With the absence of spring sports due to COVID-19, high school athletes are missing out on the sport they love, but they aren’t the only ones dealing with time away from the field.
Area baseball and softball umpires are in the same boat.
Second Region baseball assigning secretary Matt Bell said it’s a tough time for everyone.
“People don’t think about us, but we’re having the same feelings and disappointments that the teams and coaches and parents are having,” he said. “That’s something that we enjoy. You’ve got to enjoy it to be out there 5-6 hours each night calling until 10:30, 11 then getting out and doing your day job the next day.
“Our guys love baseball, but I think more than anything they just love being around the kids. Those kids mean a lot to our umpires and they build relationships with them, not just from an official standpoint, but they follow those guys on after high school, those that are able to go play college and some of those that are playing some sort of professional ball.
“They follow them, they keep up with them and they stay in contact with them on a regular basis. It’s more than just drawing a paycheck and saying I’m an umpire. It’s about that unity that they build with the kids and the coaches on and off the field.”
Baseball umpire Kirk Dragoo said he, along with many others, aren’t in it for the monetary value, but he does find his schedule a little less hectic.
“We obviously don’t do it for the money,” he said. “The money isn’t the primary factor ... Really and truly the first thing that went through my mind was, ‘I’ve been doing this 14-15 years and I’m tied up from the middle of March until the middle of October, sometimes November. I’m going to have all this free time, what do we now?”
Dragoo said he would have been at games at least four nights a week. But he’s not complaining, he loves the game.
“If we weren’t competitive, we wouldn’t do it,” he said.
Pennyrile Umpire Association President Andy Bell echoed Dragoo’s sentiment.
“I do it for the kids,” he said. “I don’t do it for the money ... I do it because I love the game and I do it for the kids. That’s what breaks my heart.”
Matt said they’ve already had four association meetings and reviewed rules regulations.
He said there are several new umpires this season and the disruption puts them in a difficult spot.
“Those are the guys that I feel sorry for is those six new officials that had joined the association and for anybody that doesn’t know, baseball and softball are the two most expensive sport to get into officiating because of all the equipment requirements,” he said. “Here they are spending $600, $700, $800 on equipment and now they don’t get any return to help pay for that. There’s a lot of things that go on behind the scenes before we ever step on the field.”
Matt said it’s a tough time because they know how much the players put into their craft on a daily basis.
“My thoughts are with the athletes, especially those seniors who put in so many hours, days and nights of blood, sweat and tears and not being able to go out with a bang their last year,” he said. “Some of those, if not most, that’ll be their last opportunity to play organized spring sports.”
Chuck Standiford works for Christian County Public Schools, but he’s been an umpire for much longer.
Standiford started in 1989 and umpired college before starting high school games in 1996.
“You miss the kids, you miss the human interaction with the kids,” he said. “In the school, you miss being that safe place for kids to come in and they see their friends. Whether they admit or it not, they do like most of their teachers, most of the time. On the softball field, these kids have worked all week long, all day long for the last month to get ready for this.”
Standiford said he’s realized he doesn’t have many hobbies because he loves his time at the field so much.
For him, there are a few different things he’s missed this season.
“There’s nothing like that first pitch, that kid who’s been a JV pitcher and all of a sudden now, she’s got her varsity spot,” he said. “That kind who’s never gotten a hit that’s been in the cage all winter long and they crack that double and they’re on second base with that look.
“That shortstop that makes a backhand play and throws across the infield and everybody goes ‘Whoa, did you see that?’ She’s balancing between ‘Yeah I did that’ or ‘Holy crap, did I do that?’ ”