July 17th, 2024

31 years of growing the game from behind the plate: local umpire Dave Jones retires

By JAMES TUBB on July 9, 2024.

PHOTOS COURTESY ADAM JONES Longtime local softball and little league umpire Dave Jones has retired after 31 years, working his final game Sunday, umping at U19 Thunder softball contest at Redcliff.

jtubb@medicinehatnews.com@ReporterTubb

Dave Jones has made thousands of calls in his 31-year umpiring career and made his biggest one Sunday morning on a ball diamond in Redcliff.

The longtime local Little League and softball umpire decided the U19 Thunder game he worked Sunday would be his last, stepping away from the balls and strikes after 31 years of service.

He says it seemed like the right time for him to step away and hang up his mask.

“It’s hard to believe really that it’s been that long,” Jones said. “It’s been a whirlwind, really it’s unbelievable.”

The 73-year-old started umpiring in 1993 as a helper for his son Adam who started at a young age and was often calling games on his own. He stepped in to help and has worked steadily ever since.

He had two moments that stood out to him when reflecting on his umpiring career, working the 2022 Softball World Series in Kirkland, Wash. and working alongside Adam during the 2017 Canadian Championships held in Medicine Hat.

He says every umpire should aspire to work a World Series if they get lucky to. When looking at working with his son on the national stage, Jones says that was the epitome of his career.

“I’ve done five Canadian championships and each one was special in its own way, but that was a special moment to be on the diamond with him,” Jones said. “We had worked together before, but at a Canadian championship, that was definitely something different.”

Jones was the president of the local Little League umpire association, was at one in charge of scheduling umpires and taught in countless umpiring clinics. It’s a legacy Adam says will never be forgotten.

“The game and the baseball community will forever be in his debt,” Adam said. “He has done so much to help the game of baseball and softball for a very long time, it’s honestly hard to quantify.

“For three plus decades he’s helped shape players and coaches and he’s mentored other umpires to become not only better at their at jobs, but better people.”

Randy Laughlin, Medicine Hat Little League’s umpire director, says he was taught by Jones and inspired to get involved through his passion.

“Dave’s commitment and dedication to training our young umpires will live on long after his retirement,” Laughlin said. “He truly loved the game and loved teaching the umpire clinics. Dave understood how important it is to give back to the community and the game he loved.”

Jones umpired the 2019 and 2021 provincial softball championships and was awarded the 2022 MHNSA umpire of the year award. Michelle Campbell, president of Medicine Hat Minor Softball, says the organization is thankful for his service and the impact he had on the game and umpires throughout the years.

“Dave Jones has been a staple for MHMSA behind the plate,” Campbell said.

“Over the years he has helped facilitate brush up mechanic clinics, he’s gone to games to observe and offer feedback and he’s worked alongside countless young umpires. Dave is my go-to for any coach question regarding rules or conflict. He is reliable and knowledgeable and most of our players and coaches know him by name. Dave has always been willing to take an extra game on and makes himself available whenever possible to guarantee the girls can have a game.”

Working with younger umpires and sharing his tips of the trade was a large part of the passion for Jones.

“I’ve seen a lot of umpires come and go and I would like to think I’ve helped shape them in some way,” Jones said. “Just sharing my knowledge and experience and stuff.”

Another umpire Jones worked with was Brian Stehr, who jokes that Jones “coerced” him into umpiring for a year after his kids were done playing baseball and has now worked behind the plate for 14 years himself.

Stehr, who is the president of the Little League Umpire Association and works WCBL, American Legion and Little League games, says the way they operate is because of the decades of work Jones put in.

“The reason I got into it and have stayed with it, and I cannot couldn’t even fathom the places I’ve gone with umpiring, is because of him,” Stehr said. “His impact is still felt today and will always be, he’s very important to our to the Little League program.”

Jones says he doesn’t have anything planned with the rest of this summer now open. He says he’ll likely fish some more and spend more time working on the model train set he has in his basement.

He can’t remember any heckles he received over his 31 years in the game and he says he never had any big blow ups with parents or coaches. Jones says he learned a lot about dealing with coaches from an umpire school in San Bernardino, Calif.

“The fact is that the game is for the kids, it’s not for them and it’s not for us, so just smooth things over,” Jones said. “Everybody makes mistakes, we’re all human. I make a mistake, I make a bad call, I gotta live with it. It’s not the end of the world.”

His advice for the next wave of umpires is to ask questions and learn as much as they can from those who have been behind the plate or on the base paths before.

“Just be the best you can be,” Jones said. “Absorb as much knowledge as you can, look to older empires. Look to senior umpires and absorb their experiences and just listen to what they’re telling you because they know what they’re doing. and that’s why they’re there.”

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