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11/06/06 9:32 AM ET

MLB umpire camps begin in California

Students learn from Major League umps in week-long school

LONG BEACH, Calif. -- Students taking part in Major League Baseball's inaugural umpire camp got their first taste of instruction from some of the league's top umpiring officials as the opening session got under way Sunday evening.

Major League and Minor League umpiring staff and about 33 camp attendees gathered for orientation and the first classroom session at the Long Beach Westin to begin the week of activities.

The umpire camps will consist of both classroom instruction at the hotel and field work, which will take place at MLB's Urban Youth Academy in Compton.

MLB is offering two sessions of the ucamps -- the first session will continue through Sunday and the second session will runs from Nov. 12-19. Spots are available for the second session.

Jimmie Lee Solomon, MLB's executive vice president of baseball operations, was on hand to welcome the campers to the first session. He proposed the idea of an umpire camp and said seeing it happen is a dream come true.

"It was a chance for us to bring the camps into an urban area and maybe increase the number of minority umpires and increase the diversity in the umpire ranks," Solomon said. "I think this is a fantastic opportunity for Southern California to experience umpire school ... and maybe we'll increase our depth, as well as breadth, in the quality of our umpires."

Solomon said MLB president and chief operating officer Bob DuPuy helped him get umpire camps in motion.

"He and I agreed that we needed to, one, increase the diversity of our umpires, and two, increase not just the racial diversity, but the geographic diversity, because we were not pulling from the West Coast at all," Solomon said. "We felt we should put our resources into helping increase the pool, the talent, as well as increase the number of people that could participate."

Urban Youth Academy director Darrell Miller said he believes the Academy has a lot to offer the campers as they work on improving their umpiring skills.

"We have five or six [batting] cages, we have two Major League fields, plus Little League fields and girls softball," Miller said. "At all different levels [the students] can learn the game, so it's an ideal place with that complex. Plus we have a training room, locker rooms, and all the amenities that you'd need."

Miller is looking forward to having the campers at the Academy and hopes they enjoy their experience there.

"They're going to have a lot of fun, they're going to learn a lot ... they will be at a different level than they were when they got here," Miller said.

Thirty-two of the students are men, one is a woman. The campers are a wide variety of ages; the two youngest are 19 years old. The students come from many different backgrounds as well.

Most of the campers are from the United States. Two are from Japan, one is from Australia and one is from Nicaragua.

Many have umpiring experience at various levels of baseball, from Little League to college. Some have never umpired before, but they love the game and are at the camp to learn from the ground up.

But all of the campers have one similar goal -- to improve their skills, no matter at what level they officiate.

MLB umpire supervisor and camp coordinator Rich Rieker said he is excited to see a West Coast presence established for umpire training.

"Both [umpire] schools are located in Florida, both about an hour from Orlando," Rieker said. "Traditionally there aren't a lot of students that go to the umpire schools from the West Coast, [and] we want to expose them to professional umpiring."

Rieker said he was really impressed with the enthusiasm of the Major League umpires to participate in teaching at the camps.

"They just finished a long grueling season ... these Major League umpires have taken the ball, they've run with it, they're prepared and they love it," Rieker said.

Fifteen Major League umpires, along with six Minor League arbiters, are serving as instructors at the camp.

"This is an awesome staff ... this is going to be unparalleled," Rieker said. "I think we're setting a trend for the future of how to train umpires -- to get these Major Leaguers out here to help umpires of all levels -- whether it's Little League, high school or college."

Christie Cowles is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.