GFI adds major league umpires to list of firsts for 2012 tourney

Gerry Foster
By Gerry Foster
August 19th, 2012

In most sports a good official is considered one who is not noticed by the spectators; who remains in the shadow of the players. The umpiring crew at the 2012 event in Grand Forks, put together by Crew Chief Steve Boutang, calls for recognition.

Consider that for the first time a Major League Umpire will call balls and strikes at James Donaldson Park for the Grand Forks International baseball tournament (GFI). Ron Barnes, who lives near San Francisco, spent 10 years as an umpire in the Majors, primarily in the National League. He also has a wealth of experience at other pro levels including Triple A.

I recently asked Barnes if he remembers his first Major League game. He told me it was at Candlestick Park in San Francisco with the Giants hosting the Atlanta Braves and said, “I was excited but nervous as hell! It’s a big jump from AAA.”

He continued, “The lights are better, fields smell good and you are in the spotlight every game.” Ron summed up being an ump in the Majors this way, “The challenge is to ‘survive’ and get the pitches and plays correct. Don’t see yourself on ESPN that night!”

There is more noteworthy news relating to the officials at the Grand Forks International: Kelly Hunter will be the first woman to umpire in the 32 year history of the event. She has an interesting resume including Olympic softball at the 2004 Athens Games. There she umped in eight games including the Gold Medal contest between Australia and the United States.

She also worked the 2010 Women’s Baseball World Cup in Venezuela and this month, prior to coming to Grand Forks, is one of the arbitrators at the 2012 Women’s World Cup in Edmonton.

The Dawson Creek, B.C .native, when asked by Okanagan writer Ryan Watters if she was given the opportunity to umpire any game at any level which would it be,  she replied that she would pick an exhibition game between the Boston Red Sox and the Toronto Blue Jays. Kelly laughingly added, “I’d pick an exhibition game between the Red Sox and the Blue Jays because if I screwed up it wouldn’t make a difference.”

Long-time instructor George Smith says, “Baseball doesn’t attract women as much, however, B.C. is one of the few provinces that has a women’s umpiring program.”

Rounding out the trio who are making their GFI debut is 18-year-old Jeremy Pauls. He is a national level umpire from Abbotsford where he was a standout athlete. He has been umpiring for six years and is widely considered one of this province’s top umpire prospects. He is following in his mother’s footsteps; Rhonda Pauls is also a national level umpire.

When the teams take the field at the upcoming Grand Forks tourney, we just might be keeping an eye on the umpires a little more than usual.

Categories: GeneralSports