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Erb finds his field of dreams

Robert Erb

Team play on the field is important in any baseball game, especially at a level like the Little League West Regional Tournament.

For players, teamwork can be the difference between winning and losing. And it’s every bit as important to the teams of umpires, Robert Erb pointed out after his experience at the recent Little League West Regional in San Bernardino, Calif.

Erb, 31, a veteran Carson Valley Little League umpire, took his game to a new level during the region tournament on Aug. 6-13 at Al Houghton Stadium. Teams from 10 states played in two brackets — West and Northwest regionals — that sent one champion to the Little League World Series. The World Series concludes today in Williamsport, Pa.

For Erb, Houghton Stadium was his own field of dreams.

“It was fun … one of the best experiences of my life,” Erb said. “But as much as I’d like to indicate it as an individual accomplishment for myself, the whole crew deserved credit.”

Umpires work as a team, the Carson City resident explained.

“We started out as 14 individuals and went to a team starting from the very first moment that we all met,” Erb said. “Within 24 hours, you have this absolute mesh to become the actual teams that were calling the games.

“The camaraderie that we had because we had to share a barrack … I absolutely, without a doubt, will not forget the regions. But also, I will not forget these guys. We’ve spent the last week sending text messages and emails to each other.”

A crew of six umpires works each Little League regional game — covering four bases as well as the outfield foul lines. The umpires even have their own bench, just like any baseball team, with a “standby” member to provide backup in case any team member is unable to continue on the field.

Erb had 10 regularly scheduled games and picked up an 11th after a home plate umpire took two pitches directly to his face mask. Erb pointed out the umpire was transported to the hospital as a precautionary measure and fortunately, was released without any serious injury.

“As a standby, you have to be ready to go out there for it to remain a six-man crew,” he said. “To step into somebody else’s game where they’ve been calling the zone, they’ve been calling the game, and just to get right in there, that was a brand new experience for myself … big-time.”

Despite their age, these 11- and 12-year-old players possess exceptional talent.

“These kids were bringing some serious heat,” Erb said. “There was one kid from Southern California (Park View Little League in Chula Vista) that was clocked at close to 73, 74 (mph). And the equivalent to that on a Major League diamond is in the 90s because of the distance from the mound to home plate (46 feet in Little League).”

Interestingly enough, Erb was the only Nevada umpire selected for the San Bernardino tournament and one of only three overall for Little League baseball and softball regional play. Umpires work strictly as volunteers and for the honor of being involved with such a prestigious event. Oh, and by the way, action was televised on ESPN.

“For me to put my name in the hat and to be selected my third time around was just incredible,” Erb said. “You have to meet certain qualifications in order to qualify for a regional. You need to have no pay, you need to have a full commitment, and that means you are literally involved with Little League every single year in some capacity and you need to have at least two state tournaments under your belt.”

Erb did not indicate a desire to work high school, college or professional ball. His ultimate dream, in fact, would be to be to umpire at the Little League World Series. More work remains to be done, and even with 12 years of experience as an umpire under his belt, he regards each game as a learning experience.

“Absolutely … that’s true for everybody,” he said. “There is no way I can say, ‘OK, I’ve been to a regional, I know everything there is to know.’ You’re always learning. That’s what it’s all about for everybody.”

Just consider that he started because his father, Alan Erb, needed help after taking over as chief of umpires for Carson Valley Little League. More than a decade later, he is still helping out the same league where he began playing ball as an 8-year-old.

“A lot of people say, ‘Now that you’ve moved to Carson, are you going to umpire for Carson Little League?’ I think if I was ever asked, I’d never say no,” Erb said. “But I say, my league is Carson Valley. It’s the league that I’ve grown up in, it’s the league that I know and it’s the league I want to umpire for. The ultimate goal is we’re here for the kids.