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11/20/06 8:57 PM ET
First MLB Umpire Camps a success
Five entities join together to offer top-notch instruction
By Christie Cowles / MLB.com
Major League Baseball's Umpire Camps officially wrapped up this weekend in Long Beach, Calif. Over the course of two one-week sessions, 84 campers and 104 local residents had a chance to learn from some of the best umpiring professionals around the league. Whether the students were there to sharpen their umpiring skills or just to get a feel for what the umpiring profession is all about, the camps gave them a great opportunity to gain experience on the field and work with professional umpires on a daily basis. Five entities joined together to put on the Umpire Camps, including MLB, the Professional Baseball Umpire Corp (PBUC), which trains and evaluates umpires in the Minor League Baseball system, the World Umpires Association, and the two umpire schools in Florida -- the Jim Evans' Academy of Professional Umpiring and the Harry Wendelstedt School for Umpires. Fifteen Major League umpires and six Minor League umpires served as instructors during the camps. MLB umpire supervisor and camp coordinator Rich Rieker said he was pleased with the results of the first camps. "For these people that never worked together before, for the most part, as instructors -- to have all five entities working together and putting out a polished product just shows how professional these guys are, how much they love umpiring and how much they love to teach good umpiring," Rieker said. The campers received top-notch instruction in a classroom setting at the Westin in Long Beach, and then on the field at MLB's Urban Youth Academy in Compton throughout the week. There also were two community days where local residents could take part in one-day umpiring sessions with the instructors at the Academy. "The campers are going to come in and get their money's worth, no question," Rieker said. "Most impressive to me was the way these Major League umpires, Minor League umpires and supervisors all came together and coalesced into one staff, and really, it was seamless. It's almost like they'd been doing it together for years." Rieker said the MLB and Minor League umpires had a great time teaching the students, and he enjoyed seeing the progress they made throughout the camp. "The campers did a great job," Rieker said. "It's really interesting and fun to see somebody that comes in with no umpiring experience or little umpiring experience, to watch them gain that composure and watch him or her gain that confidence over the week period -- through proper training, and through the tape work we did in the cage." The students were videotaped each day on the field so that they could be evaluated on their performance. "The tape really helped because they're able to see their mistakes and improve upon them," Rieker said. "The students got better and better -- to watch the progress that they make over the seven days, it's truly remarkable." In addition to campers from all across the United States, students also traveled from eight other countries to participate in the camps -- including Australia, Canada, Japan, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Slovakia and Sweden. Many of the students currently umpire in Little League, recreational and high school-level baseball. Some of the students were looking to improve their umpiring skills at the camp to continue officiating at those levels, and some are aiming for a professional umpiring career in the future. The Major League umpiring system is based on four-person crews. However, the students focused on learning the two-umpire system during the camps. Rieker said since high school, college and the low Minor League systems are all based on the two-umpire system, the students will be able to put what they learned to use right away. The students had a chance to gain game experience as they took turns working innings during youth games at the Academy for three days during the camp. "By the end of the week, all the people that were there were qualified to work a two-person crew, and they did a good job," Rieker said. "There wasn't anybody that you would say really didn't have an idea, and because of their training and their desire, they were able to go out there and work that game properly." After the camps, some of the students will be going on to the five-week umpire schools in Florida this winter. Rieker said some of the students from the camps will be offered scholarships to continue their training at the umpire schools. This would be the next step in pursuing a professional umpiring career. Rieker said he's already received requests for information about next year's umpire camp, which will take place Nov. 4-11, 2007. "We tried to touch as many people locally as we could, taking advantage of the Academy [facilities], as well as those overseas that wanted to come over," Rieker said. "Based on inquiries and what we're seeing, it's really just going to get better."
Christie Cowles is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.