GREEN BAY - If you were going to name the things required to play a game of baseball the first things to pop into your head would probably be: two teams, bats, gloves, and balls. Umpires are required, but rarely thought of unless your favorite team didn't get the call. What motivates officials to step onto the field and officiate high school sports?
Bob Fletcher has called either ball or strike at high school baseball games for 31 seasons. Umpiring or as Fletcher calls it, his avocation, began as a challenge. "I used to pitch fast pitch softball. I got into an argument with an umpire one day and he dared me to get involved in this and I've been doing it ever since," Fletcher recalled fondly.
By the time most umpires reach the diamond they've already put in a full day’s work at their regular job. They don't come to the park for the money. They do it to stay close to the games they love and provide a service to their communities.
"I enjoy working with the kids and giving back to the game that I've been involved with ever since I was 5 or 6 years old," Fletcher said.
His partner for the day Paul Cisler has 25 years of service as an official. Cisler spoke highly of the high school athletes he officiates, mentioning the respect he has for the juggling act they perform balancing both academics and athletics. He also keeps in mind exactly where he fits in with the games he officiates. "Nobody comes out to see us officiate. We're just here to serve the high school athletes," Cisler said.
The job is one that the men I talked to enjoyed and cherish but it’s not always an easy one.
"We are constantly challenged about being in the right spot to make the right call,” Cisler said. “Coaches and players want consistency. If there's close call in the 1st inning it should be the same call in the seventh inning given the circumstances."
The duo pointed out as well that the sportsmanship of high school athletes and coaches and the respect with which the treat officials may be the best it has ever been. "The local associations have done a good job of trying to clean things up. Coaches have done a good job of cleaning up their part of the game. Umpires are doing a good job of not only communicating with coaches but also with players. Sportsmanship on the high school level is very well done," Fletcher was sure to point out.
Cisler and Fletcher feel compelled to help ensure there is a future of the fraternity of men in blue.
"When I'm behind the plate calling balls and strikes I get a catcher who's doing a good job I tell them you should be back here calling balls and strikes so I try and recruit kids all the time," Fletcher said. He added that varsity games almost always have officials but some of the younger levels, junior varsity, freshman and middle school are in dire need of officials.
Paul Cisler had his own sage advice for those thinking about joining the ranks of WIAA officials. "My feeling is don't be too quick to climb,” Cisler said. Start out at the lower levels get your feet wet make some mistakes, ask a lot of questions. You'll be fine if you do that.” He cited his own experience starting out as an umpire saying he made a lot of mistakes early on but through mentoring and experience became the official he is today.
Umpires faces are hidden behind a mask, they are a mostly unnoticed part of the game of baseball, and for umpires like Bob Fletcher that's exactly how he likes it. "Just to be out there and do our job and hopefully if nobody notices us we've done a good job," Fletcher said with a smile.
Doing a job so well no one notices, seems perfect for the men who wear the mask.