Ok, so I lied. I will have a couple of more posts before I wrap up the blog, only because I have too much material to put into one post. I’m actually home now, (more on that later) so I’m writing this from sunny San Diego. I just wanted to share some thoughts and experiences about the banquet. Although I thought the event would not bring me much to report on, I was quite wrong, hence the additional posts. After finishing up our final field reps on Tuesday morning, we had the afternoon off to rest up and get ready for the student banquet. The awarding of our diplomas and a keynote speaker was on the agenda. The event was held in the classroom and we all arrived at around 7:00pm. Most were dressed up, but a few were in casual clothes. The instructor all wore suits with a bow tie as the fashion accessory. There was food and a cash bar which was much needed after 4 weeks! The room was set up reception style with round tables, and other than the instructors tables, the seating was not assigned. MLB umpire Jeff Nelson was the keynote speaker and spoke for about 45 minutes. Earlier that week in class, we wrote down potential questions for Jeff and at the banquet Dusty Dellinger picked some of those questions to ask Jeff. They even had a couple of videos showing some of Jeff’s work, including a great bang-bang play at plate with two runners trying to score, one right after the other. Jeff called this one his best play so far in the bigs, and if you find the video on YouTube, you will know why. But what was real interesting was to see how human the MLB guys really are. He was very candid about how sometimes they just don’t get the right angle to see a call, and in describing the above play, he just said he reacted and called what he saw, not being sure if the second runner was actually tagged. Jeff was very humble and a great speaker, and we all appreciated him taking the time out to be a guest at the banquet.
Unbeknownst to me, there were six awards handed out that night as well, and I’m going to break from protocol and mention the names of the award winners. Two awards for top academic scores for first year students went to Brian Walsh and Harrison Silverman. I think they averaged somewhere around a 95 or 96 average on their test scores. They are both great students and umpires. Four more awards were for individual achievements on the field at TUS and off the field. The Hustle Award went to French-Canadian student Mike Boulianne. Mike worked his tail off and always hustled and had a smile on his face. He actually lives about an hour from where my Mom grew up, so we had a nice connection. His dream is to be the first French-Canadian umpire in the bigs, and let me tell you, he is good enough to do just that. The Lifetime Achievement Award went to John Dowdy for his 20+ years of volunteer service to Little League, and for his selection for the 2015 LL World Series. A great man and very deserving. The Courage Award went to Japanese umpire Shun Okumura, a sixty-something year old umpire whom we affectionately called Grandpa. Shun did not speak much English, but he was a student favorite with his calm demeanor and gentle smile. Shun actually had the last rep of the school with the entire class watching. Darren, our lead instructor, learned some swear words in Japanese from another student and on Shun’s last rep, came out as a “manager” and I don’t know exactly what he said, but Shun tossed him in a second! The entire student body erupted in cheers and applause for Shun. It was a great moment and a wonderful farewell for Shun who worked hard all month. The Positive Attitude Award was a humbling surprise for yours truly. Never did I ever expect to be honored for my work here. It was a wonderful honor to be recognized by the instructors. One of my favorite instructors even came up to me to thank me for my hard work, and told me that when he is umpiring in those dog days of July and August in AA, he is going to remember the effort I put in and remind himself if John can grind it out, so can he. He doesn’t know it, but it was hard not to get choked up. All the instructors had kind words for me at one time or another, but none higher than what Mike Felt told me.
Mike Felt is the Chief of Instruction at TUS and a MiLB evaluator. I believe he is in his fifties and has been in umpiring over 30 years. I had a great connection with him and his advice and input to me was invaluable. I just can’t describe how helpful he was to me. He is a great man and well respected by everybody. I’m hesitant to relate this story as I don’t want to come across as always tooting my own horn. For those that know me, that’s not what I’m about. But this blog was written in part for me to remember my experiences, a personal journal if you will, and this story I want to remember. Mike Felt and Jeff Nelson are very close. Mike has been an instructor and mentor to Jeff, and Mike holds Jeff in the highest regards as an umpire and a person. At the end of the evening, Mike comes up to me from across the room with Jeff Nelson in tow. Mike says to me that he wants to embarrass both Jeff and I for a moment. Mike is not one to mince words or BS someone. Good or bad, he’ll tell you the truth, and he is not one to give idle praise. Mike told the two of us that my work ethic, passion, and my will to study and learn the craft reminded him of Jeff Nelson. Wow! I was speechless. Needless to say, between the award and the comments from Mike, I couldn’t sleep a wink that night. And although I was not the best umpire there, I guess the old guy did all right.
I think I will have two more blog posts in the next day or so, and as soon as I download some pictures to my desktop, I’ll post a few on Umpire Empire.