It's not easy being a Little League umpire.
At best, you're overlooked. At worst, you're loathed. A game isn't about you. It's about the players and their fans.
And yet your judgments are law — undisputable but to the higher authority of league officials. You are also an unpaid volunteer. You perform your tasks for years with no expectation of reward.
William Andrews of Seminole is an umpire with the Cross Bayou Little League. He has been doing it for 15 years, and next month he's getting the highest form of recognition. Chosen from among thousands around the world, Andrews is one of 12 umpires headed to the Big League Softball World Series in Kalamazoo, Mich. The series takes place Aug. 5-11.
This series is not to be confused with the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., a far more publicized event for children ages 11 and 12. There are eight different word series games sponsored by Little League International. Andrews is umpiring for girls ages 14 to 18.
For Andrews, 51, an electrician for the city of Clearwater, umpiring is therapy.
"It's relaxation for me," Andrews said before a recent game between Pinellas Park and Seminole. "Yes, it's hot out there, but it's a good time."
He stands 6-3 and weighs 270 pounds, with a salt-and-pepper beard and bushy hair peeking out from beneath his baby-blue umpire's shirt. He lumbers along, having suffered a torn meniscus in his right knee this year. When he puts on the padding, he stands like a bear.
Andrews says he has never had a serious confrontation.
"I think you've got to be very calm, cool. You can't let the chatter bother you," he said. He has learned this: "Stay out of confrontation, don't go looking for trouble, because in the end, it will find you on these fields."
A sampling of a night's recent chatter:
Andrews called a strike.
"Oh, come on!"
"That's a joke!"
"He's gonna keep doing it because we're complaining!"
The late afternoon sun beat down on his head, and his only sympathy was a blue hand towel on the chain link fence behind home plate to wipe his brow.
Pinellas Park coach Scott Vanderveer said Andrews is approachable, a valued trait in an umpire.
"You better know what you're talking about," said Vanderveer, 38, "because he definitely knows what he's talking about."
Veterans say it takes a special kind of person to umpire well.
"My interpretation of a good umpire is an umpire that does a game and they never knew that he was there," said Rich Caporaso, a Little League district administrator in Pinellas who endorsed Andrews for the World Series. "It's a person who cares."
A St. Petersburg native, Andrews rooted for the Atlanta Braves as a boy. He started out coaching his daughter's softball games when she was 8.
There is no formal training. New umpires begin under the wings of the more experienced ones. There are periodic clinics where umpires talk mechanics, like rotation patterns and proper field positions.
In an age of computers and video games, organized sports are not as popular as they once were. The economy is partly to blame, league officials say. New umpires are highly sought after.
For Andrews, there are rewards to umpiring Little League. You try to casually impart wisdom before a kid breaks a rule. You avoid wounding a player's pride. You might approach the mound as if to check the dirt, then offer a tip as an aside.
You are, after all, teaching them a love of baseball.
"We are all out here because of the kids," he says. "It's got to be about the kids."
Reach Luis Perez at (727)892-2271 or email@example.com