By JOE McFARLAND
It’s not just the kids that are excited at the prospect of being at some major baseball tournaments in the United States this summer.
Even though teams have yet to play a game yet, let alone duke it out for the right to play in the Little League World Series (LLWS) and other championships, the umpiring crews have been named for each of the seven major summer tournaments.
The umpires will come from all over the world, including six Canadians. Four of those are coming from Alberta: Wayne Kurtz (Coaldale), Brian Stehr (Medicine Hat), Ian Clarke (Calgary) and Cody Nelson (Coaldale).
Kurtz will get to umpire on the biggest stage, as he has been pegged to work the Little League Baseball World Series in South Williamsport, Pa. in August. It’s the second-straight year an Albertan will call balls and strikes as part of that crew, as Calgary’s Brad Johnston umpired in the 2017 tournament.
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“I’m really looking forward to it,” Kurtz told Alberta Dugout Stories. “I’m not sure it’s totally sunk in yet.”
The 15-year umpiring veteran has worked every level of baseball in Alberta, from young kids right up to college and the Western Major Baseball League (WMBL). He likens the LLWS opportunity to getting the call-up to the big leagues.
“It’s going to be something else to go from a hundred people in the stands to a few thousand,” Kurtz said.
The excitement is obvious in his voice. He calls it a dream opportunity, which is a sentiment echoed by Stehr. In his ninth year of umpiring, the Medicine Hat native will be joining the crew going to Livermore, Ca. for the Intermediate League Baseball World Series.
“It’s literally a dream come true, a dream I didn’t know I had until I started umping,” Stehr said.
Stehr didn’t play the game, but watched and umpired his two sons while they played baseball as youngsters. He wanted to stay with it after they graduated.
“I made a promise to the umpires that after my years of heckling them, I would do at least one year of umpiring,” he remembered. “Ever since that first year, I’ve gotten the bug.”
All of the successful volunteer umpires went through a lengthy selection process, which starts with recommendations from their home administrators. That leads them to work in a regional tournament. According to Little League, that’s when the nine regional offices then consider all nominated umpires before selecting those who are ready to take the next step.
The selection process saw Clarke named to the Junior League Softball World Series in Kirkland, Wash., while Nelson will head to Easley, S.C. for the Senior League Baseball World Series.
Both Kurtz and Stehr, who were both a part of the Canadian Little League Championships in Medicine Hat last summer, are looking forward to the opportunities presented to them.
“I really enjoy meeting all the different people,” Kurtz admitted. “You get to meet different people from different backgrounds with different perspectives on the game of baseball.”
Stehr is looking forward to making some memories, not only for himself, but also for the kids.
“At the Canadians, you see a lot of kids who may never get a chance to travel again and a lot of them will never get a chance to do what they’re doing at that level,” he said. “That is super exciting.”
And while there are a lot of positives, both admit to some nerves as well.
“But once you get out there and see the first few pitches and first few innings, the nerves will hopefully settle down a bit,” Kurtz said.
“I’m no different than the 13-year-olds I’m going to be umpiring, though,” Stehr concluded. “I’m just as excited as they are.”