Umps raise money with golf marathon

Umps raise money with golf marathon

MESA, Ariz. -- Thirteen Major League umpires dashed through 100 holes at the Augusta Ranch Golf Club on Wednesday under blue skies and mid-70s temperatures.

There were plenty of laughs on the course, but this was serious business, as the umpires raised nearly $60,000 for UMPS CARE Charities, which provides financial, in-kind and emotional support for America's youth and families in need.

The idea for the 100-hole marathon was hatched just six weeks ago, and board directors Gary Darling and Jim Reynolds sent out a call to their fellow umpires to see who could participate. On short notice, 13 answered the call, with others who were not able to attend doing their part to raise money as well.

"It just shows what happens when everybody does a little bit," Reynolds said. "My father used to say, 'Many hands make light work.' This is an example of that. Even the guys that couldn't make it reached out to their family and friends and got them involved."

Along with Darling and Reynolds, the umpires who played on Wednesday included Gary Cederstrom, Ted Barrett, Marvin Hudson, Wally Bell, Doug Eddings, Kerwin Danley, Larry Poncino, Jim Wolf, Sam Holbrook, Jerry Meals and Tim Timmons.

Former Minor League umpire Don Rea, who owns the Augusta Ranch course, provided the venue.

The 13 umpires solicited pledges for each hole they played, with Timmons garnering the most at just under $9,000. For his efforts, he was rewarded with a stuffed bear strapped to his golf cart with a T-shirt that said "This ump cares the most."

"We're blessed to be in the positions that we are in," said Timmons, who broke into the Majors in 2001. "This is something that we can give back."

The money raised will help fund the UMPS CARE Charities' two youth programs -- Blue for Kids and Blue Crew Tickets. The umpires also hold a golf tournament in January and hope to get a second off the ground next year.

As part of the Blue for Kids program, umpires visit children's hospitals throughout their travels during the season and host a Build-A-Bear workshop experience for children coping with cancer.

Timmons still remembers his first hospital visit.

"As soon as I got back to the hotel, I called my wife and kids and I told them all we're so lucky," Timmons said. "It just grounds you."

Reynolds remembers a visit to Texas Scottish Rite Hospital in Dallas, a hospital for children that does not charge Texas residents for care. As he was on his way out of the hospital, he encountered a 5-year-old boy with a prosthetic leg walking the hallway while holding his father's hand.

His eyes lit up when he saw the three bears in Reynolds' arms, and he asked if there was any chance that he could have one. Reynolds said sure, and the smile was replaced by a worried look as the boy said he couldn't afford to pay for the bear.

Reynolds told him they were free and not only gave him one, but a second for his sister.

"I walked away from that thinking to myself, 'That's exactly why we're doing this," Reynolds said. "Every kid should have the opportunity to be a kid and not worry about how much a bear costs. The reality is, he's a 5-year-old kid with a prosthetic leg and he knows that his parents probably can't afford the bear, and no kid in that position should ever have to worry about that. That's been one of the nice things about this."

As part of the Blue Crew Tickets program, umpires donate tickets primarily to the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption and Big Brothers Big Sisters to allow kids who are awaiting adoption a chance to attend a Major League game.

Once there, the child gets to visit with the umpires and stand on the field.

"It's not an easy road for any of these kids," Timmons said. "You take these kids out on the field and you ask them, 'You think you could hit it out from here?' And they go, 'Yeah, I could.' And you tell them, 'I'll see you in a few years when you're in the big leagues, and I'll be umpiring for you.' It's a small thing, but you can really see their faces light up. It may be a short amount of time, but I think it's something the majority of them will remember for a very long time."

The kids also receive a goody bag that includes things like Cracker Jack, some team-donated memorabilia and a gift certificate they can use at the concession stand.

After raising nearly $60,000 in just six weeks, the umpires are excited about the possibility of raising more at next year's event.

"A lot of guys worked hard with e-mails and phone calls in a short period of time," Darling said. "When the word gets out, how many guys did this and what a good time they had, I would imagine we'll probably get another 10 or so guys plus some Minor League umpires. If we can get 30 guys next year, that would be great."

Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.