ANDERSON — Don Mason admits he was never that good at playing baseball.
But the lifelong Anderson resident wanted to continue to give back to the sport that gave so much to him.
Mason started coaching Little League baseball in 1985 when he was just a junior in high school. Eventually, he moved onto umpiring games, getting the inspiration from his father, who had been both a Little League coach and umpire.
In that time, Mason has held more than just on-the-field positions.
“When you’re involved in Little League, you do multiple things and umpiring was one of them,” Mason said. “I was able to umpire several games with my dad early on. So, that was kind of my drive. I enjoyed it, he enjoyed it and it was something we could do together.”
Over the years, Mason has been a Little League district administrator and has represented Anderson at both the Little League Baseball World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and the Little League Softball World Series in Portland, Oregon.
Next month, Mason will travel to Portland again but won’t be there as a fan and figurehead — he’ll be there as an umpire.
In 2013, Mason took off a few of the Little League hats he was wearing to focus solely on umpiring.
To reach his goal of umpiring a Little League World Series, Mason needed to accomplish a few things. One, he needed to increase the number of games he’d be umpiring and, two, it was recommended he take on a few high school games.
He then needed to work several regional tournament games, which he did in 2015 and 2017 at Grand Park in Westfield. Based on the 2017 tournament, he was given the recommendation to umpire a world series. He put his name in to be considered over the past two years and will finally get his chance this August.
But just umpiring games isn’t enough, according to Greg Ramos, who oversees the selection process for umpires for the Little League Softball World Series.
Mason’s commitment to Little League and willingness to do whatever what was asked of him played a part in his selection.
“In Don’s case, his level of volunteerism is second to none,” Ramos said. “Whether it was being a district administrator, league president, officiating games or even grunt work when we had state tournaments on the weekend.”
Ramos adds they value off-the-field performance just as much as on-the-field. He mirrors umpires at the regional level as being fish in a fishbowl and what they do to separate themselves on and off the field really helps move them along in the process.
Umpires looking to reach the point of working a world series should first get involved at the state level, says Ramos. After that he urges them to attend the umpire’s school in Indianapolis or Williamsport.
He notes that Mason attended both schools and it played a part in getting his recommendation.
Specifically, Ramos notes that at regional tournaments, judges look at all aspects of being an umpire but pointed to strike zone and attitude as two “pretty important” parts. Mason explains he goes to umpiring clinics regularly to keep himself sharp and also hosts an umpiring class out of his home.
At the local level, Mason encourages those who want to get into umpiring to get in touch with him. Ramos agreed, saying that prospective umpires wouldn’t find a more hard-working umpire than Mason to learn from.
Once Mason reaches Portland, he’ll go through his normal pre-game routine just like many athletes do. He’s not superstitious but believes it’s key to have time to go over possible situations before they happen during the game.
“Depending on where you umpire, it’s about rotations and where you’re going to be when a situation occurs to make sure you’re in the best position to make a call,” he said. “If I’m doing the plate, I’ll start talking to myself to make sure I’m giving a good strike zone. Once I get to a game, I’ll start talking to my partners about a half hour before just to talk about our responsibilities.”
Mason and the rest of the umpires that will be working the tournament will get to Portland a day before the games take place so they have a chance to go over how they plan to call games.
There will be somewhere between 35,000 to 40,000 fans in attendance, and Mason gets goosebumps thinking about the possibility of working in front of that many people. He won’t worry too much about fans being upset with calls because, as he puts it, he’s right 100% of the time but it just depends on which 50% of the crowd you’re listening to.
Something he does consider, but isn’t too worried about, is that all the Little League Softball World Series games will be broadcast on either ESPN+ or ESPN2. That means he, and other umpires, will have a microphone on them and they’ll be heard on the broadcast.
That’s nothing new to Mason though. At the regional tournaments he’s worked, he’d been mic'd up before in 2015 and 2017.
“When I step on the field, there will be some nerves because it’s just so different than it was 10-20 years ago,” Mason said. “Every game is on an ESPN platform. Most of our games will be on ESPN+ but the last six games will be on ESPN or ESPN2. I’m sure I will be (nervous) but I think I’ve prepared myself the best that I can.”
At umpiring schools, Ramos explains they do talk about the prospect of being on television. However, it’s less about making sure that people don’t swear on live TV and more about how to do deal with video review.
“There’s about a five-second delay so if an umpire gets hit in the private parts and swears, they’ll be able to bleep it out,” Ramos joked. “A lot of it is about looking the part like personal appearance, looking the part, looking well on TV and doing a great job.”
Ramos states that Mason fits all of those descriptors.
“He’s good a guy and beloved throughout the Central Division,” Ramos concludes.
Regional softball tournaments begin this weekend and last until next week. The softball world series goes from Aug. 7-14.
Follow Dylan Trimpe @Trimp3 on Twitter. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 765-640-4840.
Pool Play — Aug. 7-11
Quarterfinals — Aug. 12
Semifinals and Consolation Games — Aug. 13
Final and Consolation Games — Aug. 14
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