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Little League umpires feel the pressure too

The Little League World Series can be as thrilling for umps as it is for players. But as Lee Batterman, 67, can attest, a goof on national TV is as mortifying for an adult as it is for a 12-year-old.

August 22, 2011|By Diane Pucin
  • The players aren't the only ones feeling pressure on the Little League diamond.
The players aren't the only ones feeling pressure on the Little League… (Tom E. Puskar / Associated…)

Reporting from South Williamsport, Pa. — The wives knew first.

On the same day last spring, Lauri Batterman and Rebecca Hoy stood in front of homes in Fountain Valley and Corona, waving open letters and shouting to their husbands, Lee and Toby.

"I knew what it was," Lee Batterman said. "And I knew it was good news."

Lee Batterman, 67 and retired, and Toby Hoy, 40 and an eighth-grade teacher, would both be umpiring in their first Little League World Series.

As it is for the players, making it to this internationally famous event is an ultimate achievement, as much a once-in-a-lifetime moment as it is for the 12- and 13-year-old participants.

Batterman has been an umpire for 28 years. Hoy has wanted to be one from the time he was a toddler, following in the footsteps of his father, Marty, who is also here and working as a public address announcer.

From the nearly 7,500 Little Leagues worldwide, only 16 umpires are chosen for the LLWS each year. By rules, the same umpire can work the tournament every four years, but Hoy said there are so many qualified people that once an umpire is called, realistically, that's it.

To be considered, an umpire must be nominated by a Little League district administrator to the regional office. From there, the nominations go to a regional chairman and eventually to the LLWS committee.

The World Series umpires also work the regional tournament in their area and it is unusual to have two umpires from the same regional come to the World Series, as happened this year for Batterman and Foy.

This is a volunteer job, a labor of love.

A costly one too.

Hoy estimates he has spent about $1,000 on airfare and renting a car. The Battermans are making a three-month vacation of the trip.

The umpires are provided a hotel room once they get here and a per diem for food.

Batterman, who is called "Batman" by his umpiring buddies, is writing a blog about the experience called "Batman and Lady Bat's Travels."

It so happens that Batterman and Hoy were part of the six-man crew that worked the most emotional game of the tournament so far.

Last Friday, the team from Clinton County, Pa., which is based in Lock Haven, less than 30 miles from the LLWS stadiums, played its first game and drew a record crowd of 41,848.

Batterman was at third base for the game, Hoy at second.

The game, against La Grange, Ky., was also televised on ESPN and there was a key call that Batterman described this way on his blog:

"One controversial play (yes, by the ol' Batman). Was a fair/foul call that landed just behind me. Yep. Behind me. Not my call. And I not only called it. I got it wrong. I'm the guy that is always teaching and hammering, 'Know your area of responsibility.' The line guy behind me called it fair. You can now guess what my call was."

Batterman called the ball foul and said he knew instantly, "I messed up." Replays showed the ball had landed on the left-field line, meaning it should have been ruled fair. After a conference, it was decided that because one umpire had called the ball foul and the play dead — an umpire further down the left-field line had correctly ruled the ball fair — the call had to stand.

The batter from Clinton County, whose team was trailing by a run, should have been on second base with a one-out double. There were about 41,000 unhappy fans at the stadium and, on ESPN, announcer John Kruk criticized the obviously wrong call to a national television audience.

"Not good," Batterman said.

Clinton County ended up losing, 1-0, and Batterman ended up feeling a lot like a kid who'd made an error that cost his team a game.

The pressure is immense, even for the adults.

"I've never done a game in front of 40,000 people," Hoy said. "Maybe 13,000 tops. I've never been on television much before. I don't know how to explain it. There's a heightened sense of concentration. You don't want to make a mistake that costs a 12-year-old the win of a lifetime. But you can't think like that. You can't work like that, you can't be on the field and not make a mistake."

Rules mandate that Batterman and Hoy aren't allowed to work games involving the teams that came from the regionals in San Bernardino that they worked. That means no games with West representative Ocean View of Huntington Beach, the most dominant U.S. team so far, or Northwest representative Big Sky of Billings, Mont.

Those are the only undefeated U.S. teams after two games, and they meet Wednesday at 5 p.m. PDT, with the winner advancing directly to the national championship game.

So, Batterman and Hoy won't be working the game that decides the U.S. champion, or, if either Ocean View or Big Sky advances to Sunday's final game between the national and international champions, that one either.

Hoy said he knew how good the California and Montana teams were, so he's not surprised — or really even too disappointed.

"I can't really put my interests at the top," he said. "It's hard to not wish well for the kids I got to know."

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