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The Ultimate Letter

Let’s be honest with ourselves. Most, if not all, of us who umpire Little League Baseball or Softball have entertained the notion that one day we will be selected to participate in a World Series. To be singled out as even a small part of some of the most watched sporting events in the world is an almost unexplainable feeling.

My moment came in December of 2006, when my younger daughter called me from home informing me that I had received a letter from Little League Headquarters in that day’s mail. The contents of that envelope revealed that I had been selected to work the 2007 Junior League Baseball World Series in Taylor Mich.

Once the initial shock wears off the questions begin. How am I going to get there? Is it all right if my family comes with me? Where will I be staying? What are the uniform requirements? Can I get the time off from work? Am I really good enough to have been selected? Let’s take them one at a time, and in no real particular order.

Your selection letter probably included the name and phone number of a contact person. Get in touch with that person as quickly as possible to communicate your intent to accept the assignment. This person is usually the Tournament Director or the Chief Umpire. Do not hesitate to contact him with your questions or concerns. This individual has been through this a few times and is a wealth of information as well as a calming influence for the newly-selected umpire.

If you are coming from outside of the United States, start working on your travel plans NOW. Make sure your passport visa and other travel documents are in order and up to date. If you don’t have these documents start the process to obtain them NOW.

Approach your employer as soon as you possibly can to make arrangements for the necessary time off. Plenty of lead time for them goes a long way toward their support of your assignment. Make sure your spouse and other family members are also taking the necessary steps regarding employment, school or whatever other commitments must be addressed. If there are pets in the family make sure arrangements have been made for their care during your absence.

Now that some of the logistics have been addressed, it’s time to consider what will happen to you during the upcoming months. First, you have to realize that it won’t take long for you to become a “celebrity” at your local league games. All of the coaches and most of the players will know that you have been selected to work a World Series.

Your performance will go under a microscope at every game you officiate. This is not necessarily a bad thing. The increased scrutiny will help you fine-tune your mechanics, timing and field presence. Please do not attempt to make major changes to what you have been doing for years at this point. Resist any urge to make major changes to the mechanics you have been perfecting for years. For example, don’t suddenly decide that you are going to go to a scissors stance behind the plate, because it might look better on television. Work on refining some of the “smaller” things, like giving the count more often or signaling your partners regarding situations. The big stuff will take care of itself.

If you should receive an invitation/assignment to District, Section, State or Region Tournaments accept those with graciousness and realize that they are an excellent opportunity to continue fine-tuning your approach to the game. They will also help in keeping you relaxed as Series time draws near.

When the time to depart for your Series arrives, prepare to enjoy yourself immensely. You have been chosen to participate at the highest levels of our avocation with the best players in the world at some truly amazing venues.

You are about to meet some individuals from around the world who may well remain life-long friends. You are about to become a member of a very small and select fraternity. Do yourself a really big favor at this point: Don’t worry about position or game assignments; they’ll take care of themselves. You are not there to compete, that’s what the teams are there to do. You’re there because of your skills and abilities merit the selection. Enjoy every moment of the experience. A whole lot of people would gladly trade places with you. Don’t let the enjoyment slip away.

When my letter arrived in 2006, it set off a chain of marvelous events that is continuing to this day.

It also caused me to become reflective of what transpired prior to the arrival of the letter and the realization that I was indebted to those who had tutored (and in some cases tolerated) me on my journey to this point.

You are now in a similar position, upon returning from your Series your focus needs to shift to preparing the next umpire from your league, district, or state to receive his or her letter. You are now the “Gold Standard” in your locale; it’s up to you to get that next person to his or her letter.

This is how I have chosen to pay back all of those who helped and encouraged me. Remember no one gets “The Letter” all on his own. ENJOY IT!!

Tom Rawlings

Pennsylvania District 6