"I love all umpires, but this is clearly the best class we've had," said Reliford. "From day one, they've been very receptive. They've taken the knowledge that all the instructors have offered and they've really progressed quickly in a week. We're thrilled. We've got some very good prospects here."
Reliford, who umpired for 19 years in the Major Leagues, has been just one of the voices lending valuable knowledge and expertise to the campers. Rich Rieker, MLB's director of umpire development, has been on hand, along with four umpires who called games in the Major Leagues this season.
But Malachi Moore, a former camper and a current Minor League umpire, is perhaps the best indicator of how successful the initiative has become. Moore came to the campus with a dream, and now he's one of the instructors who helps teach the current crop of aspiring umpires.
"Malachi is a local product, and he's on our staff now. He's moving well through the Minor Leagues and we're proud of him," said Rieker. "In the last six years, we've placed over 50 umpires in the Minor Leagues that have come through here. We're looking at this as not only a community presence here, but a stepping stone to start a professional career and a march toward the big leagues."
The path to the big leagues can be arduous for umpires, and the main allure of the camp is eight scholarships to a full-fledged umpire school. Those scholarships -- worth up to ,000 each -- include tuition, room and board and travel fees, and they're highly sought after among the campers.
The four big-league umps -- Ted Barrett, Mark Carlson, Marvin Hudson and Adrian Johnson -- offer their tutelage on game situations and specific umpiring situations, while Reliford spends the camp as the head of classroom instruction. This camp, though short on time, is long on instruction.
"One of the challenges here is that when you go to an umpire camp, it's a five-week course," said Reliford. "Believe it or not, there's so much to umpiring that it's eight or nine hours a day for five weeks. The challenge in a one-week camp is trying to figure out what's most important and get it down to a week so you can give these umpires a solid foundation to take further in their career."
Rieker said that this year has produced the best class of applicants thus far, adding that the umpires would have a difficult choice in deciding who best deserved the scholarship. That's part of the process, Rieker said, and he'd love to see the field expand even further next season.
"What we intend to do is move out and try to do a better job of recruiting," said Rieker of the camp's future. "Try to find more people around the country to come here, because not everybody from North Carolina or Vermont or Missouri may make the trip to California. We're thinking about expanding our efforts and trying to do a better job of finding umpires to bring them into our home base here."
Darrell Miller, MLB's vice president of youth and facility development, has watched the Umpire Camp grow over the years and is proud of the way it has influenced the community. Some day, Miller said, it might produce a Major League umpire, but before then it will produce some big-league citizens.
"We've got about seven kids here that were players at the Academy for five years, and now they're trying out as umpires," said Miller. "Now that Malachi's made it, he's serving as a source of inspiration for all of them, and it's becoming exactly what you want it to be. We've had guys make it to the big leagues as players from the Academy, and now we've got guys that are umpiring and coaching. If their baseball playing career ends, they know there are other avenues to stay in the game for life."