Be a part of the game

Free clinic offered for softball umpires

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Three years ago, Steamboat Springs resident Greg Hughey arrived at the softball field looking for a summer job to make some extra cash.

Since then, Hughey, who works as a filmmaker in Steamboat, has earned a nickname to go along with that part-time job.

"I might see a player when I'm at the post office picking up my mail," Hughey said. "They don't know my name, but they will say, 'Hey Blue, how's it going?'"

Blue is a common nickname for softball umpires, who used to wear blue uniforms. The umpires in Steamboat wear red uniforms these days, but the name "Blue" has stuck, and Hughey doesn't mind.

It's that recognition in the community and the chance to meet new people each summer that keep Hughey coming back for more. The extra paychecks for working the games are not bad, either.

"It's just a cool thing to do," Hughey said. "I get a lot out of it, so I guess it wasn't about the money after all. I just enjoy being a part of the game."

Christina Freeman, the city's sports coordinator, said most adult-league umpires return season after season. But the leagues usually need at least a few new ones each year.

This Saturday, the Parks and Recreational Services Department will host a free clinic for prospective umpires from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Howelsen Hill's Olympian Hall. It is mandatory for new umpires who hope to work in Steamboat. Umpires are played $14 to $17 per game.

The first part of the clinic will review the rules in a classroom situation. In the afternoon, the action will move to the softball field where players can get some first-hand experience in simulated situations.

Second-year umpire Mike Campbell said the lessons he learned at last year's clinic proved to be priceless once he started working real games.

"I've played baseball and softball my entire life," Campbell said. "But I wouldn't want to ump an adult-league softball game without having taken part in this clinic."

A certified instructor from Fort Collins runs the clinic, which Freeman thinks makes the leagues better and helps the umpires deal with sticky situations that result from close calls.

Campbell said he learned how to position himself to make the right call and how to react when he made a call that players on the field might not agree with.

"As a player, I was used to getting to the ball, but as an umpire it's your responsibility to learn how to avoid the ball," Campbell said.

He also said the clinic gave him confidence and taught him to stick by the calls he makes -- no matter what the players think.

While arguments in adult softball games seem to be more common than sports utility vehicles on the highway, both umpires agreed major conflicts are not the norm in Steamboat Springs. Campbell said he has never had to throw a player out of a game and Hughey has only done it once in three years.

"It's not all roses. But most people come out to have a good time and realize it's just a game," Hughey said.

Steamboat's adult softball leagues are scheduled to begin June 1.

-- To reach John F. Russell call 871-4209

or e-mail jrussell@steamboatpilot.com

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