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Umpires connect with the game at Central Kitsap, Bremerton Pee Wee leagues
Down two runs with the bases loaded on the final out of the game, Tim Foresha’s daughter, Lauren, faced a full count batting for her Warren Avenue Pee Wee team last month.
And when the next pitch was delivered down the middle of the plate, Foresha had no choice but to call his youngest daughter out on strike three. Like most umpires, he has his critics, including his wife, Tammy Tyo-Foresha.
“I’m not here as Dad,” said Foresha, a longtime baseball umpire from Bremerton. “I’m here as the ump, even if it was a strike. My wife gave me grief later, but it comes with the territory.”
Youth baseball, specifically the Pee Wee associations, are a mainstay in Bremerton and Central Kitsap communities, and umpires, both young and old, make their presence known, often in their own, unique way.
Unlike high school or collegiate baseball, kids’ leagues involve umpires who provide occasional tips to a player. Some umpires joined because they once played, and each one has a unique style of calling balls and strikes. At times, they had to eject an overzealous coach, and despite making $40 a game, hearing the flak is worth it, even if it comes from a member of the family.
Finding a connection
Foresha played catcher in high school and earned a spot on the Ohio University baseball team the following year, but persistent knee injuries sidelined him from ever playing. His career was over before it started.
“I can’t play anymore,” he said. “I can’t get out and run the bases. I can’t do catcher squats anymore, so I chose a different path to be part of the game.”
He still has a slight limp from tired knees, but Foresha is on the diamond nonetheless.
He called three straight Pee Wee baseball games last month at Sheridan Park in East Bremerton, a typical Saturday for a man who has spent the last 18 years as a youth baseball umpire.
“I have a connection to this game,” said Foresha in between the second and third games of a tripleheader. “It’s a way to stay out here and be with the game.”
When Foresha called his daughter out on strikes, she was crushed.
“Sometimes, that’s the way it goes,” he added.
Pumping the fist
Meanwhile, fellow longtime Bremerton umpire O.J. Simpson also has his fair share of critics at games, and not because of his name, which he shares with a more notorious person.
He doesn’t whisper his calls nor does Simpson shy away from starting a conversation with fans, like he did in between innings of a Silverdale Pee Wee baseball game at Ross Field last week.
In fact, on occasion, Simpson acts like a stand-up comedian, cracking jokes after fly balls or errant throws. But it’s not always fun and games if parents or coaches get on his bad side.
“If it’s a really tight game, and people keep complaining, I don’t want to talk to them so much,” Simpson said. “You don’t want to give them fuel for the fire. They’ll pick something you did wrong and let you know about it for the whole game, because that’s their nature.”
Simpson has been an umpire for 20 years in Kitsap County, hosting baseball officiating camps for those interested in calling a game.
A former high school player himself, Simpson started umpiring to make a little extra money to help support his family.
Once he started enjoying the job, Simpson said he began officiating as many as 400 games a summer, and years later, he still provides a boisterous voice to the game so he can make a statement. It’s the kind of person he is.
“I have a lot of volume because I can,” said Simpson, explaining the louder an ump is, the more authority he or she can command. “When you call someone ‘out,’” he said in a hushed voice, “there’s question to that. But when you yell ‘out!’ to a player, there’s confidence in that decision.”
“You sell your call,” he added.
Pee Wee leagues in Bremerton and Central Kitsap use one umpire per game, which means one person makes split-second decisions across the entire field. The Peninsula Umpires Association and United States Specialty Sports Association are the two largest providers of umpires to games in the area.
Foresha works with Peninsula, while Simpson is a member of the latter. On the side, Foresha sells medical equipment and Simpson runs a waste-water treatment plant for the Kitsap County Public Works Department.
One thing both men have in common is that they each take their time to make a decision on the field.
“If it’s a bang-bang play, I hesitate for a moment to replay the moment in my mind before yelling out the call,” Foresha said.
Simpson also doesn’t mind exercising patience.
“I don’t call a strike before it hits the glove,” he said. “It’s not hard to take your time.”
In 18 years, Foresha has ejected 15 coaches and fans. He believes that number is low for calling thousands of games.
“I’ll give someone a mile of rope,” he said. “But after a while, if it continues, I have to make an ejection.”
Simpson said he can’t remember how many people he has thrown out, but believes it’s “not very many.”
“You eject a coach because he’s making a scene, and becoming the game instead of the game being the game,” Simpson added. “You’re supposed to teach these kids sportsmanship and when a coach acts out, that’s a nuisance and they don’t need to be here.”
Tips for kids
For youth leagues, like Pee Wee, it’s about teaching kids to love and respect the game, Simpson said, who offers tips between innings, while keeping an eye on parents and coaches.
“Kids are open-minded,” Simpson said. “For the most part, you take a team of young kids, and the majority of them are willing to learn the game and have fun.”
Spencer Hansen once played at the Pee Wee level, and now the Olympic High School senior baseball player is spending this summer as an umpire alongside Simpson. This season is Hansen’s first.
“I played down here once when I was a kid, and I wanted to come back and keep it going,” Hansen said after umpiring a Silverdale Pee Wee game last week.
Hansen said the difference between youth and high school baseball is the speed of the games and varying strike zones. He is learning from Simpson, who has trained umpires for the past decade.
The Olympic first baseman, a member of the United States Specialty Sports Association, is still getting used to the position and has already heard parents and coaches disagree with his calls.
“It doesn’t hurt my feelings,” Hansen said. “I just tune it out. Either way, someone’s going to be upset, so you just take it with a grain of salt.”
As for the teenager’s style, he likes to stay quieter, like Foresha, to keep the focus on the kids playing. He has yet to make an ejection, but warned a coach last month about his strike zone.
“I haven’t been looking forward to it, but I kind of want to eject someone,” he added. “It’s a statement to throw someone out.”
The job is only for the summer, but Hansen said he will consider being an umpire as a career. The rookie umpire is still adjusting to life behind the plate, which at the youth level can include a wild pitch at any given moment.
“I only flinch when the ball is coming toward my face,” Hansen said. “Otherwise, I keep my eyes open for everything out here.”
Foresha said he plans to stay as an umpire for Pee Wee baseball. He added that he doesn’t like Major League Baseball.
“The money has ruined it,” he said. “Kids just play to have fun at the Pee Wee level, and I enjoy that.”
Although Simpson no longer umpires solely for the paycheck, he still keeps busy with the sport. Last week, he took the night off from work to umpire games at Ross Field.
For now, he’s not thinking about leaving. He has Hansen to mentor.
“When I stop enjoying it, I’ll stop doing it,” he said. “I should probably be sitting on a rocking chair, but I’m still here.”
Photos by Mike Baldwin
Top left photo: Umpire O.J. Simpson shares a laugh with a Silverdale Pee Wee coach in between innings of a game last week at Ross Field.
Bottom right photo: Rookie umpire Spencer Hansen watches a play unfold during a Silverdale Pee Wee game at Ross Field last week.