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USA Softball of St. Louis umpire Jason Smith shares his story of how and why he became a USA Softball umpire

By USA Softball of St. Louis Umpire, Jason Smith | Feb. 13, 2023, 4:03 p.m. (ET)

How did I get here?

February 4, 2022, was the day that changed everything as I received a text message from one of my daughter’s high school teammate’s father asking if I could help him out on short notice by officiating a preseason indoor scrimmage that he was having for his club team the next day. Of course, I said yes and to make it seem more real, I told him I would even put on my catcher’s equipment which I still had in case I got that emergency call to fill in with my former baseball team I had been a part of for the past 20 years to get behind the dish to call balls and strikes. I know for a fact there was probably nothing pretty about the job I did that day. It was supposed to be a one-time 75-minute scrimmage where I helped a friend, but when I was done, something made me feel like I should take a deeper look into this world of umpiring. I was no longer coaching, and my oldest daughter was done with her softball career as she was soon to be off to college, but I still wanted to be around the game. This is when my curiosity of becoming a USA Softball umpire began.

I think I know, but sometimes I just don’t know what I don’t know:

I was fortunate that my wife worked with someone who was a USA Softball umpire. When I got home from the scrimmage, it was all I could think about. I didn’t know which direction I needed to go in until my wife mentioned she would speak with her co-worker. A few days later after some text and emails, I was taking the necessary steps and getting my required paperwork submitted. The timing, which by the way is one of the key components of good umpiring, couldn’t have been better as there was a USA Softball Umpire Clinic in the St. Louis Region where my first training would begin. At the clinic, I figured it would just be this is an out, this is safe, this is a ball and this is a strike type stuff. Basic fundamentals, right? Well for the instructors and experienced umpires in attendanceit was basic. For me not so much. There is a lot that goes into this, not only physically but mentally. Just like a lot of things in life, you must master the basics before you can truly understand and apply them in your craft of becoming the best that you can be. There is a reason that things are done a certain way. These beginning stages opened my eyes to how complex umpiring is, and it made me want to challenge myself even more to take in what I could since the regular season was fast approaching.

Opening day jitters and the first few months with the umpiring team:

Just like when I was playing competitive baseball as a youth, high school, college, and then on to adult athlete, the jitters were present those first few months as I suited up in my heather gray pants, powder and at times white and navy-blue polos for the first time. Though my role was now going to be different on the field, that feeling of excitement and anticipation is what gets you in the zone and ready to perform. Those first few months, I would go out and perform the best I could. Some things rather well, and others not so much. But this is where I was blessed to have people within the USA Softball organization to coach me up, fine tune my technique and tweak little and big things as I went along. My former coaches would always mention you never know who is watching so always play and act with a certain dignity and respect for the game, your opponent, and to the fans. This is certainly something I found to be true in umpiring. I was grateful to have knowledgeable partners on the field, and especially Umpire-In-Chiefs (UICs) off the field who were always ready to point things out if they saw something or to answer any questions I had. It gave me confidence to push through the turbulence here and there so I could experience the good and the bad with support always close by, while continuing to grow and master my craft. That was a huge plus for me and one I feel will continue down the road.

Season Ends / Looking Ahead:

As the final part of the season turned to fall, it was time to put a final stamp on everything I had seen, experienced and talked about up until that point with various umpires throughout the year. What I learned working as a USA Softball umpire was extremely helpful as that knowledge was the foundation that everything else stemmed from. It was cool to have those a-ha moments late in the season when things that I maybe struggled with early on began to make more sense, making me even more confident in what I was doing and how I was progressing. 

To conclude, the questions I wish to answer; Why do I umpire? Why do they play? Umpires and players all have reasons for why they do what they do. For me, umpiring and playing back in the day – is fun. It’s challenging and it keeps me involved even though my kids and my coaching days have moved on. It’s my way to give back for the years I spent playing between the lines. It’s come full circle in a different way. With USA Softball and the men and women who I have gotten to know and work with in just a short amount of time, the decision of being a USA Softball umpire has become such a fulfilling part of my life. For that, I am truly grateful and glad to be on this ride with USA Softball and look forward to wherever it leads.

Jason “Smitty” Smith