By STEELE HAUGEN
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS
Any umpire will tell you it’s a thankless, often derided job.
But if you’re willing to volunteer for a position in Central Oregon, you might just be the most popular person on the field.
Because right now, from Little League to high school baseball, nobody wants to ump.
“So currently we are in a pretty dire situation, we don’t have any.” said Melissa Thompson, Bend South Little League President about needing umpires.
Being a Little League umpire is a volunteer position, but these desperate times.
“We’ve offered to pay folks and that also is not really working,” Thompson added.
She says this year they have 26 baseball teams and six softball teams.
They have a few umpires for softball, but none for baseball.
On the other side of town, things are different.
Bend North Little League currently has 50 umpires and no shortages. The season started last week.
“What we’re having to do is managers are umpiring their own games,” Thompson added.
Why such a shortage?
“I think everyone is still kind of in that survival mode and not able to give more of their time than they already are and unfortunately it sort of has presented the situation we are in,” Thompson said.
It’s not just at the Little League level, high school umps are hard to come by too.
“Our numbers are down over 35-40% and part of the reason there is because the median age for an umpire is 49-50 years old, so that puts us in a category where some of these guys have opted out because of safety concerns and are worried about their health,” said Central Oregon Umpires Association Commissioner Tad Cockerill.
Cockerill oversees assigning and training umpires for high school baseball and softball games for the OSAA.
“Recruiting really hurt because we didn’t know if we were going to play,” Cockerill said.
The umpire association had over 40 umps last year covering 11 schools across Central Oregon.
“We have 23 people signed up right now and on a typical day that is heavy, we have 13-14 baseball and softball assignments,” Cockerill added. “You do the math, we’re not making it.”
The shortened, back-to-back sports seasons also caused issues for officials who ref multiple sports.
“Basketball starts next month, football was before us,” he said. “You can imagine the log jam for officials that it has created.”