By Will Desautelle
One afternoon this past winter, Little League Baseball® umpire, Kelly Dine, went outside to get the mail, something she seldom does. As she returned inside, with her husband and three sons in the kitchen, she flipped through a pile of letters before finding a thin envelope from Little League®.
“I know through the years that Little League has never sent out a rejection letter,” Mrs. Dine said. “It just looked like a rejection letter you would get from a college. It finally sunk in that it said, ‘congratulations,’ and I just hollered.”
Mrs. Dine, a resident of Hudson, Ohio, has been a Little League umpire for 10 years. She is just the sixth female umpire in the 73-year history of the Little League World Series.
“When we got that letter is was like an earthquake,” said Jeff Dine, Kelly’s husband. “It was just amazing to see the tears in her eyes and the joy that she got by reading that letter.”
Mrs. Dine’s unmatched work ethic has been lauded among fellow umpires all over the nation, and she has been a role model for future female umpires in baseball.
“She holds all the requisite values that are necessary to be a Little League umpire” said Chet Cooper, the Ohio District 2 Umpire-In-Chief. “She arbitrates the game in an open and fair manner and her personal life is reflected in that. She is a very committed person, not just to umpiring, but to her family and all the other things that she is involved in.”
In addition to her work as an umpire, Mrs. Dine is a registered nurse, a biomedical science teacher at North Akron High School and a former lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy. Her extensive military experience in many ways has helped her develop her umpiring skills.
“I love soaking up rules and knowledge and I love learning strategy,” Mrs. Dine said. “The more rules I learned, the more I could apply it to strategy. I just kept wanting more. I just kept wanting to learn more and do more.”
Umpiring softball games became her primary responsibility, while also continuing to do Little League Baseball games on the side. In 2011, she was assigned a Little League Softball regional tournament, followed by a Little League Baseball regional tournament two years later.
Mrs. Dine began working high school baseball games three years ago, but as she gained more experience at the high school level, her desire to umpire baseball only intensified.
“The more baseball I worked, the more I thought, wow, I really like baseball,” Mrs. Dine said. “I knew I was good at softball, but I was just conflicted. People really wanted me to do softball and wanted me to move into college softball, so I started doing a few games of college softball, but I love baseball.”
The turning point came in the fall of 2015, when Jeff was diagnosed with cancer. Following a 28-hour surgery in January of 2016, Jeff began chemotherapy and the couple began to reexamine their priorities.
Kelly and Jeff have approached his cancer the same way that they have with their youngest son Aidan, who was diagnosed with type-one diabetes early in his life. They both knew from the beginning that they would never let Aidan use his ailment as an excuse and that same attitude has prevailed with Jeff’s cancer.
This past April, she umpired the Malone University at Kent State game, which made her the first woman to umpire an NCAA baseball game involving a Division I team (Kent State). Further, today she is still the sole woman among more than 1,200 members of the College Baseball Umpires Association.
“I don’t think of myself as a female umpire, just that I’m an umpire,” Mrs. Dine said. “My philosophy has always been that I know that there are very few female umpires, but I’m going to do everything to make sure that someone doesn’t look at me on the field and say, ‘That’s why we don’t have more female umpires.’
A native of Erie, Pa., she earned 12 varsity letters in four high school sports and was an All-American in swimming. She then attended the United States Naval Academy before transferring to the Catholic University of America, where she graduated in 1991.
“It’s a crazy honor that I’m just the sixth woman,” Dine said. “I don’t want it to sound like that I am brushing off the fact that I’m just the sixth female, but I also want to be seen as just an umpire.”