Today I have the opportunity to interview Jason Blackburn, owner of The Mid-American Umpire Clinic in Springfield, Missouri.
MWU: Can you give us an overview of The Mid-American Umpire Clinic and the training a student can expect?
Blackburn: The Mid-American Umpire Clinic is designed for umpires who work high school or any level of amateur baseball and are looking to advance to the college level or to just improve their career. This is our tenth year for the clinic and we have trained some of the top young talent in the country. Over that time six of our graduates have gone onto the professional umpires schools and have been placed in professional baseball. One of our graduates finished at the top of the class at the Wendelstedt Umpire School . Countless umpires have advanced their careers to the college level and received post-season high school umpiring assignments after attending our clinic.
We are a Harry Wendelstedt Umpire School Affiliated Clinic, and we will have additional rules and mechanics packets at our clinic that will help prepare any umpire who would like to attend the 5-week school in Daytona Beach , Florida . Any umpires deciding to attend Harry’s school after attending our clinic will be able to obtain grants through the Umpire Education Tuition Assistance Foundation.
As far as training, we give everyone the proper basics. Our philosophy is that we give you a solid foundation to build your umpiring career. When you build a house, you don’t start nailing boards together; you start with a sturdy foundation and build from there. We focus on plate work, the two-umpire system, and rules knowledge. We put two instructors in each cage and video tape the plate work sessions. Additional instructors review the tapes with the umpires immediately after the cage session so that the instruction is fresh in their minds.
We discuss the two-umpire system in the classroom and demonstrate it and walk the umpires through it on the field. We also have several games over the weekend that the umpires will work and put what they’ve learned to use.
We have several rules discussions throughout the weekend, focusing on Interference and Obstruction, Appeals and Awards, Line-ups and Substitutions, Pitching Rules and Balk Enforcement. We also go over Situational Management, Handling Rain Situations, Professionalism at which time Rick Denny, MIAA Conference Supervisor of Umpires, shares what he looks for in potential umpires, and Mental Preparation which is an amazing presentation that has received incredible feedback the last couple of years.
MWU: Can you give some background information about yourself and your staff?
Blackburn: I graduated from the Harry Wendelstedt Umpire School in 2000 and umpired four seasons in independent professional baseball. I currently umpire NCAA D-I baseball in the Missouri Valley Conference. I have umpired four NCAA D-II Regionals and four MIAA Conference Tournaments.
Joe Judkowitz is my chief instructor. He also graduated from the Wendelstedt Umpire School in 2000. He spent eight years in the minor leagues, working up to AAA. During that time he worked the playoffs or championship series in the Florida State League, Eastern League and International League. He was also selected for the Arizona Fall League. Joe currently umpires NCAA D-I college baseball in the Atlantic Sun Conference and worked his first NCAA D-II Regional last year.
Rick Denny is the Supervisor of Umpires for the MIAA (Mid-American Intercollegiate Athletics Association). It is one of the most competitive NCAA Division II leagues in the country with teams like Central Missouri, Emporia State and Nebraska-Omaha who have all been to the World Series in the past few years.
Greg Chittenden is also a former AAA professional umpire. He graduated from the Brinkman-Froemming Umpire School and spent seven years in the game, working the last three in the Pacific Coast League. He is currently the president of the Mid-America Umpires located in Springfield , Missouri . In my opinion, Greg is one of the best clinicians in the country.
Aaron Banks graduated from the Jim Evans Umpiring Academy and instructed there during his time in the minor leagues. Aaron worked up to AA before retiring.
Mark Hutchison graduated from the Brinkman-Froemming Umpire School and spent five years in the minor leagues. He currently umpires in the MIAA and has worked several conference tournaments.
Matt Deane attended the Mid-American Umpire Clinic in 2007, went on to the Wendelstedt Umpire School and is starting his second year in the minor leagues.
John Routh is an umpire in the Missouri Valley Conference as well as the MIAA and Great Lakes Valley where he has been selected to work their conference tournament.
Steve Govero umpires in the MIAA. Earlier in his career he worked in the Missouri Valley Conference and the Mid-Continent Conference (which is now the Summit League). He has umpired several NCAA D-II Regionals.
Scott Maid umpires in the MIAA. He also has his doctorate in psychology and has spent numerous hours researching and putting together our Mental Preparation presentation.
MWU: What is the clinic’s typical student-instructor ratio? How much hands-on time should a student expect?
