COMPTON, Calif. -- Eight international umpires from five countries are honing their skills at the MLB Urban Youth Academy in preparation for the World Baseball Classic, which will be held in March. The eight umpires -- Corrie Davis and Stephane Dupont of Canada, Carlos Rey and Willie Rodriguez of Puerto Rico, Luis Ramirez and Daniel Toledo of Mexico, Paul Hyham of Australia and Edgar Estivison of Panama -- have been working since Sunday with former Major League umpires at the third annual MLB Umpire Camp. The umpires are being trained because of a new umpire format in the World Baseball Classic that calls for two international and two Major League umpires on the field at the same time.
The international umpires are getting a chance to learn more about the four-man system in the Major Leagues from former umpires such as Bruce Froemming, Larry Young, Steve Rippley and Rich Rieker. "They don't work a lot of 'four-man' in their countries, so it's a training process," said Dick Runchey, the director of umpires for the International Baseball Federation. "So it's new, and that's why we're here. We're going over the fine points with all the guys here." But Runchey made sure to point out that these umpires have plenty of international experience and that this camp is more about refining skills than anything else. Six of the eight international umpires have Olympic experience, and Rey was an umpire in the Classic in 2006. Even with their prior experience, the umpires said they still are learning valuable lessons at the camp, which ends Friday. "At the international level, the four-man system is different than what we're working with here with the Major League umpires," said Hyham, who was an umpire in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. "There are more refinements, and I'm learning good mechanics I hadn't learned in the past." The training process begins in the morning in a classroom, as the international umpires are taught lessons about umpiring before they work on the lessons on the field later in the day with help from the former Major League umpires. They even get a chance to umpire live baseball games, with the help of the Compton Community College baseball team. "This is fantastic," said Dupont, who has worked eight international tournaments and 10 national tournaments in Canada. "You are surrounded by the best in the world, like Bruce Froemming, Steve Rippley and Larry Young. These guys are my idols, and suddenly they are my mentors and helping me to the next level." But the training isn't just about field work. The umpires also are taught important lessons about nutrition and exercise from experts such as MLB medical services director Mark Letendre. Letendre is teaching them exercises they can do before and after games as well as while they're on the road, because being an umpire can be grueling. "We teach them flexibility drills and exercises that are needed to strengthen the parts of the body that are needed to umpire," Letendre said. "This past season, the average squat was 296 pitches per game in the Major Leagues, with 35 plate appearances, so if you multiply that by the amount of games and years of experience, there's a lot of use and abuse to the umpire's body." It's all part of the process to get these umpires ready for the World Baseball Classic, which will be held from March 5-23, 2009, with the championship game at Dodger Stadium. And it's a tournament the umpires are especially excited about. "For us umpires that are not part of the MLB, this is the ultimate championship we can be a part of," Dupont said. "This is a dream come true."
Rhett Bollinger is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.