For love of the game
There is no doubt, a baseball umpire’s work is never easy. Just in terms of appreciation, a call on any given play is only going to be correct 50 percent of the time from the crowd’s point of view.
Bob Allen, however, is quick to point out the rewards of work he has done for the past three decades. Finding work as an umpire, in fact, was one of his first priorities 10 years ago after Allen and his family moved to Carson Valley from California’s Bay Area.
“The first thing I said when I got up here, ‘I need to find a Little League game,’” he said. “I came out on a Monday (in 2005), and started by doing six to eight games a week, four to five nights a week for a year or two, and it just kind of took off from there.”
Allen was himself a three-sport athlete (football, basketball and baseball) in the Bay Area at Castro Valley High School, where he graduated in 1981.
“I was a catcher in baseball who converted to umpire,” he said, flashing a smile. “I really fell in love with the umpiring aspect.”
He has now worked 30 years as an umpire overall — including adult league, high school and semi-pro ball — in addition to his regular job as a bus driver for the Douglas County School District.
He is keeping a busy schedule this week at the Nevada District 1 tournament and next month he will work during the state tournament at Governor’s Field in Carson City.
Allen will also go the extra mile when he umpires at the Senior League (13-16 year-olds) Western Region Tournament in Ontario, Calif. The tournament will be played July 29-Aug. 5 at Jay Littleton Ballpark — which served as the backdrop for the 1992 film, “A League of Their Own.”
Carson Valley Little League President Debbie Jacobsen believes this is the first time any local umpire has been selected to work at the regional level.
“This is a huge honor for him and for Carson Valley Little League,” she said. “He is truly there for the kids. They love him, and that’s the most important thing.”
Allen was selected to work as part of the team of eight umpires at the Junior League Region Tournament in Ontario, Calif. There was a process that needed to be followed.
“I applied to Matt Teixeira (District 1 Umpire in Chief), I went to school in Williamsport (Pa.) three or four years ago for training.”
At the same time, Allen believes working the smaller dimensions of a Little League field — 60-foot bases in Little League as opposed to the 90-foot dimensions of a regular diamond — present more of a challenge.
“The big field is more open and you have more time to react,” Allen said. “But there’s a lot more stuff going on in a smaller space. You’ve got to know where the ball’s at and where the defensive players and base runners are at. It’s not an easy thing, and like Bill Cosby would say, kids will do the darndest things on the field.”
Looking ahead, Allen said he will continue to submit his application to work at the Little League 12-year-old region tournament in San Bernardino, Calif. His ultimate dream, not surprisingly, would be to return to Williamsport to work at the Little League World Series. An umpire who works at a regional tournament becomes eligible for consideration to work at a World Series. There is competition, however, for those spots.
“Especially the 12-year-olds … so many people want to apply for the World Series because of the television exposure and all that. It can take up to 20 years to get to the World Series.” Allen extended his gratitude to the help he has received along the way.
“I want to thank Carson Valley Little League — Allen Erb, Mike Downs, Debbie Jacobsen — for helping me the last 10 years. And I want to thank District 1, too. You can’t get to a region by yourself.”
Watching young players play Little League and beyond is another of the rewards, Allen acknowledged.
“I’ve seen a lot of kids come through and grow into the sport to play in high school and even beyond,” Allen said. “It’s gratifying to see kids at the high school come up and tell me they remember me. Cody Begovich came up to me last week and said, ‘I can’t believe you’re still doing this.’”
Interestingly enough, Begovich played at Douglas High School, and this past spring, started as a sophomore outfielder for Northeastern State University in Oklahoma.
Jacobsen describes Allen as the Carson Valley’s ace Little League umpire.
“He does an excellent job,” she said. “He’s very fair, he controls the game and I think he’s gained the respect of all the coaches in the league.”
Allen encourages anyone to get involved with umpiring youth ball.
“I don’t get paid for Little League,” he said. “I just enjoy it. This is a lot more fun (than the higher levels). It’s for the kids.”
There is more to Little League baseball, as Allen sees it.
“To me, we’re teaching all the time, not only the rules but safety as well,” he said. “If we can teach the rules, I believe we’re doing our job as umpires.”