If you played baseball or were involved in the game this summer chances are your team had a hard time finding an umpire at some point.
That’s because in Alberta there’s an umpire shortage and the provincial supervisor of umpires for Baseball Alberta, Brandon Strocki told the Advocate this problem affects not just Alberta but the entire country.
The issue he said is easy to identify but the solution he believes is more complex. In 2015 he said baseball registration in Alberta went through the roof due to the Toronto Blue Jays playoff run the year prior. Registration to become an umpire, however, didn’t keep pace with the player registration.
A few years later the pandemic rolls around and Baseball Alberta is no longer allowed to do in-person umpire training and not a lot of baseball is being played so there are fewer people interested in learning to be an umpire. In 2021 they converted to an online model to train officials with some success but yet again not many people were interested.
“We really went almost two years of not training new umpires,” he said. “So 2022 comes along everything’s full go, everybody is excited to get back into the swing of things and it was really easy for associations across the province to get together 12 players in the same age group and put a team together but we just really forgot about that we need someone to umpire these games for these kids too.”
Before this season they offered 42 in-person clinics across the province in March, April, and May, which is usually the standard for most years.
Any of the umpires who were trained and certified during those months could officiate games this summer but at that point are only level one or two. In fact, 85 per cent of umpires are level one or two. Approximately 750 umpires are level one, 150 are level two, 30 are level three, and 60 are level four and five. Why this is relevant is they have a lot of level ones but they can’t go out and do high-level games.
“We’re not going to put a brand new umpire or a first or second year level year umpire on the 18U AAA’s and the Red Deer Rigger games,” Strocki said.
Twenty per cent of those numbers are what he called dedicated officials because many who get certified may join a team to play the game rather than be an umpire.
“At the end of the day what it comes down to is just we have this discrepancy in our province between the amount of teams and players and the amount of umpires. The game is growing, Baseball Alberta is growing in all parts of the province and that’s great. Unfortunately, umpires are lagging behind that in terms of growth.”
The lack of experienced umpires he said can be taken back to the COVID-19 pandemic season when they weren’t holding as many in-person clinics and not many people were interested in learning nor were there much baseball being played.
Strocki anticipates the number of umpires will catch up with the growth of the game but it won’t happen in one year. He added this isn’t an umpire side of the equation problem but rather an issue of the entire baseball community.
The path back he said starts with the associations that can host umpire clinics during the year and Baseball Alberta hopes to train more so they can insert these umpires throughout the province.
“[The umpire shortage] is real. We have cancelled games, we have postpones games, or rescheduled games because of a lack of umpires. That did happen this year. This is a significant issue and we need to attack it from all sides,” he said.
He explained they need help from communities to host clinics to help solve the problem. For example, Sylvan Lake hosted an intro to umpiring day which was a good way to expose the opportunity to those who want to learn.
“We’re not opposed to any ideas that associations want to come to us with to try and improve or recruit more umpires. We’re going to continue to put on clinics, we’re going to promote these clinics when it comes a time,” he added.
The associations that want to host, Strocki said can submit all the various costs to Baseball Alberta and they will send the instructors to their community.
“This game is continuing to grow and It’s awesome to see. We’re really proud of it and we’re going to do our best to continue to provide services to service these games with umpires,” he explained.