Seven of the Little League’s nine regions were represented during this year’s umpire school at Little League® International, including volunteers from the Virgin Islands, Canada, and Australia. Proud to call themselves “ambassadors from down under,” Australians Geordie McRae and Matt Wagner traveled the furthest, but their desire to learn and return home with game-speed experience was shared by everyone in this year’s class.
“Our goal is to take back the basic skills, so we can encourage others to try (umpiring),” said Mr. Wagner. “We all want to be better umpires, and it’s important to see Little League’s umpire standards in person, and in real time. The curriculum is outstanding because it blends mechanics and rules in an easy-to-understand presentation.”
The Australian continent has enjoyed a Little League explosion in recent years. So much so that, Australia now has the third-largest concentration of teams behind the U.S. and Canada. Mr. McRae, 45, and Mr. Wagner, 52, have nearly 30 years of combined umpiring experience, and when Little League chartered its first leagues near their homes in Sydney, both made the natural transition into the program’s umpiring ranks.
Deciding to make the 20-hour, 10,000-mile journey to Williamsport, the duo said it was important to see the Little League standard in person so they could properly train umpires back home.
“We have come to the Graceland of Little League,” said Mr. McRae. “At first, we were unsure of what to expect, but we quickly found out that everyone else was here to learn too. Like us, each of the other volunteer umpires want to pass along what they have learned. Matt and I feel that coming to school will help us both add depth to the training we can offer to our leagues in Australia.”
The five-day school, and the weekend clinic conducted two weeks before, were both filled to capacity. The standardization of the Little League umpire program has allowed the regional centers to host similar training clinics that feature rulebook terminology and teach established mechanics.
“I started umpiring just like everyone else,” said Mr. Wagner. “I was a dad in the stands, and to get the game played, I was asked to help out as an umpire. Now it’s been 16 years, and I am still at it. I saw coming to Williamsport as a great opportunity to see how these guys run a Little League-specific camp, and make myself better.”
Mr. McRae, a professional photographer, and Mr. Wagner, agree that the type of adult learning that is promoted through the clinic and school can be easily applied when they return to Australia. Both men noted that broadening the exposure to Little League is even more important to the league volunteers than it is to the children, because many of the adults grew up playing cricket or Australian Rules football, not baseball or softball.
“Matt and I are experienced umpires and are involved in umpire development,” said Mr. McRae. “Coming to the head office of Little League to tap the brain trust was a fabulous opportunity. What we have learned here has added depth to our understanding and will assist us in our training, instruction, and recruitment efforts.”
During the tournament season, Australia is one of four countries to qualify its National Champion to play in the Little League Baseball® World Series. This season, for the first time, the same will be true for the Junior League Baseball World Series. Mr. McRae and Mr. Wagner are excited for future prospects of their country’s Little League umpires. They believe that one day a native Australian will garner a World Series umpire assignment, and they hope their time at umpire school can have a hand in helping that dream become a reality.
Little League umpires are essential in shaping the experience of every Little Leaguer®. Striving to support the efforts of this core group of volunteers, Little League International offers a variety of training and education resources. Whether looking to refine their mechanics, or stay current with the rules and regulations, umpires have free, unlimited access to Little League University, which is available online anytime at LittleLeagueu.org; the bi-monthly Fair Ball newsletter that is e-mailed to free of charge, and local, district, state, and regional clinics. The Little League Umpire Registry also is an added benefit designed just for Little League umpires.