PLANT CITY — After umpiring softball for 30-plus years, Tim Williams pretty much figured he had seen it all. But nothing compared to a January afternoon earlier this year.
Williams, positioned just off second base, watched as a centerfielder tracked a ball heading toward the fence. The outfielder, back to home plate, turned and sprinted while trying to gauge the proximity of the fence and follow the flight of the ball.
The man leapt at full extension, parallel to the ground, and caught the ball over his shoulder just before crashing to the grass and rolling into the fence.
It would have been a remarkable catch by anybody.
It was even more so because the outfielder was missing a leg and an arm.
"It was one of the most amazing things I'd ever seen on a softball field," Williams, 55, said of the catch made by the former soldier with a prosthetic arm and leg. "Truly inspirational."
"I couldn't even make the out call. All I could do was applaud."
Williams umpired the Wounded Warriors against the Fellowship of Christian Athletes all stars that day, but it's just one snapshot from a scrapbook of memories he's compiled at the Plant City Softball Stadium and Randy Larson Four Plex.
The sprawling 75-acre facility east of downtown is one of the premier softball complexes in the nation.
"It's a great facility that I think is without equal," International Softball Federation president Don Porter said. "When we moved our headquarters here in 2000, there were a number of big cities on the final list and this facility and Plant City were simply superior."
The ISF, softball's worldwide governing body, relocated from Oklahoma City in 2000 after Plant City won out over Dallas, Colorado Springs, Colo., and Long Beach and Palm Springs, Calif. The city offered to remodel Plant City Stadium, which had been the spring training home of the Cincinnati Reds, as well as renovate office space for the ISF.
"The city has been outstanding to work with in terms of joint projects," Porter said. "They were able to accommodate us and in turn, we want to bring various international competitions to this great area."
The ISF is still in the process of building an international hall of fame as well as a softball museum. Porter said he hopes to have both completed in the near future.
"Our initial funding didn't cover all of the costs associated with the hall of fame and museum," he said. "We're still in the process of searching for alternative funding to make that happen sooner than later."
Williams' Rolodex of memories weaves through the fabric of what has become Plant City's adopted sport. He's been afforded the opportunity to share the field with some of the world's best softball players (Jennie Finch and Dot Richardson, to name a few) as well as the local clerk at the neighborhood convenience store.
"It was an honor to walk out on to the field with Olympic gold medalists," said Williams, a 1975 Brandon High graduate. "But sometimes I'm umpiring for church leagues that are having their championship game. That means the world to them so it's just as important to me."
Williams calls himself "a traffic cop" on the field who's job it is to keep things moving without getting in the way.
"Sometimes you're out there with the big names in the sport but you never know if the recreational players out there are doctors or truck drivers. You treat them all the same and the way you would want to be treated."
Brandon Wright can be reached at [email protected]