By Kelly Dine: The Biggest Little League® Stage Is Lit Up by Joy, Smiles, and Fun

kelly dine

Written By 2019 Little League Baseball® World Series Umpire Kelly Elliott Dine

Kelly Elliott Dine, a resident of Hudson, Ohio, has been a Little League® volunteer umpire for more than 10 years. She is the sixth woman to umpire in the 73-year history of the Little League Baseball® World Series, and the second to serve as home plate umpire for the LLBWS Championship Game (2019). In addition to her volunteer work as an umpire, Mrs. Dine is a registered nurse, a high school biology teacher who instructs the PLTW Biomedical Science pathway at North High School in Akron, and a former lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy.

Going into the Little League World Series, there was a sense that I was about to embark on one of the most memorable and fantastic experiences of my life. My husband, Jeff, and I brought our oldest son, Steven (now 23), and youngest son, Aiden (now 15), with us to Williamsport. Our middle son, Alex (21), was traveling at the time. Given their ages, I was a bit concerned that my sons would be a little bored.  However, we were amazed with how much fun the boys had! There is so much to do at the complex, apart from sitting and watching some great ball games. Sliding down the famous hill, competing in the MLB Virtual Home Run Derby, trading pins, trying out a huge variety of concession stand food, and visiting the museum are all just some of the fun things to take part in. The boys did not want to leave! I think they absorbed and enjoyed the experience as much as I did.

Before we went to Williamsport, I don’t think I grasped the enormity and the joy of attending the Little League World Series. The sights and the sounds and just the wondrous atmosphere of friendship and family … strangers became instant friends. Everyone wore a grin. It’s a beautiful sight to behold. Now, I tell people: you need to go to Williamsport and attend the World Series, regardless if you are a Little League fan or if you’ve never watched a baseball game in your life. It was such a phenomenal experience. People truly need to put a trip to the Little League World Series on their family’s bucket list – they’ll remember the smiles forever.

In these current trying times, people are stressed and worried about so many things. It’s not just local or national problems, but global problems that are affecting every one of us. So many of us have experienced some form of loss or devastation this year. The positive family environment and friendship displayed at the Little League World Series is something we so desperately need right now. I completely understand why everything had to be canceled for this year. Safety always comes first. But I know that the return of the Little League World Series will bring a sense of healing and comfort and joy to our lives again. The world really needs the Little League World Series.

I take pride in being the best umpire I can be. To be selected as a World Series umpire still makes me speechless. I was so honored to be a part of such a fantastic crew. We quickly became a close-knit family, and I feel that I have 15 more brothers now. We all had an incredible time and soaked up every minute of the Series.

Fun aside though, I never lost sight of the fact that I was brought there (to Williamsport) to do a job. When I stepped out on the field, I knew I was going to pour everything I had into officiating that game. To be at my very best was critical for the teams and coaches who had made this journey from around the world to be on the biggest Little League stage.

As luck would have it, I came down with a bad cold going into Championship Weekend. Knowing that I had the plate for the championship game, it was important for me to be organized and prepared. In addition to my water bottle, I also pulled together a pack of tissues, my asthma inhaler, some cough drops, and bottle of hand sanitizer. As we picked up our things and began to leave the locker room, Tom Rawlings (Little League Director of Umpire Development and World Series Umpire Coordinator) looked at me and said with his usual dry wit, “Geez, did you forget the kitchen sink?!” I laughed and replied, “Tom, you’ll be the one handing me tissues if I start sniffling.” Despite his words to the contrary, sure enough, the tissues, hand sanitizer, and inhaler were all lined up along the wall in the well behind the home plate area.

Walking out onto the Lamade Stadium grass on that brilliant Sunday afternoon, I just turned and breathed in the moment. I looked around at the thousands of people waiting for that game to start. Honestly, I felt a few butterflies, but once I stepped into the slot behind the catcher and said “Play!” it was just baseball.

The best thing about Little League is that the players are kids; they are just 10, 11, and 12 years old. They are not 20 or 21, playing for scholarships or a college championship, and there is no big money on the line like in the pro game. The players may have realized there were millions of people worldwide watching them, and that they were on the biggest stage of their young lives. There was an electrified buzz in the air. But just like me, once the first pitch was thrown, it was just baseball to them. There were grins and frustration, and dirt and hustle, and seeing it all come together hammered home to me that on that field, at that moment, we were all there simply for the love of the game.

The baseball game itself was so fast-paced and exciting. Spectacular hits and awesome defensive plays were being made, and I had the best seat in the house. Each half inning, I’d go over to the well, grinning from ear to ear; I felt like a kid in a candy store. I remember Mike Legge (Assistant World Series Umpire Coordinator) and Tom joking with me, saying, “Stop it. You look like you’re having fun.”  I was truly having the time of my life.

Part way through the game, “the wave” started at the half inning. Picture being on a small field with 25,000 people surrounding you, all doing the wave, and just watching that coordinated massive movement of arms flowing up then down, around and around.  I could see that packed hill in front of me, past the outfield fence, with kids on cardboard boxes gleefully sliding down, dodging thousands of spectators like a giant slalom ….  I almost wished I didn’t have to start the inning again right away, that I could just enjoy that moment a little bit longer.

Going into this year, I was so looking forward to watching the next crew of 16 outstanding volunteer umpires revel in some of these adventures. I couldn’t wait to see someone else share in the same joy. There are no words to adequately describe the experiences of being a Little League Baseball World Series umpire. I must say, walking off the field for the last time is hard! You don’t want it to end. But now, having lived the Williamsport experience firsthand, I get it. I really get it. The World Series is all-encompassing. It shows the world what volunteerism, friendship, and hard work look like. It’s the yearly culmination of dedicated people working together around the globe to ensure that young players continue to build bonds, become good teammates, compete on the diamond, and foster their love of baseball. The World Series truly brings home what Little League is all about.