Concord umpire puts calls where his mouth once was
By Lou Fancher
If you can't stop yelling at 'em, join 'em.
Those words, or similar ones, were delivered to Ed Newbegin after his tendency to snipe at Little League umpires got out of hand while managing and coaching Bay Area teams.
"It's kind of shameful to admit," said the 58-year-old father of four grown children. "I started off because my older son was playing Little League. I was very hard on the volunteer umpires. I got called into the office and was told I had to umpire five games to see what it was like or I'd be banned from the field."
Newbegin clearly learned his lesson, because from Aug. 2 through 8, he'll be serving as an umpire in the Senior League Softball World Series in Lower Sussex, Delaware. One of only 109 umpires selected by Little League International to officiate in its 2015 World Series, Newbegin began volunteering in 1988 and umpiring in 1991. He works in Concord's Continental Little League.
To be eligible for the World Series assignment, an umpire must first be nominated by a district administrator to work a regional tournament. Receiving a positive evaluation, tournament directors then make recommendations. An umpire can be nominated for the World Series every four years, but it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience when an umpire is selected.
"My World Series ring, I'm gonna cherish it," Newbegin said. "This all boils down to being lucky to be in this district. I picked the brains of umps who've been there and wound up with 'work your game' and 'have fun'."
Of course, preparing for the big gig requires a lot more than just jawing with a few fellows. Newbegin said he started replacing his gear on Dec. 4, 2014, the day after the letter arrived announcing he'd been selected. He's had a personal trading pin designed -- a "softball sun" with radiating flames that's embossed with his name -- and has imagined himself on TV. "Anybody I worked with all season, I asked for constructive feedback. I thought about if my moves were crisp and definitive."
Jim Rose has worked alongside Newbegin at some of the 65-70 games he averages each season.
The 16-year umpire and Martinez resident said Newbegin is generous with his instructions to fellow umpires and dedicated to helping kids play softball and baseball safely.
He admires the nontechnical aspects of Newbegin's style.
Describing a doubleheader in which parents, coaches and a manager created a volatile atmosphere in the first game, Rose says Newbegin didn't eject the manager and even chatted with him between games, explaining rules and the calls he'd made.
"He defused any lingering issues. Umpiring is not just about calling balls and strikes, safes and outs; it is also about reading game situations and making sure the game is played for the kids, not the parents or coaches.
It was game management at its best."
Newbegin says ejecting coaches or managers is the easy way out, and that the umpire's job is to keep everyone in the game.
"You'll find yourself out there with things going a little south on you. I
"I had ejections as a new umpire, but you learn to deal with the guy who comes out really hot and in your face.
"Parents can get what we call 'chirpy.' Knowing your role allows you to apply the rules in a balanced way. "I'm there to make sure the adults have a minimal negative impact on the kids."
Newbegin will work approximately 20 games during the World Series. He's assigned to the girls age 13-16 group, and said he made a deliberate move from working baseball games to softball.
"I was interested in getting to the higher levels (state and above) and in 2012, I got my regional assignment."
Ironically, his history as a player is nearly comic.
"I only played half a season. I was the kid looking at dandelions in the outfield, I just wasn't into it. I once let a ball fall right in front of me because I was watching the game in the other field."
Finding his niche among those to whom he once directed his wrath, Newbegin no longer carries his rule book in his back pocket ("A real rookie move," he said, laughing).
He rarely throws anyone out of the game; instead, he's learned to be in the right place at the right time, know the letter of the law, anticipate and defuse emotions and never forget that he's in the game to give kids an opportunity to play fairly and have fun.