Like the players on the field, the guys in black making all the calls and keeping the peace are an international crew.
And theyre touching wood there wont be an controversy that touches off a dugout-clearing incident at Citizen Field as the World Baseball Challenge heads into the medal round today.
From Cuba, theres Elber Ibarra. From Japan, theres Koide Yoshinori. Theres also three Canadians -- Azim Jessa of Vancouver, Kris Hartley of Kamloops and Matt Lowndes of Smithers -- and two Americans -- Jake Uhlenhopp of Phoenix, Ariz., and Scott Higgins of Las Vegas.
With nearly 400 Major League Baseball games to his credit, Higgins is the veteran of the crew and hell get the call to work home plate in tonights gold-medal game. Its paid work for him but Higgins, who umpired in the Taiwan professional league in 2008, says hes loving the opportunity to work another international event to add to his resume.
One of the things I enjoy most is the camaraderie with the other guys from the other countries, said Higgins. Jake and I work together all the time in the States. This is an opportunity to represent your country, just like the players.
There are some things you have to deal with in this type of environment I didnt have to deal with when I worked in professional baseball.
Higgins referred specifically to the U.S.-Cuba game on Saturday, where two countries with longstanding issues of mistrust met on the field in Prince George.
There are some hard feelings that go back way before I was born so theres that little bit of animosity and tension, youre basically trying to manage a time bomb, said Higgins.
Higgins worked his first MLB game in Seattle in 2000 and ended his career in the bigs in Montreal in 2004. Starting salaries for MLB umpires is about $150,000 and the top veterans make between $600,000 and $700,000.
Obviously the experience of working the major league, the bright lights and the people and the excitement that generates is a thrill every day, but its a job and its work, Higgins said. Theres a lot of pressure, a lot of responsibility that goes with that. You try and go out there and be perfect every night but Ive been doing this for 22 years and Ive never worked a game where I came off the field and thought I did everything perfectly. Whether its take a step and line up a tag or be set on a fly ball or answer a question from a coach or a player a little clearer, theres something I could have done in every game to be better.
Higgins has enjoyed sharing his experience with younger umpires like Lowndes, who started in 2008, and hes certainly loved the Prince George hospitality shown by the host committee and its volunteers. Umpire liaison Rob Bodner has been chauffeuring the crew around town, a volunteer named Dorothy has been taking the umpires uniforms home every night to get washed, and director of facilities Lance Brommeland, a longtime umpire, has also been at their service the past two weeks.
n With Sadaharu Oh as his teacher, Ming Tsu Lu rose to the top of his class.
Oh,the legendary Japanese home-run king with 868 dingers to his credit for the Yomiuri Giants in a playing career from 1959-1980, managed the Giants when Lu was with the team as an outfielder. Known in Japan as Mieshi Ro, Lu, now the manager of Chinese Taipei at the WBC, hit in the No. 5 spot in the Giants order and played with them for three seasons, from 1988-1990. He had 11 home runs the first month of his rookie season and helped the Giants win the Japanese major league title in 1989.
Chinese Taipei is showing its slugging power in the WBC and has no doubt benefitted from Lus influence. With Lu as the hitting coach Chinese Taipei finished fifth at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
n Luo Guo Long of Chinese Taipei is living up to his name in the tournament. The centrefielder went long with a home run ball served up by Team Japan pitcher Motoshi Oshiro in the second inning Wednesday night, his second of the tournament. He also went yard on Akhiro Kitahara of Japan on Saturday. Other interesting monickers include Roeman Fields of Team USA, who covers lots of territory playing centrefield, and American pitcher Gunnar Swanson. Theres also Team Canada first baseman Larry Balkwill, who should have been a pitcher with a name like that.