Blackburn: Obviously our student-instructor ratio varies from year to year, but our cutoff number is 40 students, so at the most it would be 4:1. Umpires can expect a great deal of hands-on time. Friday night we get everyone through 2 sessions of plate work which we video tape and review. Saturday morning we walk everyone through the 2-umpire system then that afternoon they will umpire several innings of college baseball. On Sunday they will umpire additional innings for high school baseball. When they are not umpiring actual games, we have cage sessions set up to get additional plate work opportunities.
MWU: What set of rules and mechanics does the clinic use and teach?
Blackburn: We base our rules discussions on OBR and modify where there are NCAA or NFHS rules differences. We do this for three reasons. Number one, high school umpires also work various summer leagues that use different sets of rules, be it OBR, NCAA, NFHS, or some combination of those. So for us to specifically address any one particular set of rules would be doing a disservice to our students. Number two, umpires looking to advance to the college level will likely begin umpiring Junior College and NAIA level games. Junior Colleges use NCAA rules and NAIA uses OBR with modifications so we need to prepare our students for that step. Finally, number three, all rules are based on the MLB rulebook. As you can see by looking at our instructors bios, several have been to professional umpire school where the rule book is dissected for five weeks. We have a thorough knowledge of the professional rules and their interpretations, so we teach those interpretations and adjust when there are rules differences. We do spend time on the safety rules and specific rules that pertain to each level.
MWU: What are some advantages of your three day clinic over a single day clinic?
Blackburn: A one day clinic is really only able to highlight certain areas of the rules and mechanics. A three day clinic is able to get umpires into a solid stance, proper positioning and give them better rules knowledge and understanding of their interpretations. Umpires are also able to get more repetitions and it’s a better opportunity to be seen by supervisors and assignors.
MWU: How important is this type of training to an umpire that is considering a move to college ball or a professional career?
Blackburn: I feel it is extremely important. We give you a head start. For umpires looking to move into college baseball, I said earlier that we teach the “proper basics.” What I mean by that is that we teach the things that should be second nature to college umpires. If someone can walk away from our clinic with a good understanding of what we taught, they have a major advantage over umpires who haven’t been to camps or clinics. Additionally, umpires who want to move into college baseball must be seen by the conference supervisors and assignors. Word of mouth only goes so far.
For umpires who are considering attending one of the 5-week professional umpire schools with the desire to get a job in professional baseball, we have basically condensed the 5-week schools into 3 days. At umpire school they spend the first two weeks breaking down your bad habits and teaching you the proper umpiring techniques. By attending our clinic you will have a 2-week head start on the competition, and that’s what it is, you are competing against everyone else for very few spots at PBUC. Six umpires who have attended our clinic over the years have been placed in professional baseball and one finished at the top of the class at Wendelstedt’s. I think our track record speaks for itself.
MWU: Do you offer group discounts?
Blackburn: We do offer group discounts for 3 or more umpires signing up at the same time. They will need to contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org or (417) 463-7241) before registering to obtain a group rate. The discount increases based on the number of umpires in the group.
MWU: I found the training on “mental preparation” intriguing. Can you tell us more about that?
Blackburn: Umpires are expected to be perfect. We know that we will never be perfect, but we can be focused.
Think back to a game in which you really struggled. What did you do before the game? Were you late? Was your partner late? Were you having problems at work? Did you have a fight with your spouse? These reasons and others can cause you to lose concentration and focus during the game.
In order to be focused to do a good job we have to spend some time getting our minds prepared to umpire. This presentation explains the importance of preparation, shows you how to implement preparation into your pre-game, and introduces you to some psychological techniques to get prepared and to maintain your focus throughout the game.
MWU: What if it rains?
Blackburn: We make every effort to get outside. However, we cannot guarantee that the weather will be cooperative so we do have plans in place if weather becomes an issue. We have indoor facilities available to do plate and base work. We will spend more time in the classroom discussing rules. We may even go to the field to conduct a hands-on discussion on handling rain situations.
MWU: What more can you tell us about The Mid-American Umpire Clinic?
Blackburn: The 2009 clinic will be September 11-13 in Springfield , Missouri at the Clarion Inn & Drury University . We understand how the economy is right now so we keep the cost of the clinic very affordable, at just $125.00 before August 8 and $150.00 after that date. I don’t think you can find a 3-day clinic anywhere that provides you as much as we do at a better cost. Hotel rooms are available at a discount rate of $64.00 per night based on double occupancy. Umpires will also receive a discount at the hotel bar at registration. Again, groups or associations can contact me directly for discounts on 3 or more umpires.
We take our jobs seriously, but we also have a lot of fun over the weekend, including a social time Saturday evening at a local Springfield restaurant.
No matter what your personal goals are, we are committed to making you a better umpire.