Four groups of people are always seen at baseball and softball games: players, coaches, fans and umpires. This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, numerous sporting events, like baseball and softball, were canceled for the safety of the athletes and fans. The teams and fans have all expressed opinions about the need for a new season.
However, has anyone heard the opinions from the umpires? They are expected to suit up and prepare for a shorter season, but is that what they want? Bill Leach, the commissioner of USA Softball of District Four in Nebraska, an umpire of over 35 years, said he is on the fence.
“I would be happy that the girls are getting to play the game they love to play, but there’s so many restrictions…I think that’s going to ruin the atmosphere for the girls,” Leach said.
COVID-19 caused the cancelation of most sporting events in the United States. Spring sports ended in the middle of their seasons and some summer sports haven’t started. The nation is concerned with having any sports at all this summer or fall.
On May 11, 2020, Gov. Pete Ricketts said organized team practices for baseball and softball can begin on June 1 and games would start June 18. Teams are meeting and practicing regularly in hopes of competing soon.
Dick Ross, the past USA Umpire in Chief and an umpire of over 40 years, is “glad that there is something for the kids to look forward to.” He said he feels particularly bad for the senior athletes who missed out on their final season.
“I feel bad for the ones that missed out on the spring sports portion of their season. So, a lot of people need something to go on,” Ross said.
Coaches and their players want a season of competition and making unforgettable memories on-and-off the field. If people do not follow the rules, such as wearing masks and staying six feet apart, Ross believes fall sports will be delayed.
“I just hope everybody follows the rules and regulations,” he said. “If not, it could cause a boring fall of not being able to have any sports and then that will really disappoint a lot of people. I’m not just talking younger, I’m talking high school and down.”
Some people who planned to umpire this spring and summer had to find another job. People have quarantined or stayed close to home for fear of catching and / or spreading the virus.
Now, with the opportunity to start umpiring again, how many are going to take up that offer? Tim Higgins, a Legion baseball umpire of 27 years, is looking forward to seeing some of his friends again.
“I’ve done a lot of things around my house…but halfway through the day, I kind of get somewhat bored, trying to fill the void of doing something,” Higgins said. “So, with baseball coming up and filling that void, I get to umpire with some of my good friends I haven’t seen since March.”
Both baseball and softball umpires received an email regarding the new regulations they have to follow once games and tournaments start. Umpires are encouraged to wear masks at the complex, including on the field as an option. There will be a home plate meeting, but coaches and umpires must be six feet apart. Umpires will not be given line up cards and each team is responsible for the balls in use. No conversations between coaches and umpires are allowed between innings. Higgins plans on wearing a mask while umpiring because it is considered “normal” now.
“I talked to a couple of buddies of mine and we all will be wearing a mask because of the safety concern,” said Higgins. “People aren’t going to sit out there and make fun of us for it because that’s the norm now.”
Before the pandemic, the number of umpires and sports officials have been decreasing dramatically. According to The Today Show’s article, “Youth sports referees across the US are quitting because of abusive parents,” reporter Scott Stump said officials are quitting because of “verbal…even physical abuse from volatile parents and coaches.” Adding a worldwide virus takes away even more of these officials.
“There’s more of a struggle to find umpires to work the games this year. Just because…some of the older, experienced umpires got underlying medical conditions,” Leach said. “Some people are like, ‘I’m not coming out,’ and some are like, ‘Let’s get this season started.’ There are also those who just don’t want to be an umpire anymore because of the ridicule they dealt with.”
Umpires have many reasons as to why they choose not to come back. However, some umpires, like Higgins, are coming back because of their love for the game and to see kids with that same passion playing.
“I love the game…What are [the kids] playing for? They’re playing because they like to play baseball.”