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11/14/08 9:15 PM EST
Third annual Umpire Camp a success
Former Major League umps impressed by attendees
By Rhett Bollinger / MLB.com
COMPTON, Calif. -- For some, it was just a way to brush up on their umpiring skills after years of experience. For others, it was a new experience with a chance to learn about the trade from a staff of former Major League umpires. Either way, the third annual Major League Baseball Umpire Camp at the Urban Youth Academy was hailed as a success by campers and instructors alike. "It's been great," said Rich Rieker, who is MLB's umpire supervisor and the camp's coordinator. "The class of 51 that we have is the best, attitude-wise, and they're helping each other out. It's a great group of guys and gals to work with." The camp, which began Saturday with a free clinic, was composed of 43 regular campers with a wide scope of umpiring experience and eight international umpires who are gearing up for the World Baseball Classic, which will be held in March. The mix of umpires with different levels of experience made for an interesting week of teaching, as the instructors had six days to teach the basics to the regular campers while giving more advanced lessons to the international umpires. The camp started each morning with classroom sessions led by Larry Young, who is a former Major League umpire and the chief of classroom instruction at the camp. Then the participants took the lessons to the field to apply them to training situations and live games. "In the classroom, we talked about rules, mechanics and situations, but try to have a little bit of fun in the meantime with guest speakers talking about things like security, QuesTec and the pace of the game," Young said. "We're trying to condense five weeks of umpire school into six days." Young joined Bruce Froemming, Steve Rippley and Rieker as umpires at the camp with Major League experience. Even though the international umpires have plenty of experience -- six of the eight have worked in an Olympics -- they had plenty to learn from the former umpires. This also gets them comfortable working with Major League umps to prepare for the World Baseball Classic, which calls for two Major League and two international umpires on the field at all times. "At this camp, the opportunity to work with Major League umpires is key," said Dick Runchey, the director of umpires for the International Baseball Federation. "When the international umpires go to Spring Training and the [World Baseball Classic], the Major League supervisors have already seen them, so it gives them confidence so they can work better as a crew." But it was those without much experience who gained so much, as they learned the basics from umpires with more than 100 years of combined experience in the Majors. "You're working with the best of the best here," said camper Josh Martin, who had only one year of experience before the camp. "I'm 20 years old and just trying to get into pro ball, so this is just a jumpstart before I attend one of the umpire schools this winter." The camp has served as a good stepping stone to becoming an umpire in professional baseball, as 16 from the previous two camps now are umpiring in the Minor Leagues. And the camp also helps make that possible by awarding eight scholarships to five-week schools, such as the Jim Evans' Academy of Professional Umpiring and the Harry Wendelstedt School for Umpires. The eight recipients of the scholarship this year won't be announced until early next week, but the quality of the umpires at the camp could make for some difficult decisions. The campers impressed just about all of the former umpires, including Justin Klemm, who serves as the executive director of the Professional Baseball Umpire Corp, which is the entity responsible for training and promoting umpires in the Minor Leagues. "The quality of the students and their attitudes and physical appearances was phenomenal," Klemm said. "They've done everything that we've asked them to do."
Rhett Bollinger is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.