By Scott Langdon
Canadian Baseball Network
The temperature outside hovered stubbornly below freezing. Snow filtered down throughout the day. But inside Oakville’s Appleby College the sounds of spring were unmistakable during a recent February weekend.
“Ball,” “Strike,” “You’re out” rang out as 71 amateur umpires from parts of Canada and the Caribbean were put through their paces at the first Canadian Baseball Umpire Camp.
The two-day session was the brainchild of Steven Jaschinski, one of seven Canadians umpiring at various levels of professional baseball. Five of the seven – Chris Graham and Scott Costello, triple-A, Chris Marco, double-A, Ben Rosen, single-A short-season, and Jaschinski, single A – provided wide-ranging classroom and on-field instruction. Stu Scheurwater, who will umpire full-time in the big leagues this season, and Matt Whipple, Rookie level, are the other two Canadian professional umpires. An eighth Canadian, Kevin Mandzuk of Yorkton, Sask., was hired by minor league baseball a few days after the clinic.
“The number of people wanting to be officials in all sports, including baseball, seems to be declining. This clinic is a way for us to give back because we all started umpiring as kids. We would like to grow the umpiring community in Canada,” Jaschinski said.
Participants were primarily from Ontario, but also included two umpires from Quebec and three from the ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao) in the Leeward Antilles of the Caribbean Sea off the coast of Venezuela.
“We only decided to go ahead with this in mid-December. Having so many participants has exceeded our expectations. We were guessing maybe 35, 50 people maximum,” Marco explained.
“Cooperation with Baseball Ontario really helped build attendance. The Umpires Committee approved our affiliation and allowed us to certify level one and two umpires during our session. We also provided advanced instruction to umpires with level three certification and higher. The clinic provides a great opportunity for feedback for those at a higher level,” he added.
Instruction during the two days included two-umpire system common mistakes and live situations, crew consultations and handling weather and cage work.
“This amount of interest is fantastic to see,” said Graham, the most experienced of the five instructors with eight years at various professional levels. “Something like this didn’t exist when I was coming up. And now, with more opportunities in the big leagues as umpires retire, Canadian kids who are interested can see that a professional umpiring career is possible.”
Danielle Clapiz, 14, was one of two teenage girls who participated. She has one year of umpiring experience for East Mountain Baseball in Hamilton and thinks learning from professional umpires was “cool.”
“I would just like to learn more about the signals and how to do them,” she explained.
Colin Uba, 14, is looking forward to his first year of umpiring in his hometown of Milton, Ont.
“This is really fun. I want to be an umpire and learning from professionals with so much experience is cool. Learning more about on-field positioning will help me this season,” he said.
Not all the umpires in attendance were young, but all were young-at-heart.
“I umpire because it keeps me in contact with a sport I have always loved since I was a kid,” said Dirck Sillery, 53, a level three umpire who works in Milton and Burlington, Ont. “Learning some of the technical aspects of umpiring is helpful, good feedback".
Peter Willmott, 60, is another level three umpire. The games he umpires in the Toronto area are “highly competitive” and taken seriously by the teenage players.
“There is a lot at stake these days for the kids. Some of them have professional or college opportunities and they take it seriously. I feel I owe them a well-umpired game. We don’t always get a lot of feedback so this session will help me understand where I am and how to improve,” he said.
“As one of the older ones, I find that umpiring is good for the mind. You make maybe three or four hundred decisions quickly during a game. It helps keep me sharp,” he added.
The average cost of the two-day session was $150. Sponsorship support from Ump Life, a Toronto umpiring equipment and clothing retailer, helped make the clinic possible, Jaschinski explained.
“The support has been amazing. I started umpiring when I was nine years old. I had to travel to the United States to learn from professional umpires when I was a kid. Now, with seven of us umpiring professionally, we can do this ourselves and give back to the Canadian baseball community,” he said.
“We only started organizing this in December. We built a website and used social media including Twitter and Facebook to spread the word. We’re thrilled with the attendance. Now, we’re starting to think about how we might expand this to other parts of the country in the future,” he said.
The 71 amateur umpires who attended will now have to be patient, waiting out the cold weather and snow until another baseball season can begin. But the wait won’t be quite as long for Canada’s eight professional umpires. They will report to various spring training locations in Florida and Arizona in early March.