Episode 63: Podcast creator Jason Becker will change your mind about umpires
Let’s meet the baseball nut who sticks up for the guys behind the plate that every baseball fan loves to hate.
Yes, we’re talking about umpires.
In this episode of the Check It Out! podcast, host Ken Harvey talks to his friend Jason Becker, creator of the Umpire Inspire podcast.
“In my book, he’s a genius, and he’s producing a fascinating podcast for the officials behind America’s favorite round–ball sport. That’s baseball, and those are umpires,” Harvey said in introducing Becker. “Fans and players often disagree with what the umpire says and what the umpire does, which can make it a lonely job even when there are two of them on the field.”
Becker humanizes umpires. He explains why they love what they do, even when they don’t get paid to call balls and strikes and outs. They’re inspired to do it for the love of the game.
Becker’s podcast invites listeners to come in and hear a captivating conversation with an enthusiastic umpire who may be from anywhere on the planet.
“Baseball isn’t just American, it’s global, and these umpires consider their jobs to be a lot more than just calling balls and strikes,” Harvey said.
Becker said baseball has been his passion “for practically my entire life.” He started playing when he was 5 and continues to play today in a senior adult league.
“I’ve played since I was a kid, like a lot of people. Coached my boy all the way through Little League, and my girls for a couple years while they were playing,” he said.
About eight years ago, he grabbed a mask and tried umpiring.
“It was a need that I felt I could do some good with in our local Little League here in Mukilteo, and it turned out to be a really great fit,” Becker said. “Being out on a baseball field makes more sense to me than being just about anywhere else, so I’ve really enjoyed umpiring.”
He takes it seriously. He umpires Little League baseball and softball around Washington and umpires high school baseball in Snohomish County.
It took Becker a couple of years of umpiring before he could see the connection between his love for umpiring and his love for fascinating podcasts.
“There’s a lot of folks out there for whom umpiring means an awful lot, and they put a lot of their heart and their time into it, and it’s often not paid. Little League is an all-volunteer organization, for instance,” Becker said. “I found that umpires were generally just a really great group of people to hang around with because of their giving spirit, their commitment to public service… how umpiring is a public service for many of the friends that I have in the umpiring community.”
That’s when the “two worlds” came together in Becker’s mind, and the idea of the Umpire Inspire podcast was born.
In late 2019, he decided it was time to make it happen.
“Now’s the time,” Becker said. “We’re going to take a swing. Hopefully, I’ll connect. Maybe I’ll miss, but it’s going to be an interesting journey, and it has definitely been such a joy and such a privilege, as I have completed this first go-around, and I’m just on the doorstep of getting my own season two underway, so it’s been great.”
The first episode of Umpire Inspire debuted on March 17, 2020, with minor league umpire Bobby Tassone, who works the Carolina League. Interviews with seven more umpires followed.
Season 2 started on Aug. 11. Among Becker’s interviews so far are umpires who work in Venezuela and the Czech Republic, and two women who call the game.
Some are professionals. Some are amateurs. They come in all shapes and sizes and range in age from 16 to 76. All have interesting stories to share.
“You’ve had an opportunity to have some conversations with some remarkable guests already,” Harvey said.
Harvey asked Becker when he, as a young player, first became aware of an umpire on the field.
“I don’t think anybody has asked me that question before,” Becker said. “I’m not sure I do remember, if I’m being honest. As a kid, you’re out there, you’re doing what you do with your buddies, and you’re playing the game and you’re having fun. I can’t recall a time where I do remember the umpire, but it does put a point on what the best volunteer umpires, or paid umpires… one of their best characteristics is they’re doing it for the game.”
Umpires don’t care who wins or loses the game, Becker explained.
“We are what we call the third team on the field,” he said. “In every baseball and softball game, there are three teams: there’s the home team, there’s the away team, and there’s the third team, the umpires, who, just like the players, are out there giving their best effort and trying to make every call correct. They want to do their best job, just like the players do. And maybe it makes a point that I don’t remember my umpires when I was a kid, but it doesn’t change the fact that they were out there giving their time away from their families, away from their work lives, so that I could play ball. Without an umpire, it’s just a scrimmage.”
Harvey recalled his time playing baseball as a youngster and coming to terms with the stranger behind the plate.
“I think that probably any of us who have stood on the field and gone to the home plate and swung, at some point in our lifetime, whatever age, we start to recognize that an umpire has a significant amount of power, but also a significant amount of knowledge about the game, and maybe even more than my coach does,” Harvey said.
He said he appreciated Becker’s ability to bring out the humanity and service that umpires bring to the sport and wanted to know, “At what point did you start to really recognize that about these umpires?”
It took Becker a while behind the plate to see the other stories in his umpire colleagues.
