THE RIGHT CALL
June 4, 2016
Professionally speaking, Alan Erb works by day with his law practice. During the summer and spring evenings, though, his suit and briefcase are put aside in favor of umpire's gear to work Carson Valley Little League baseball games.
Erb has been active in the Valley's Little League program for the past 26 years as coach, manager (1994-2001), board member and is now in his 12th season as the league's umpire-in-chief.
Erb, 67, played baseball growing up in the Bay Area community of Santa Clara and took his game from Santa Clara High School on to West Valley College.
It's all been an interesting combination of experiences, to say the least.
"I started playing when I was 6 years old and played into college," he said. "I started coaching my sister's softball team when I was about 12 years old and it's been a long haul with baseball ever since."
Did he ever envision himself calling balls and strikes?
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"All the years I played and managed and then putting me in as an umpire, I couldn't believe they even wanted to do that 12 years ago when I started this," Erb said, smiling. "I've had my arguments with umpires. I never got thrown out of a game, though … so I knew when to quit."
Today, Erb leads a small yet accomplished staff of umpires — including Robert Erb (Alan's son), Bob Allen, Tom Mariani, John Lynch and Carson City's Mike Petterson — that is constantly working to keep up with a busy schedule of games.
"It's a tight crew and sometimes we're a little thin, but we get the job done," he said.
Carson Valley Little League president Debbie Jacobsen pointed out that Erb works almost daily for Little League and Junior League games at both Lampe Park and Ranchos Aspen Park.
"Alan has been umpire-in-chief and he has volunteered his time that entire time," she said. "His son, Robert, and Bob Allen, also volunteer their time. Without the umpires like that, we wouldn't have a Majors or minor Double-A league. We might have to recruit some dads out there to do it."
There are never enough umpires, Erb acknowledged.
"I know, the first year I was umpire-in-chief here, Bob Allen was the only umpire that came back," Erb recalled. "I was scrambling like crazy, picking here and there. I drafted my son, who had finished playing juniors and seniors, and I asked him if he would come out and umpire. He had no experience in it, but he came out and got into it. Two years after we started that, he and I went down to San Bernardino to the Little League umpire school down there and learned how to umpire."
The group has gained a good reputation for its work. Just consider that Robert Erb has been selected to work at the Little League Western Region Tournament later this summer in San Bernardino. Allen umpired at the 2014 Senior League (13-16 year-olds) Western Region Tournament in Ontario, Calif. And Petterson was one of 13 umpires selected for the 2013 Big League World Series in Easley, S.C.
The senior Erb has experienced some highlights in his own right.
"I've done three Little League state tournaments. They come around every four years and the first one was in Washoe, the second was in Washoe and the last one was in Carson City. You get teams from the entire state and of course, two years ago, the winners from Las Vegas went all the way to Williamsport. I was personally on two of their games in Carson City and it was a pleasure to work for those guys, it really was."
Working as an umpire requires a certain temperament. The job isn't for everyone.
"It's one of those things you grow into it," Erb said. "You can't be timid, but you don't want to be too over bearing. You've got to assert yourself on the field with players, coaches and managers, especially, and sometimes fans."
You can't take on-the-field criticism personally, either.
"Not at all," Erb said. "You might think it at the time, but tomorrow, it's done,"
No doubt, there are times when work as an umpire can be a true test. That hasn't changed with time, either, Erb pointed out.
"I remember when I was playing in Little League myself," he said. "One game, it was on a Friday night, we didn't have lights and the game got called and we picked it up the next day on Saturday. But when they stopped the game Friday night, there were parents on both sides that were ready to start a riot. They were yelling and screaming at each other … that was 1958."
On any given call, an umpire is only going to be right 50 percent of the time in the eyes of the game's two teams and fans. In that regard, parallels do exist between working in a courtroom and diamond.
"That's true," Erb said. "My law practice teaches me all about that. Going to court, one side is going to be happy and one side's not. I know Judge (Dave) Gamble told me a long time ago, he said, 'He knew he'd done well when both sides didn't like the decision."
Has he ever been in a courtroom and applied lessons that were learned on the diamond? Oh, absolutely.
"Athletics in general, teaches so many life lessons," Erb said. "If you're managing or coaching, and to a lesser extent umpiring, you're giving life lessons to those kids. It's a microcosm of life in general, and yes, there are a lot of lessons on the field that you can take and apply to life in general."
Erb estimates he still works games four or five nights a week. He has no immediate plans to retire, although he has had to make at least one concession to age.
"I cannot go behind the plate any longer. My knees won't let me do it," he said.
Erb remains passionate about baseball and the kids who play. That passion and dedication were recognized on April 9 when Erb was asked to throw out the first ball during the Little League opening day ceremonies at Lampe Park.
"Alan has such a love for the game of baseball and I think he brings that out on the field," Jacobsen said. "He has a love for the kids and everything about the game. He's very soft spoken, he laughs with the kids, he jokes with them … he just has a lot of fun doing it. His heart truly is into umpiring and into Little League and kids."