| Less than two months remain before the start of the 2014 New York Collegiate Baseball League. Players are well into their college seasons as are coaches. The individuals responsible for enforcing the rules of the game have also been busy with preparations.
Their work at the Umpire School in Vero Beach, Fla. and the Wendelstedt Umpire School is complete… for now, and the “men in blue” who will oversee this season’s games have received their assignments.
Umpire candidates completed a four-week course in February. Ten hour days were broken up into classroom work in the morning focused on understanding rules and afternoons spent on the field running through drills for positioning, footwork and techniques. Students worked on the two-umpire system and even got a chance to handle on-field arguments.
Some moved on to the evaluation course where they will prepare for possible positions in minor league baseball.
“Obviously, different students are at different levels,” said Dusty Dellinger the Interim Director of the Professional Baseball Umpire Corporation (PBUC). “We assess that. We grade out the professionals. We look at all the different levels that they work - an independent pro league or a college summer bat league. Or it may be high school. We want to place them into some level of baseball that they are best suited.”
Umpires sent to the NYCBL and other summer wood-bat leagues stay in the system and have a chance to progress with time.
“It’s almost an extension of minor league baseball to a degree,” Dellinger said of the umpires sent to the NYCBL and other collegiate leagues. “It’s almost like our personal development league.”
Retirements, injuries and Major-League call-ups create a “trickle-down effect” Dellinger explained. The PBUC turns to their reserve lists – one from the evaluation course and one from the Umpire School.
“It’s the kids who are just outside of getting a job from the evaluation course. Those guys are the next ones called to come into professional baseball.”
The PBUC values its relationship with the NYCBL in terms of assessing umpires.
“Some of those kids we’ve encourage to return to umpire school after going and gaining more experience,” Dellinger stated. “They may have to work a year or two years. Every individual is different and we’ve got that information that we will share with that kid.”
Interactions between Dellinger and NYCBL President Stan Lehman and Director of Baseball Operations Jake Dennstedt are used to chart the progress of each umpire.
“I will give the names to your league off the umpire school reserve lists and try to get those kids to work,” Dellinger noted. “Those kids are going to have to go back to the umpire school process.”
“We feel that if they go out and get some experience and take that experience they’ve gained they can go work and hone their skills and develop a little bit better. They know what to expect and maybe return to umpire school for a second time and maybe get in that way.”
Those selected to go on to the Evaluation Course fill open positions in Minor League Baseball.
Several former NYCBL umpires have moved on to Minor League Baseball: Lewis Williams III (Arizona League - 2011, 2012 Southern Atlantic League – 2013), Alex Ransom (Arizona/ Pioneer League – 2010, Midwest League – 22011, Florida State League – 2012, Southern League -2013), Andrew Freed (Gulf Coast League - 2011, 2012, Southern Atlantic League – 2013), Derek Moccia (New York Penn League – 2013) and Clifton Davis (Gulf Coast League – 2013).
“It’s another step in the process before you can get into professional baseball. If you qualify for a position in professional baseball that’s the message that we tell them at the end of umpire school. That’s basically saying you qualify for a position now your next step is to go through the evaluation course.”
Dellinger experienced the process first-hand. After attending the Umpire School in 1996 he worked a summer in the Cape Cod League.
“I didn’t qualify right away to go to the Evaluation Course.”
He spent 1997 in the New York-Penn League and 1998 in the South Atlantic League before moving on to the Carolina League. After three seasons in the Southern League, he moved up to Triple-A in 2003. Major League Baseball invited him to work the Arizona Fall League that year and Spring Training in 2004. He spent four years working Spring Training and served as a Major League call-up. Dellinger eventually umped 33 games in the big leagues. He also worked the inaugural World Baseball Classic in 2006 and spent two winters in the Puerto Rico leagues.
“I know what it takes to have to go down a different path.”
The NYCBL opens the 2014 season with five games on June first. The Cortland Crush and Genesee Rapids will join the league for their inaugural season.
The Kerr-Pegula Athletic Complex will be the site of the 2014 NYCBL All-Star Game. The NYCBL’s best will converge on the campus of Houghton College on July eighth for the annual event which includes the Major League Baseball Scout Day and Home Run Derby culminating with the Mid-Summer Classic.
More than 100 NYCBL alums dotted rosters of Major and Minor League Baseball in 2013.
Current major league players Tim Hudson, Hunter Pence and Mike Fiers all spent a summer playing in the NYCBL.