Last April 27, in St. Louis, a Busch Stadium crowd of 35,587 saw Yadier Molina hit a decisive two-run single and Chris Carpenter record his third win in the Cardinals' 5-4 comeback victory over the Braves. And they gave a standing ovation to the entire umpiring crew that night.
This amazing development happened between innings, when the ballpark video screen ran a slide show of the umpires and Fredbird the mascot visiting St. Louis Children's Hospital earlier that day to bring a Build-A-Bear Workshop experience to children with cancer and other serious illnesses. It was part of UMPS CARE Charities' "BLUE for Kids" Hospital Program.
"I remember it well -- I worked first [base] that night," said Dan Iassogna, an 11th-year Major League umpire who participated that day and night with crew colleagues Mark Wegner, Dale Scott and Jerry Meals. "Everybody stood up, we tipped our cap. It's a very, very strange feeling for an umpire to be clapped at. That never, ever happens for us when we get a round of applause.
"Our perfect day is to leave the field as anonymously as when we walked out there. Anonymity is a perfect day. We know they were not really clapping for us as umpires but for people helping others. It was great to acknowledge the people from the organization who took time out. It was a very humbling feeling that whole day and night."
There is no more time-honored tradition within baseball than disliking umpires. Umpires are not elected representatives of the public, yet they render judgments that have a true impact. Human officiating means that disagreement is a fact of life, and one of the biggest cliches in baseball is complaining about close calls and crusading for greater usage of instant replay. You hear only the complaints and not the satisfaction.
One thing we all agree on is the need to help others, so think about that as the 12-day UMPS CARE Charity Auction continues this week. Proceeds allow umpires to deliver another dozen Build-A-Bear Workshop experiences at hospitals, MLB experiences for children awaiting adoption, college scholarships for adoptees and financial assistance for families in need.
There are 223 items listed. Here are five highlights:
1. A 2010 National League Division Series umpire shirt from Roy Halladay's historic no-hitter against Cincinnati. The shirt has been signed by home-plate umpire John Hirschbeck, and the high bid as of Monday was $100.
2. More than 75 Minor League suites and ticket packages listed at 66 percent off.
3. A Pinehurst Resort Golf Experience for three with PGA teaching pro Dan Kochevar.
4. A Roger Staubach signed jersey at half off fair market value. There are signed items galore, something for all collectors.
5. Attendance at a taping of CNBC's "Fast Money" and dinner with financial guru Guy Adami. Click here to bid on that cool item.
"The auction really has something for everyone, from autographed memorabilia to once-in-a-lifetime experiences," said umpire Gary Darling, president of the board for UMPS CARE Charities. "We encourage fans to tell all of their friends to check the website often for a list of available items."
This Spring Training auction is one of several events on the annual calendar of UMPS CARE Charities, and fans' support of the auction helps enable more such outreach. The BLUE for Kids Hospital Program started in 2006, and MLB umps have hosted more than 50 similar events at hospitals across the country. Each event includes a supply of pre-stuffed Build-A-Bears, bear-size outfits, cub condos, birth certificates and baseball-themed stress balls. Team photographers capture memories for the children, umpires, mascots and volunteers.
In 2010, UMPS CARE also provided MLB experiences for 750 children awaiting adoption and at-risk youth in mentoring programs, launched an All-Star Scholarship program and designated $10,000 in scholarship funds to the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, awarded more than $5,000 in financial assistance to families in need and gave more than $10,000 in financial grants to 501(c)3 organizations.
Imagine being a kid at one of those games, welcomed into the umpire's room beforehand, joining in the time-honored practice of rubbing baseballs with mud, getting your hands dirty knowing that one of those balls is going to be used in a real Major League game. Those are the moments umpires have come to appreciate, the ones you never see or hear about as you protest their calls.
"It's one of the most worthwhile organizations that I've ever been a part of, because it helps a broad range of people," Iassogna said. "Originally, our goal was just to help former and retired Major League umpires who had fallen on some financial troubles. From there it progressed, and the thinking was, 'You know, we're doing pretty well with this auction, let's see how many other people we can help.' "
Iassogna spoke with MLB.com on Monday after returning to Spring Training in Florida following a visit to Atlanta to see his daughters, Irish dancers who were participating in a St. Patrick's Day Parade there. He was preparing to umpire a Tuesday game in Dunedin, Fla., and then a Thursday game in Tampa, Fla., starting another long haul, one that could end with a postseason umpiring assignment, the way it did for him in 2004 and '07.
Along the way, there will be catcalls and second-guessers, the hue and cry that punctuates the summer stillness of welcome anonymity. There also will be those chances to give something back, to quietly help a society in which praise is rare for the baseball umpire.
Before his Hall of Fame induction last summer, former umpire Doug Harvey said, "You cannot have fear and officiate properly, believe me. Absolutely fearless! That's what it takes -- among many other things. You have to show bravado whether you are feeling it inside or not."
Off the field, being a modern umpire also requires compassion.
"Some people look at it and say, 'How can you do that job? Half of the people hate you 100 percent of the time,' " Iassogna said. "The way all of our members look at it, we have the greatest job on earth. On earth. I love this job. I'm not even talking out of school when I speak for my fellow umpires. This is the greatest job. For us to bring kids to the ballpark, meet kids at hospitals and actually share with them the greatest game this country has is as fulfilling as walking out on a Major League field every night."