Where Are They Now? In Memory of Mitch Ball

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Imagine working with a person day in, day out, and knowing how passionate that they are about a sport, and that they volunteer a great deal of time to that sport, but only finding out by a passing comment from another colleague that that person had gone to the Pan Am Games as an official.

Because of the type of person this person is, that happened to me. And the more I learned, the more I realized he is, not only one of those people that does so much but does it without the attention that so many others seek, but he is also, one of the most deserving individuals I have met when it comes to giving back to the community by way of sport.

Mitch Ball is an umpire. But he didn’t start off with that goal in mind – he did what many boys did while growing up in Southern Alberta, he played baseball. First he played Little League, and then he moved into high school ball. While he loved it, he was aware that he wasn’t the most talented player and the school staff would sometimes ask him to step in to be the umpire for a game. After attending college, he was getting started in his “adult life” when his dad, the only umpire in Raymond, was ready to retire after decades of umping so the high school ball coach asked Mitch if he’d train as an umpire.

Mitch never guessed that moment as a catalyst for what has transpired after all these years, and the years in between have been the story of someone who has given back to community, who has had influence in every level of baseball in Southern Alberta, and who has gone so far with his officiating that he is only one of approximately 5 people in Canada who is qualified to be an umpire at an international level.

Mitch is involved in all umpire training. In fact, he organizes and teaches umpire clinics and is involved in organizing all umpire training for all baseball groups – Little League, High School, PBA, American Legion, and is assisting with a new summer league that is starting up.

When it comes to umpire training, he talks passionately about how it is so important to teach these umps about ethics and philosophy. He states, “it is one of the first things we teach new umpires – that their role is to be fair, impartial and consistent.” But he also acknowledges that when one starts out, they try to do it all by the book and with experience, they realize that there are grey areas and that everyone will make mistakes. He states that when these mistakes happen, “you can’t take it home but you have to learn from them.”

Mitch also shares about how with every bad game you will second guess yourself and wonder if it is time to quit. He says that “your conscious weighs on you and it shouldn’t”, but he admits it does though it gets easier as you mature and become older. Making it ok for those new and learning and growing in this role is very important to Mitch, and very important to those whom he assists with training.

Not only does he grow the sport of baseball through his own family’s involvement, he grows the role of the umpire by talking to those attending umpire clinics about the fact that being an umpire is a great option for those who don’t want to coach, or don’t want to play or aren’t good enough to continue in their journey in baseball – that being an ump is an “opportunity”. He inspires youth this way, and as most people know, all sport groups are in need of officials so this inspiration only helps a great sport continue to exist and grow, and helps youth find their place in the sport when it may not be as an athlete.

He is asked to coach frequently, and he does. But as he states, it is “important to let the younger kids help with the Little League….they get the experience.” All in all, Mitch’s vision includes statements such as “…ensure that young umpires are trained and get the support that they need to be able to feel comfortable on the field and to want to continue umpiring” and “…see more umpires have the desire to achieve higher levels of capability. This helps them to move to the international stage.”

Mitch’s umpire resume is as impressive as his mandate and role in training and grooming new umpires. Internationally he has been an umpire at the Little League World Series (2002), IBAF World Junior Championships (2008 and 2009), and most impressively, the Pan Am Games (2015) where he was at the plate for the Bronze Medal game between Cuba and Puerto Rico.

In 2016, Mitch attended “Tournament 12”. This allowed him to maintain his status as an international umpire (one of only 5 or 6 in Canada) as he has his sights set on the 2020 Olympics. He continually faces peer evaluation and is successful as such, which has allowed him to spend 15 years as an umpire at the National and International levels.

Umpiring can be a thankless role, but when Mitch is probed about that, he states, “the people that are in the know about the sport still appreciate you”. He strives for the level of professionalism and respect that are so important, especially in the crucial moments of a game. As bad officials reflect poorly on a sport or league, it is very important to him that he, and those he trains, never have a negative impact on the sport that he is so passionate about. He notes that you can never gain credibility as an official if you make things up, and being an umpire is about making hard decisions at times.

Mitch gives back in other ways, too. He is currently the President of, and is also a Founding Member of, the Southern Alberta Umpires Association. In this role, he demonstrates leadership, but also is consulted and asked for feedback on any ethical issues that arise. He spent 3 years (2012-2014) as the Lead Evaluator for Alberta – coordinating all of the umpires who wanted to be evaluated to be able to go onto officiate at national tournaments. In 2016 he taught 3 clinics at the national level (60 students approximately), as well as all the other clinics he taught – reaching about 100 umpires from beginner to international, in 2016 alone! He is also in his 3rd year as the provincial lead on any baseball umpire clinics being offered, through the provincial association.

In 2012 he won the Umpire of the Year award for Alberta. In 2006, the Alberta Amateur Baseball Council named him the Official of the Year. But few people know of these things because Mitch isn’t the type of person that tells everyone about his accomplishments, he talks about his passion – the sport of baseball, keeping it growing, and fostering positive relationships with all of those involved. Mitch truly deserves an Officiating Excellence Award for the 100 umpires across the country he trained in 2016, for the countless hours volunteering for baseball locally and provincially in 2016, and for passing his evaluations in 2016 that will allow him to move to his next goal – the 2020 Olympics. But more than that, Mitch deserves this award for what he teaches youth and adults about professionalism, ethics, passion, and the reward of being involved in sport, not only as an athlete, but also as an official.

- Lori Harasem, Nominator

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Mitch has done his fair share of officiating over the years. A retired hockey referee of 22 years and retired football referee of 4 years; Mitch still continues to be a baseball umpire after 24 years. What initially got Mitch into officiating was his dad. His dad was a hockey referee and a baseball umpire when Mitch was a kid. Mitch did a few little league games as a kid growing up in Raymond and enjoyed it. Then one day, his dad did a game for a high school tournament and he handed Mitch his equipment and walked off the field. That was his last game he umpired and that is when Mitch started his career! Mitch remembers being so scared that day but he survived. He realized he didn't know the rules like he thought he did so he took a clinic the following year and that's when things really got going!

Mitch quickly became 'addicted' to umpiring. He jumped in with both feet and would try to learn as much as he could from books, other umpires and wherever else he could get information. Mitch loves baseball, and like most players his playing career ended and he tried coaching first. He didn't find his niche in coaching baseball but wanted to still be involved in the sport he loves so he became an umpire! Mitch has considered pursuing a career in umpiring but after a lot of thought and deliberation, he decided he couldn't leave his family behind to chase his dream. Mitch chose to be close to his family, coach his kids in baseball and he is so glad he did!

Having a long and successful umpiring career, Mitch has too many memorable moments to count! Some of the most notable and major tournaments he has had the opportunity to attend are the 2002 Little League World Series, 2008 World Juniors Edmonton, 2009 World Baseball Championships Europe and the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto.

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Posted May 4, 2021