As a general rule, Major League Baseball umpires do not like to be in the news.
They prefer to go largely unnoticed, all the focus on the players, in and out of a ballpark quietly from town to town, Spring Training through the Fall Classic.
There is one major exception to this code within their fraternity, however, and that is the fifth annual UMPS CARE Charities Online Auction now underway at MLB.com/UmpsCare. Bidding opened on Friday morning and it will close at 9 p.m. ET on May 12, and that 10-day grace period is when they are entitled to make a lot of noise.
The umps are offering up more than 200 ticket packages, autographed sports memorabilia and one-of-a-kind VIP experiences. All proceeds support UMPS CARE Charities youth programs to provide MLB experiences for children awaiting adoption, Build-A-Bear Workshop experiences for hospitalized children coping with serious illnesses, college scholarships for deserving young adults who were adopted as children and financial assistance for families in need.
"The online auction is one of the biggest fundraising initiatives for UMPS CARE Charities and has grown tremendously in only four years," said Gary Darling, longtime MLB umpire and president of the board for UMPS CARE Charities. "The auction will be hosted on MLB.com and has something for everyone, from autographed memorabilia to once-in-a-lifetime experiences, so we encourage fans to tell all of their friends and family to check out the auction on MLB.com and bid generously."
Some of the items up for bidding include the opportunity to throw out the first pitch during a Cubs game at Wrigley Field; a ball signed by Josh Hamilton and used during the game in which he homered four times last May 8; a signed Albert Pujols Cardinals game-worn cleat; family four-packs of tickets for a special Father's Day baseball outing; opportunities to watch batting practice from the field at ballparks like Dodger Stadium; and more than 50 suites or ticket blocks from Minor League clubs for fans to see some of baseball's rising stars up close.
There are signed jerseys, bats, balls and gloves from stars of yesterday and today as well, including Ernie Banks, Ryan Braun, Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Bryce Harper, Derek Jeter, Tommy Lasorda, Vin Scully, Bob Uecker, Justin Verlander and David Wright.
If you're a Giants fan, here's a piece of memorabilia you don't have yet: A 2012 World Series commemorative baseball, signed by the entire crew that worked that Fall Classic: Gerry Davis, Brian Gorman, Joe West, Fieldin Culbreth, Dan Iassogna and Brian O'Nora.
To Iassogna, being in that crew is an honor -- but one put into proper perspective when considering what a privilege today's umpires have of making a difference in the lives of others.
"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 told MLB.com before a previous auction. "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."
Signed items from other athletes and celebrities outside of baseball also are available from the likes of Kevin Harvick, Magic Johnson, Eli Manning, Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers.
Plenty of items for the non-baseball fan are available as well, including tickets to the 2013 PGA Championship; two-night hotel stays with game tickets from the finest hotels in the country, a Build-A-Bear signed by the Jonas Brothers, a baseball signed by 2012 "American Idol" winner Phillip Phillips and much more.
UMPS CARE Charities is a 501(c)(3) non-profit established by MLB umpires to provide financial, in-kind and emotional support for America's youth and families in need. Through its youth-based programs, professional umps enrich the lives of at-risk youth and children coping with serious illness by providing memorable baseball experiences, supporting pediatric medical care, and raising awareness for foster care children waiting to be adopted. For more information go to UmpsCare.com.
"Umpires bring teddy bears to kids in hospitals across the nation, they give tickets to underprivileged kids to get them into games," said former professional umpire Don Rea. "Contrary to what people think about the men in blue, they've got a heart of gold."