There are certain moments in life that people can reflect on where every detail is so clear, as if it happened just the day before. For Little League® umpires Robbie Guest and Don Brown, receiving a phone call from the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) was one of those moments.
In addition to their services as Little League umpires, both Mr. Guest and Mr. Brown were invited to umpire at the NCAA 2023 Women’s College World Series (WCWS) in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. It was a milestone in both their careers and a direct result of years of hard work and experience on the field, all of which began with their local leagues.
To learn more about their careers and their hopes for the future, Little League sat down for a “Full-Count Conversation” with both Mr. Guest and Mr. Brown.
1-0 Count: Starting at the beginning, what inspired you to volunteer as a Little League umpire?
Growing up in what he calls “a Little League family,” Mr. Guest spent much of his childhood at the fields of Bloomfield LL in Macon, Georgia. Then, in high school, he became more involved with the league and started keeping score for the games, until one Saturday, an umpire assigned to a game could not make it.
“I remember when they didn’t show up, I ran out on the field and did a couple of games for the day,” said Mr. Guest. “I don’t know what it is about umpiring, but I enjoyed it pretty quickly and have been doing it ever since.”
For Mr. Brown, his umpiring story began when his son started playing Little League Baseball®. As part of their local league’s way of ensuring each game had umpires, Mr. Brown and other league parents volunteered as umpires for the division below their kids’ current division. Then, after years of umpiring for LL games, he started volunteering to umpire for baseball and softball of various levels.
“I loved the game, both baseball and softball, so being able to umpire Little League, high school, middle school, and college ball was a nice way to still be around it,” said Mr. Brown.
Both Mr. Guest and Mr. Brown grew their umpiring resumes at each level of the game, but they still remember where it all began.
“Returning to umpire at a Little League game today, there are some differences, but really, it’s all the same. It might be a little different of an atmosphere than a college game or World Series game, but we still umpire the same,” said Mr. Guest. “We treat it the same at all levels because, no matter the age, the game is what is important to them, so it is important to us, too.”
Since Mr. Guest’s first game, he has gone on to umpire multiple Little League Baseball and Softball region tournaments, various SEC and ACC softball games, the 2023 WCWS, games during the 2021 and 2023 Athletes Unlimited Softball seasons, one season of National Professional Fastpitch softball in 2018, and two seasons of Independent League Baseball, while also serving as a representative for the NCAA Rules Committee for Softball.
After his first appearance as an umpire in 1996, Mr. Brown has umpired a Little League Baseball region tournament, high school softball games, college softball since 2008, three WCWS (2019, 2021, 2023), Athletes Unlimited Softball games (2020-2023), two seasons of Women’s Professional Fastpitch softball, and is on the Mechanics Committee for NCAA softball.
1-1 Count: You both were invited and umpired at the Womens College World Series. What was this experience like for you both?
“I was totally blown away when I got the call,” said Mr. Brown. “I was driving on the interstate and when they asked me if I wanted to go, I had to pull over because I was so excited. I think I even got out of the truck and did a little dance before I continued driving.”
Mr. Brown would return to Oklahoma City to umpire in the WCWS again in 2021, but it was not until the 2023 tournament that he would get to experience it with the person he has known for more than 20 years and considers to be one of his closest friends in umpiring, Mr. Guest.
“I remember just listening to the invitation and just being silent for a moment,” said Mr. Guest. “You work your whole career at all different levels, so to have all that work from over the years reach milestones in life like this one, it is difficult to describe, but it really is what it’s all about.”
For both Mr. Brown and Mr. Guest, getting the invitation to umpire the WCWS was one thing, being in Oklahoma City was a whole other ball game.
“The experience there was amazing. I never experienced anything like it – the fans, the players, how we were treated there. On and off the field was amazing and I would not have traded it for the world,” said Mr. Bown. “You wish every umpire could experience it because words can’t describe it.”
2-1 Count: With both of your experiences leading up to umpiring a World Series, whether it be college or Little League, what would you tell current umpires who hope to one day be invited to a World Series?
“If you want to make it to a Little League World Series or a Women’s College World Series, or whatever it is, you don’t umpire in hopes that one day you could get selected for it, you umpire every game as if you are a World Series umpire,” said Mr. Guest. “That’s my biggest advice to every umpire I speak to – umpire today like you are there because you never know when that door of opportunity will open.”
Mr. Guest umpired at the 2012 Little League Baseball World Series, an event he says is one that every umpire who gets the chance to do it should reflect on often and remember every moment. Mr. Brown, after his three WCWS appearances, agrees.
“Just soak it all in. Once you walk out onto the field, just remember that it’s game time. It’s time to umpire and focus on the game,” said Mr. Brown. “But, when you’re off the field, enjoy everything about it. Walk around and see everything you can, take pictures and videos because you will look back at them all the time. Just work as hard as you can, but enjoy every moment that you can, too.”
2-2 Count: Outside of Little League, you both have umpired at various levels, most recently adding Athletes Unlimited Softball to that growing resumé. What do you both think of the growth of professional softball and its connection with youth players?
“It is very important. I know that kids look up to athletes and how they play. They take notice of how they handle bad situations, good situations, excitement, and adversity,” said Mr. Guest. “The way that the women’s game has exploded, you just have more and more kids watching it and connecting across the levels.”
Launched in 2020, Athletes Unlimited is a professional softball league with an innovative new scoring system where players earn points based on team victories and individual performances. A dedicated partner of Little League, both programs made history this year with the first-ever Athletes Unlimited Pro Games at the 2023 Little League Softball World Series (LLSWS).
“The athletic ability we saw again this year at Athletes Unlimited was unreal. Some of the plays that were made and some of the at-bats were amazing,” said Mr. Brown. “I was at a restaurant, and they had the AU Pro Games at the LLSWS on the television. There were two Little League teams in there and they were all just watching the game up on the screen and talking about the game. There was a glow from the girls as they watched.”
3-2 Count: What advice would you both have for those who are on the fence of volunteering as an umpire next season?
“I would tell the person who is thinking about becoming an umpire to find a mentor, and then to talk with their League Administrator to find out where they can do the training. If you want to do it, all the pieces are there,” said Mr. Guest.
If you did not play baseball or softball growing up, Mr. Brown notes that you don’t have to be an athlete to be an umpire.
“The training is there. You just have to find someone who enjoys umpiring as much as we do, and just have a conversation with them,” said Mr. Brown. “We really just need more umpires. The profession is getting slimmer and slimmer with the numbers. If you enjoy the game, it is a fantastic way to be around it.”
Interested in becoming a Little League umpire? Visit LittleLeague.org/Umpires to learn more.