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Umpiring U

With the Christmas holiday fast approaching the talk around many family gatherings will include education plans for the teenagers approaching high school graduation and adulthood. When that question has been asked of South Williamsport’s Bryce Brewer, his response throws most people a curve.

A few days after unwrapping Christmas gifts the 2018 South Williamsport graduate will be heading south to enroll in the Harry Wendelstedt Umpires School in Daytona Beach, Florida to pursue a dream long held in his young life.

“A lot of people have asked me what school I’m going to and when I tell them the Harry Wendelstedt school, they’ve never heard of it,” Brewer chuckled. “When I tell them it is an umpiring school they think that is pretty awesome.”

Growing up Brewer played high school tennis and golf in addition to Little League Baseball.

“When I played Little League, I loved the game, but I was always more interested in the umpires than I was the game. I would watch the umpires’ mechanics and see how they moved when the ball was hit, their game management and stuff like that. Watching what they did really intrigued me and that was what created my interest.

“The first game I ever umpired was a Junior League game at the South Williamsport Park Complex when I was 15. I did the bases and was umpiring with Chris Downs, who works at the Little League Headquarters. He showed me a lot of positioning and the basic mechanics. It was one of those gigs that you don’t know how to do it until you actually give it a try. That was the beginning for me. The thing about good umpiring is that once you get the basics down, and get that first taste of things, you’ll get through the game pretty well. That first game taught me a lot.

“From that very first game, the light bulb went off that this was something that I was really into and wanted to do as a career. I’ve worked hard at it, and as young as I am I’ve done a lot of games, probably in excess of 500, and I love it every time I am on the field. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about being on the field. As my family has always said, you won’t be working a day in your life if you are happy with what you are doing. This is what I want to do. I’m young enough, and I am going to give it a shot.”

The 2019 Harry Wendelstedt School runs from January 2 to February 3. It is the oldest and most attended umpire school in the world. The school has prepared more umpires to move into professional baseball, and more umpires to move into the Major Leagues than all other programs combined. During the five-week course, participants receive classroom training, rules review, cage instruction and field work covering all aspects of umpiring.

The school usually enrolls between 125-150 students. Approximately 30 students who make it through the fifth week are placed into MLB’s minor league system. Overall about 70% of the students get placed in the professional league or the NCAA Academy leading to opportunities in Division I, II or III college baseball. There have been many umpires who have worked their way into professional baseball via that avenue.

“I’ve read a lot about the school, and all the alumni that have gone there and everyone talks about how great the experience was,” Brewer said. “Even if you don’t make it into the professional leagues, you are taught well, and you learn everything you’ve ever dreamed of about becoming an umpire. I look at it this way, if I make it to the professional level that would be awesome. That would be a dream come true. But, if I don’t, I will be able to hone my skills and get my game to a higher level to do high school and college games and work myself up through the ranks.”

While admitting he hasn’t been overly influenced by any one individual, Brewer has closely followed the careers of two MLB arbiters.

“There hasn’t been any one person that I’ve tried to be like, but there are umpires in Major League Baseball that I’ve watched closely. One is John Tumpane, one of MLB’s newest umpires known for his rescue of a woman trying to jump off the Roberto Clemente Bridge in Pittsburgh in 2017. Another is Greg Gibson, who was the home plate umpire in 2008 for the first game using instant replay. I’ve watched their charisma on the field, their character and the way they conduct themselves and it gives me inspiration to be like them someday.”

With area umpiring chapters facing declining memberships, Brewer was asked his thoughts as to the reasons why.

“One reason is people don’t want to take the level of abuse that sometimes comes with officiating. You have to have thick skin to do this. This is the one job you are expected to be perfect from day one and get better from there. This is the human element and officials are going to miss plays. That happens. But I don’t think there are many parents, fans, coaches and players who realize how hard the job really is unless you go out there and do it. There aren’t many people who can take that kind of abuse. It happens in the heat of the moment, and I realize that. Often after a game is over people will come up and apologize and many others won’t.

“Another thing, especially at the high school level, is the travel that is involved, the time that it takes and many people working regular jobs can’t get that time off.”

As for what he would say to young people considering umpiring?

“Do it. Absolutely do it. It is a little nerve-racking at first, but once you get your wits behind you and get to understand the basic mechanics, your muscle memory will kick into effect, and it will be just like riding a bike. You will always learn something new every game that you do because baseball and softball will always have that one play that you have never seen before.”

As Bryce Brewer counts down the days until beginning his educational career path, it will be the baseball rulebook, not algebra or chemistry that he will be studying.

“There are not a lot of people that want to grow up and be an official, but it is something I love to do. Every year from April through September I spend most of my time on ball fields umpiring. I am really looking forward to getting down to Florida.”

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