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COMPTON, Calif. -- It seems like only yesterday that the first Umpire Camp was held at Major League Baseball's first Urban Youth Academy. But in reality, the annual training ground for future umpires is now in its sixth year -- and this year's crop is getting instruction from some of the most experienced at their craft.
"We've trained close to 2,000 umpires in camps like this, here and around the country, over the last six years," said Rich Rieker, director of umpiring and coordinator for the MLB Umpire Camp that's taking place once again this week. "We have trained over 350 members of our armed services and 700 local umpires here in our one-day camps. We are proud to call the Urban Youth Academy home and look forward to having much more success in the future."
This year's MLB Umpire Camp features two new instructors -- Mark Carlson and Gerry Davis -- and four returning ones -- Ted Barrett, Gary Cederstrom, Kerwin Danley and Jeff Nelson. Cederstrom, Barrett and Southern California native Alfonzo Marquez, who was visiting the camp, were part of the crew working the 2011 World Series and were all on the field for that memorable Game 6, which resulted in an extra-inning victory for the eventual-champion Cardinals.
"They were going at it pretty good. That part of it was very exciting," said Cederstrom, who worked behind the plate that night. "It went back and forth from the first inning on, and all kinds of different things happened. It wasn't the best-played game, but it was exciting. The fans were into it and you could tell the players appreciated the fact that it was exciting, and they were glad that they were in that game."
"When you're in the middle of it, you are just concentrating so hard," added Barrett, who worked the right-field line. "Once the game was over and I was able to step back and review the things in my mind, I said, 'Wow, that was a pretty cool game.'"
The camp they're now assisting at began Monday, runs through Saturday, and assists umpires in furthering the advancement of their collegiate, high school and Little League careers, while also serving as a preparatory course to those considering a career as a Major League or Minor League umpire.
The Umpire Camp also tries to go beyond classroom instruction and field work to also focus on rules interpretation, positioning, conditioning, nutrition, safety and equipment.
"This is a chance for umpires around the country to get the most unbelievable staff of instruction I have ever seen," said Randy Marsh, the former Major League umpire who's also a director of umpiring for MLB. "We added it up and we found we had 32 total months of World Series umpiring on staff here for this session. To come here and get this kind of instruction is phenomenal. I wish I had this kind of instruction when I was starting out."
Among the 100-plus attendees at this year's camp were 25 members of the U.S. Marines and U.S. Navy based in Southern California, as well as 12 international World Baseball Classic aspirants.
Marquez believes Umpire Camp is another example of baseball being a career option for minorities and people who love the game but may not have the talent to play it on a professional level.
"When I got the first itch to umpire, guys were saying, 'You should go to umpire school,'" Marquez recalled. "I had no idea there were umpire schools. Not too many people knew how you get into this profession and how you work your way to the big leagues. As more camps open up -- and I just heard there might be one in Houston -- I think kids are going to see there's opportunities and it could become a reality."