Q&A: Local umpire reflects on nearly 40 years of making calls | TheUnion.com

Q&A: Local umpire reflects on nearly 40 years of making calls

Little League umpire Jerry Westfall works a Little League Junior Division All Star game at Condon Park in Grass Valley earlier this month. Westfall has been umpiring Little League games for nearly 40 years.
Walter Ford/wford@theunion.com |

For nearly 40 years Jerry Westfall has been calling balls and strikes on Little League diamonds all across California.

The highlight of Westfall’s career came in 2010, when his skills brought him to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania as a volunteer umpire.

In addition to local Little League games, Westfall also umpires high school, American Legion and Men’s Senior League Baseball.

Baseball diamonds aren’t the only place you can catch Westfall keeping order though. When basketball season rolls around Westfall can also be seen on the hard court as a referee for youth, middle school, and high school basketball games.

Westfall, who is a volunteer, umpires between 60-80 baseball games and 40-50 basketball games per year, and also helps out as a member of the grounds crew for the Little League Western Regional’s in San Bernardino for both softball and baseball.

With so many years of making the close call we asked Westfall about life as a “blue.”

The Union: What factors led you to be an umpire/referee?

Westfall: I was asked, and said yes. Both my wife and I believe in volunteering in our community to give back and contribute, helping the community continue to be a great place to live.

The Union: What characteristics and qualities are needed to be a good umpire/referee?

Westfall: I’m often asked, ‘how can I become an umpire/referee?’ My answer is, come on out and try it out with me so I can work with you and show you how it is done. If you care about the game and how it is played, then being an official is a good place to start. The kids deserve to have a game officiated well. You have to put some energy into it to become a quality official. Quality officials attend clinics, watch others officiate, get on the field/court and have others evaluate them. The more games you do the more chances you have to learn and get better.

Little League has a very good training program that I have attended as a student and as an instructor. Both NCOA and RCOA also have excellent training programs which I also participate in. The problem I see with many would be officials is they don’t want to spend the time or the money to improve, they just want to make the dollars. This type of official is usually a disaster to watch, let alone officiate with. Trust me, I have never made very much money officiating.

The Union: How do you handle unruly fans/coaches/players?

Westfall: I dress like a professional official, present myself like I want to be there, show confidence in my abilities, manage the game so there is as little down time as possible and use my voice to show that I am in charge and have a good understanding of what is going on. I have also been known to have a player kiss his helmet and set it down nicely or I would throw him out of the game. One guy I did this to is now a quality umpire.

The Union: If you could be the umpire/referee for any sports game from the past, which one would it be? And, why?

Westfall: It has to be the Little League World Series. Where else can you have 30,000 screaming fans from all over the world that get in for free to watch 12 and 13 year old kids playing as well as they do just for the love of the game.

The Union: What’s the most difficult part of being an umpire/referee?

Westfall: For me the most difficult would be working with partners that only are doing it for the money. You have to always be ready to cover for them because their attitude will usually cause a problem somewhere in the game. Another difficult one for me would be staying in the game. Not every game is played at a good competitive level. You have to remind yourself that the game you are officiating may be the most important one in the life of the players. It is their World Series. Sometime during the game a play may occur that the player will remember for the rest of his life and you want to be ready so you don’t screw it up for him.

The Union: What’s the best part of being an umpire/referee?

Westfall: Working with the youth and realizing that you are making an impact on them. I don’t know how many times I have been approached by an adult and been told that I was the best umpire they ever had. One particular time I had a gentlemen approach me and said ‘I would like you to meet my grandson. You umpired my games when I played and I always enjoyed having you on the field. You probably taught me more than any of my coaches.’

The Union: What’s the most difficult call in baseball? And, why?

Westfall: It is funny that when you ask a partner what position they want they will usually say the field. Calling balls and strikes is one of the easier positions to take because you have to concentrate on every pitch. When you don’t concentrate, you make a bad call — I know, I have done it. The most difficult call is interference or obstruction. You will have to attend a clinic to learn the difference, because you can’t predict when it is going to happen and when it does you have very little time to think about it.

The Union: Can you make a living as a youth sports official?

Westfall: If you mean at the Little League level — absolutely not. A hot dog and a coke does not keep you warm in the winter. If you work higher level games like college ball and are willing to put in the training required, be away from home a lot, and have a very understanding family, you can make an OK income, but it will need to be supplemented with another job that has the potential to provide benefits.

To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email wford@theunion.com.

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