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11/07/06 9:50 PM ET
Woman ump learning the ropes
Valcarcel first and only female participant in MLB's camp
By Christie Cowles / MLB.com
COMPTON, Calif. -- Umpire Camp participant Ila Valcarcel isn't looking for recognition, and she doesn't want any special treatment. She just loves the game of baseball and wants to improve her umpiring skills. But considering that Valcarcel is the first and only female participant in Major League Baseball's first West Coast umpire camp, it's hard not to notice her among the 33 campers, simply because she is a woman. She also stands out because she is a hard worker with a positive attitude. Working at MLB's Urban Youth Academy, she's hustling around the field during drills, studying rulebooks in class and making calls right there with the rest of her male classmates each day. Valcarcel often is seen taking notes and trying to soak up as much information from the Major League instructors as she can. "You go out, you do your job and you get off the field," Valcarcel said. "You don't make a spectacle of yourself, you don't make it an issue that you're a woman. It's not like these guys go out and make it an issue that they're a guy. "I feel very honored to be the only [woman] that came to the first camp -- I thought perhaps there would be at least one more," she said. "Lucky me, I guess." Valcarcel, 44, is from Pine Island, Fla., currently calls Division II and III college baseball games, and has been umpiring for about seven years. "My mother volunteered me for a Little League game and I got hooked," she said. "I just progressed from there. I wanted to get better -- if I was going to help out, I wanted to do it right. So I went to a bunch of Little League umpire clinics, probably seven or eight of them in St. Petersburg, Fla., over the course of three years." She then decided she wanted to attend one of the five-week professional umpire schools in Florida. "I wanted someone more professional to train me, so I went to the Harry Wendelstedt School in 2005," she said. "There were about 156 students, and I was one of two women -- the other woman was Perry Barber [who is now a professional umpire]." Although she was not recommended for participation in the Professional Baseball Umpire Corp.'s Umpire Evaluation Course -- the next step to becoming a professional -- she said that going to the pro school was a great experience. "I didn't make the cut, but I did earn the Gerry Davis Golden Mask Award, which they give to five students," she said. "It's basically for good attitude, hustle, 110 percent, good sportsmanship, being there for your fellow man -- there were five of us that got that." Valcarcel joined the Florida Collegiate Umpires (FCU) organization last year, through which she umpired Division III games. Through an independent contractor, she worked with Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU), a Division II school. "[FGCU is] Division II again this year, and then in 2008 they're going to go Division I, so my goal is to get all my protocol put together so that I could possibly be eligible to do Division I -- because geographically, there are not very many umpires from FCU in that area, and it's very optimal for me because I'm right there." Valcarcel thought that the West Coast umpire camp would be an opportunity to gain more knowledge and experience, which could help further her career. "I do all my training in the fall. I continually train," she said. "I've gone to the international camps for college, and instead of going to the pro school again [in Florida], I decided it would be nice to come out here and see the new [camp]. I thought, 'Why not?' " MLB umpire Paul Nauert is an instructor at this week's camp. Valcarcel attended several camps where Nauert was an instructor, including the Wendelstedt school, where he is the head instructor, and at international collegiate umpire camps. "He's got to be one of the best speakers I have ever seen in my life, and I've been to a lot of seminars," Valcarcel said. "Every time I hear him speak, there's at least one more thing that I pick up from him." Valcarcel said that the camp will help her tune up on the two-man umpire system, which she uses in Division II baseball as well. She feels the experience will help prepare her for next season. "Every time I come to a class, there's at least one more thing I need to learn," she said. "If you umpire and you think that you know it all, well, you don't know it all. Even these guys who have been doing it for their entire lives, there's still one more thing to learn, at least." Valcarcel is enjoying her experience so far and would encourage other women to participate. "The facility [at the Youth Academy] is great, all the instructors are very polite -- I'm received with open arms," she said. "The instruction is good, it's quick ... there's a lot to learn."
Christie Cowles is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.