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Baseball’s great for father-son bonding

April 5, 2008
Wayne Cook
Play ball!

It’s time for the weather to cooperate for high school baseball.

Coaches. Players. Fans. Umpires. Everybody anxiously awaits the opener.

My son, Jeff, and I will umpire an expanded 2008 schedule, including several section tournament games.

It’s not the first year we have umpired together.

Last year, we did a handful of games, including TMB’s Taylor Rignell’s no-hitter against CMCS, two Hardee’s Tournament games at Marshall, the Edgerton-Lakeview game and doubleheader with Marshall-JCC.

This year, Jeff will come from Brookings, S.D., (he’s a junior at SDSU) and be my partner.

We have games in Sacred Heart, Jackson, Slayton, Bird Island, Granite Falls. I’ll work with a different partner for a few games in Mankato.

Jeff will be lucky this year, becoming my partner for tournament games since my former partner, Ron Lenz of Truman, retired last year. Ron gave his stamp of approval for Jeff taking over this year.

I’ve umpired for 32 years, but the biggest thrill was getting my son started a few days before his 16th birthday. He’s now 20.

For two years, I only let him work the bases, which is the routine I followed when I was a beginning umpire.

Jeff was chomping at the bit to work the plate, and, finally, I gave in.

Now, despite his young age, he’s demonstrated the maturity of a veteran umpire.

He has qualities that have made a good first impression on coaches: Presence. Professionalism. Good mechanics. Good positioning. Good communication skills. Knowledge of the rules. Confidence.

For us, it’s like father, like son.

I once had dreams of being a major-league umpire. I attended school in Florida when I was 27.

Jeff will attend school in Florida after he graduates from SDSU in December 2009. I’ve told him to get his education just in case his dream of umpiring in the big leagues doesn’t materialize.

He’s checked out the cost for the umpires school, which is now about $3,000 compared to the $1,750 I paid 30 years ago.

Jeff and I were fortunate to umpire (second and third base, respectively) for a Northwoods League game two years ago in Willmar.

My son talked to the two umpires, who had attended the Florida school, assigned to that Mankato-Alexandria game. When told that the salary for major-league umpires starts at $100,000, Jeff’s eyes lit up.

This year’s season of high school baseball is another step in Jeff’s development prior to leaving for Florida in 1 1/2 years.

He has a dream of working the state tournament with his father this year. I guess I have that same dream, to be on the field with him.

Before that dream may be realized, we’ve gotten prepared for the upcoming season.

There were things to do: A rules interruption meeting to attend. A test to take. A state tournament application to fill out.

In addition, we had to buy matching umpire pants. Jeff’s size was 32 and my size was 38. Neither pants fit so we had re-order a larger size.

We’re ready to go Tuesday in Slayton. I can’t wait.


If you think dad is proud of his son’s quick advancement in the umpiring ranks, you are right.

Baseball has been the thing that has bonded us. That’s been the case since 1993 when my wife, Margaret, and I adopted Jeff from the Austin/Albert Lea area.

After 6 1/2 years of red tape, the adoption process was finalized.

When we talked to the social worker and finally got a chance to see a video, Jeff was playing baseball with his sister and two older brothers.

My wife said, “No, not somebody else that likes baseball.”

She laughs about that comment now, knowing how much baseball has meant to Jeff.

Yes, a lot has transpired in these past 15 years.

n That first time pitching batting practice to Jeff, who had a 35-inch, thick-handled bat which he could hardly swing.

Before we went to eat lunch at the home of his foster parents, he hit a screamer that knocked me flat on my back on the mound. He laughed.

n That first glove we gave him on the first weekend that he stayed over at our home while the adoption was on-going.

n Those first swings at Memorial Field in Redwood Falls, which is located directly behind our house.

n That father-son game when he struck me out with a split-finger fastball.

n That time when I coached him in sixth grade traveling baseball, and we finally beat Willmar. I told him to bunt. He laid one down perfectly, and the next batter hit a game-winning two-run homer.

n When he played VFW baseball, and later coached a 15-year-old team.

n When he played varsity at Redwood Valley and I wasn’t there for his junior and senior seasons. I’ve since apologized.

n For the note he wrote for me as a junior: “I get the start against Jackson tomorrow. Wish me luck.”

He never said much about that game when I asked.

Bashfully, he told that he had hit a home run and had a 2-1 lead pitching into the sixth inning. A home run tied the game that Redwood lost.

n Getting an opportunity to umpire in the 2005 state VFW tournament held in Marshall, thanks to an invitation from the late Dale Erickson.

n For the baseball trip he planned for our family to Chicago, Pittsburgh, New York, Boston, Cleveland and Milwaukee two summers ago.

n Getting a chance to work amateur baseball in places such as Marshall, Granite Falls, Willmar and Sacred Heart.

n For this year, prior to the much-anticipated section games, where the crowds are bigger and the baseball is better.

n For having the vision and staying focused on a big-time umpiring career.

Yes, indeed, baseball has been good for bonding for Jeff and I. No matter what he does — whether it’s studying in college or umpiring — he has applied himself.

He’s proven that kids can do amazing things. All they need is a chance.



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