“My show is not about rules or field mechanics or instruction,” he said. “There are a thousand great websites and podcasts and sources that do a much better job with things like that than I do. My show is about the stories and the journeys and the heart of why we umpires do what we do. There is nothing an umpire loves more than to just get together with his or her partner after a game, share their experiences and their wins and their losses, and what they’ve learned; swap stories; tell tall tales; that is something that is common with every umpire at every level, all around the world.”
Harvey asked for an example.
“One of my favorite guests during this season one was Dale Scott,” Becker said. “He was a Major League umpire for 30-plus years until his retirement in 2017. There was so much good stuff there. He did point out … if you went to your job every day not having any idea of what was going to happen that day, it might make you get up out of bed in the morning a little differently. It could light a little bit of a fire. That’s what it’s like every game for a baseball or a softball umpire. Some things are going to be consistent, but just about every game you see something and have to rule on something that you may never have seen before.”
That got Becker to tell the story of his own personal umpire hero.
“One thing that’s really interesting, Ken, is that a lot of the stories start exactly the same,” Becker said. “I’ve had the opportunity to speak with everyone from teenage youth umpires here in Snohomish County, all the way up to Major League Baseball umpires, and oftentimes, they have very similar stories. In fact, I was just re-listening the other day to one of my episodes, a conversation I had with a Major League umpire … really, an umpire hero of mine named Tripp Gibson, who is one of many Major League umpires that live here in the Puget Sound area.
“He was telling us about his first game. Coach gets a little fired up, and in his very first game ever as an umpire, he has to toss the coach. The way Tripp described it, he says, ‘Yeah, so the gentleman, Pat, who brought me out, he met me after the game and gave me my check for 25 bucks and said, “Well, good try, kid.” Tripp said, ‘Good try? That was awesome! I’m coming back tomorrow!’”
While most players get to take a field break every half inning and between plate appearances, umpires never leave the field.
“I would love for listeners of this show to maybe start thinking about umpires in a little different way,” Becker said. “The home team and the away team, they get to go in the dugout and relax every half inning. But the umpires stay out there every pitch, every inning, every game, and for the Major League guys, six to eight months in a row.”
“That’s got to be really tough,” Harvey said. “Especially when the weather conditions aren’t prime for something like that.”
Despite the difficult working conditions and tension that comes from making calls, umpires just want to do their job right and enhance the game, Becker said.
“One thing that umpires like to hang their hat on is, if they can get through a game and nobody notices that they were even there, they had a pretty good game, right?” he said. “Because it’s not our job to get in the way. It’s not our game. We are there to serve. We’re there to go to work and enable and enhance that game that we’re working at, and if we get that done, it’s been a pretty good day at the office.”
Part 2: Self-Help Shelf
“This is Sarri Gilman with the Self-Help Shelf for Sno-Isle Libraries. The book I have for you today is ‘Eight Dates,’ by Dr. John Gottman and Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman. Oh yes, they’re married, and they once ran the famous Love Lab where they researched couples and communication. Together, they now have the Gottman Institute in Seattle, where they share years of research on how to make marriage work and what predicts divorce.
“During COVID-19, not too many couples were having romantic dates, and your closeness and intimacy may feel like it was just lost in the pandemic, or maybe it was lost even before that. If you’re married or dating, ‘Eight Dates’ is for you. The book gives you a guide on things to think about before each date, and you literally make a plan to go on eight dates together, and each date, you’re given a different topic with a whole different set of questions to ask each other. You practice listening and learning about each other, and even if you’ve been together for decades, I think you’re going to get a lot out of this book, especially if you feel like your relationship needs attention and you wish you were closer.
“Since we’re in a pandemic, you’re going to need to bring a little bit of creativity to your dates with your partner. Maybe it’s a beach picnic or a date at home; it really doesn’t matter where you are, because each date is a full discussion on a topic picked by the Gottmans, with a guide to support you.
“I do recommend that you each read a copy of the book so that you have some of the background material to think about before your date, or you could even read out loud to each other to prepare for your date.
“One of my favorite lines from the book is this one: ‘The goal of conflict is not to win or convince the other person that you’re right. In creating compromise, we have to understand each other’s core needs on the issues we are discussing, as well as each other’s areas of flexibility. The goal is not to become identical; the goal is to understand each other.’
“This book is also going to help you get a better understanding of each other’s core needs. By going on the eight dates, you will have a much deeper understanding of each other, and you’re going to get tips that you can practice for each date, and my hope is that you just continue going on these deeper dive discussion dates in the future.
“’Eight Dates,’ by Doctors John and Julie Gottman, is available digitally from the Sno-Isle Libraries. Take good care of you, and remember, some books are almost as good as therapy.”
Ken Harvey is Communications Director for Sno-Isle Libraries. Ken brings broad professional experience from his service with Community Transit, Sound Transit, Reno, Nev., and several positions in radio and TV.
The Sno-Isle Libraries Foundation proudly supports the innovative work of Sno-Isle Libraries through private donations.