by Kyle Koso
When pondering how to help people in pain and those needing a boost to the spirits, Major League Baseball umpires have been making the right call for longer than you might imagine.
In a grass-roots effort initiated by MLB umpires themselves, UMPS CARE charities has a 15-year history of using its connections in the sport to support various causes. That includes the Protect The Game (Veterans in Sport Officiating) initiative, where military veterans are trained and equipped to become officials, primarily in youth sports.
UMPS CARE and Protect The Game are hosting a benefit event with two MLB umpires who served in the Marines, Laz Diaz and Mark Carlson — the talk will come via ZOOM call on Feb. 9 at 7 p.m. ET, and will be hosted by Jerry Schemmel, former radio voice of the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Rockies and host of the Amazing American radio broadcast.
Ticketholders can submit questions to the umpires in advance of the ZOOM event. Tickets are $25 and available at this link:
Connections to the military run deeply for both umpires. Diaz’s father and son both served in the US Army, and his son-in-law is currency in the Marines. Carlson’s wife served four years in the Army, and his grandfather fought in World War II in the Army. Both umpires worked in the 2020 World Series.
The UMPS CARE charity was founded in 2006 and evolved to create opportunities for primarily youth-based organizations to ease the burden on those in need. While the COVID pandemic has altered normal plans, UMPS CARE has in the past brought people to MLB ballparks for an intimate look at the big-league experience; umpires have also delivered modified Build-A-Bear Workshop experiences to the bedside of children undergoing significant medical procedures in hospitals. Those hospital visits happen in 15-18 MLB markets annually (pre-COVID), with more than 18,000 Build-A-Bear kits distributed so far.
Groups like the USO, Big Brothers and Big Sisters, and foster-care alliances are also served by UMPS CARE, as umpires invite such organizations to meet um[ires at Major Leahie and minor league games. In addition, UMPS CARE also has a scholarship trigram that sends children adopted later in life (age 13 and older) to college.
Another useful result stemming from UMPS CARE activities is the humanizing of the umpires, who like a lot of sports officials have come to expect a range of behavior from coaches, players and fans as they execute their job. Rather than just be known as targets of abuse (just YouTube some videos featuring Earl Weaver or Billy Martin to get a taste of what MLB umpires might experience), those behind UMPS CARE want a fuller picture to develop.
“We have tried to bridge that a little bit. That’s one reason why, when we bring groups to the ballparks, we want people to see the umpires working in a professional environment and what it takes to be an umpire, how they handle themselves,” said Amy Rosewater, marketing manager at UMPS CARE. “Beginning this year, we are starting a program where we look to have umpires at the Major League level mentor high school kids who might not have even thought that umpiring could be an occupation and a career.
“There’s so much in line with the military, the values of leadership, professionalism, dedication, sacrifice … all of that is very similar. Major League umpires spend anything from eight to 15 years (in the minors), so they understand commitment. They have to show up on time, in uniform, follow the rules. Everyone here is excited to have two umpires who understand both officiating and the military to connect with veterans via Protect The Game and encourage them to think about this profession.”
Protect The Game took shape in 2019 and has seen 26 former veterans complete the training, which had to be shut down during the pandemic. Dozens more are in line for training in 2021, tentatively set for locations in Colorado, North Carolina, Nebraska and a military base in California, among others.
“In the beginning days of Protect The Game, we had an intuition that veterans of military service would profile as positive forces in the world of sports officials, and the example of Laz Diaz and Mark Carlson makes that point even more forcefully,” said Jordan Cohen, executive director of Protect The Game. “We appreciate the support of UMPS CARE to our mission, which is to grow the roster of sports officials and help veterans succeed as they pivot into a civilian role in their life.”