Umpiring at Custom Classic not a 9-to-5 job

Umpire Jesse Gonzales of Clovis waits to make the call on a close play at the plate in a game between the Budweiser of Amarillo and the El Paso Jazz. Gonzales called the runner out. CNJ photo by Rick White

By Eric Butler, CNJ Correspondent

Brandon Harris was just getting up Friday night when many people were already in bed.

The midnight wake-up setting on Harris’ alarm was something new for him, brought about by the around-the-clock nature of the 21st annual Plateau Wireless Custom Classic slow-pitch softball tournament that started Friday in two Clovis locations.

“I was actually late for the first game. I set the alarm for the wrong time. I was supposed to set it for 12 a.m. and I set it for 12 p.m.,” he said.

Harris umpired three straight games starting at 1:15 a.m. Saturday.

“When your body clock says you’re supposed to be in bed, it’s hard to get up,” he said.

Harris, 26, of Clovis only took up umpiring after last year’s Custom Classic.

“I started playing when I was 14,” Harris said. “I already am starting to feel my body aching now, so I decided I would go over to the other side of the fence and do it from that aspect. I just like doing it. It’s fun.”

After working the three early morning games, Harris grabbed some shut-eye and was back at the Guy Leeder Softball Complex at 11 a.m. Saturday for a day that would include six games.

Harris also is scheduled to work three more games this morning and then will wait, along with the rest of the umpiring crew, to find out who will be selected to do this afternoon’s championship games.

At $11 for each hour-long game, none of the umpires are getting rich.

But Troy Hammond, umpire chief for this year’s Custom Classic, said he tries not to overwork the 41 umpires, who will work a total of at least 228 men’s and women’s games before the three-day tournament ends today.

“We work three on, we go and get about six hours of rest, then we work another three. That’ll get everybody about 12 games,” Hammond said. “It’s fun, exciting. All of the out-of-town umpires love it. They usually come to events, work too hard and don’t get enough rest in the hotels.

“But they all like this rotation. I think it’s working really nice.”

After working a 10 a.m. Saturday women’s game, Todd Alvey from Pampa, Texas, took a breather sitting on a bench between three fields at the Guy Leeder Complex.
“It’s a good tournament. We always like to come over here,” Alvey, 37, said.

Alvey said the toughest part of working the slow-pitch softball games was calling balls and strikes, as well as explaining the rules of the tournament to those accustomed to different ones.

“Sometimes you get teams that haven’t played USSSA softball,” Alvey said. “You get people who want to throw the ball too high (over the 10-foot limit). Most leagues have a 12-foot or 15-foot arch — U-trip pitches are flat.”