games litter the baseball-rich Orange County landscape.

But in an era in which goofy parents and coaches have perfected the knack of turning enjoyable ballgames into anger-management sessions, it amazes me that anyone would volunteer to be a potential target. A friend of mine, who is in his early 50s and old enough to know better, recently umpired his first softball game in a league for 8-year-old girls. Another friend on the East Coast has been umpiring high school games for a few years.

Wondering if they knew what they were doing, I hooked up with Edwards to find out why seemingly normal people get the urge to be an ump.

"I do it for the kids," Edwards says. "A lot of games I played in high school, we had lousy umpires. I felt I was out there busting my butt and getting called out at second base, and I can't even see the umpire because he's so far away."

By being a good umpire, Edwards says, he can enhance kids' enjoyment of the game.

If only parents and coaches saw it that way.

An ump can have more problems with the younger age groups than at the high school level, Edwards says.

"That's because the parents think their 8-year-old still has major league dreams," he says. "By me calling him out on strikes, I've just ruined his opportunity to play pro ball."

That's exactly what I mean; I'm a cupcake and don't like to be yelled at.

"I guess it does take a certain personality to say, 'I don't care,'" Edwards says of the boo birds. "We're out there for the kids to have fun. Unfortunately, parents get involved and ruin all that. But I really couldn't care less what goes on behind the backstop."

Edwards says clothes help make the ump. "A huge part of the battle is dressing the part. I've probably got $500 to $1,000 of gear in the back of my truck.... To get a chest protector I'd wear for a high school game, you're looking at a 150 bucks."

Little League umps work for free. Edwards belongs to the Orange County Baseball Officials Assn., whose 150 umps get between $50 and $60 for working high school games. Pony League umps make less.

I'm not sure that's enough money, even three times a week, to put up with certain coaches or parents. I ask Edwards if people are nuttier than ever.

"The thing I'm starting to see is, we're getting it now from the kids," he says. "Not screaming, yelling or kicking dirt, but when I played ball, you got called out, you got up and walked off the field. Now, it's 'What do you mean?' They're going to get in two or three words, too. It's not just Mom and Dad. That worries me."

What age are you talking about? "Eleven and 12 years old," he says.

Oh, well. There's still plenty of good times, sunshine and the connection with the grand old game itself.

Hassles aside, it must be worth it or relatively sane people like Edwards wouldn't hang in there.

His method is to look past the prickly parent or coach.

"The minute the game's over, I watch the kids," he says. "And by watching the kids, you usually can't tell who won the game. All they do is run out on the field, shake hands, roll around and get dirty and race to the snack bar."

*

Dana Parsons' column appears Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Readers may reach Parsons by calling (714) 966-7821 or by writing to him at The Times' Orange County edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626, or by e-mail to dana.parsons@latimes.com.

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