For those looking for an opportunity to develop their umpiring skills and learn from some of the game's best, the second annual Major League Baseball Umpire Camp (MLBUC) was the perfect place to do just that. About 44 campers worked with Major League and Minor League umpires in field work and classroom sessions each day of the week-long camp, which ran from Nov. 4-11. "We think it's probably one of the most attentive and progressive classes we've ever had," said Rich Rieker, umpire supervisor and coordinator of the MLBUC. "They were a joy to work with, we had a great time with them, and I think they picked a lot up in a week.
"Our staff performed excellently...they just did a great job, as well as did the students," he said. "We had a lot of fun and it was a great class." The camp not only provided a chance to learn about umpiring but an opportunity for the campers to move toward professional umpiring. MLB is in the process of evaluating candidates from the camp for scholarships to attend the five-week umpire schools that take place in Florida in January. The Jim Evans' Academy of Professional Umpiring operates in Kissimmee, Fla. and the Harry Wendelstedt School for Umpires is located in Ormond Beach, Fla. These are the only two umpiring schools approved by The Professional Baseball Umpire Corp. (PBUC), which oversees all professional baseball umpires. "If qualified, we can scholarship up to four [people] to each of the two umpire schools," Rieker said. "We believe we have eight qualified scholarships and we intend to send eight to the two schools." If last year's camp is any indication, some of this year's campers may have even begun their pro umpiring careers in the Minor Leagues by this time next year. "Seven people that went to the 2006 camp are currently working in pro ball, we hope to match that or do even better in 2007," said Rieker. He said that next year's camp has already been scheduled for Nov. 9-16, 2008, taking place again at MLB's Urban Youth Academy, in Compton, Calif., with classroom work in Long Beach. There also will be a one-day clinic for local umpires from the Los Angeles area on Nov. 8 at the Academy. "In addition to our extras, we had health and nutrition, security and the like -- we teach the PBUC two-umpire system, which is what they'd be expected to know if they went to umpire school," Rieker said. "We want to prepare them for success in the best fashion possible." The camp gives aspiring umpires a chance to be seen by Major League umpires and MLB and PBUC executive umpiring staff, to ask questions and find out what professional umpiring is really like from those in the business. Umpire supervisors Steve Palermo, Jim McKean and Marty Springstead were among the umpiring executives campers could interact with throughout the camp. "It's a way into pro ball, it's a window in to see if this is what you want to do," Rieker said. "Quite frankly, if you're unsure about umpire school, it's a great idea to see if this is what you want to pursue without spending the five weeks." This year's campers came from all over the United States, Australia, Canada and Japan. The camp also attracted a heavy West Coast presence. This was important because one of MLB's goals with the camp was to expand umpire training to more areas and the Florida schools generally attract a primarily East Coast presence. "We want to offer them that training since both umpire schools are located about an hour and a half from each other in Florida," Rieker said. Rieker said he would encourage local amateur umpire associations to send representatives to next year's umpire camp, to learn more about proper umpiring techniques and take those skills back to their associations. "Train the trainers, get people to take the good umpiring back from our boatload of professionals that we have, back to their local association," Rieker said. "I challenge every local association to send somebody or offer a local scholarship and then we can take a look at them, and possibly offer them a scholarship to one of the umpire schools." Since the umpire camp teaches the PBUC two-umpire system, even those campers who don't end up receiving schloarships to the umpire schools can benefit. Rieker said some of the campers use it as a preparatory course before attending the umpire schools. "The same [umpiring] system that is taught at our camps is taught at umpire school, because we want them to be successful in professional baseball," Rieker said.
Christie Cowles is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.