Thursday, August 27, 2009

Review of the Vic Voltaggio Umpire Camp - August 7-10, 2009, St. Michael, MN

Remember your first umpire clinic? It was full of helpful advice like “don’t verbally call a fair ball” and “don’t signal an out with your left hand.” For most of us that initial training was just enough to get us on the field, scared and unsure of ourselves. With the helpful tips of some “experienced” umpires, and through baptism by fire, many of us progress through youth ball to the high school ranks. Most amateur umpires pick up what we can, where we can.

However, at some point better training is necessary to improve and advance to upper level assignments. The decision to attend a camp outside of your local area really comes down to one issue: value. How valuable the training when compared to the time, effort, and expense of attending?

Umpire Teacher
Over the past year I have been watching the development of Umpire Teacher with great interest. Umpire Teacher provides on-line umpire training through forum discussions with instructors and video lessons. Umpire Teacher is available to anyone with an internet connection, 24 hours a day. This delivery method is unique in the umpire world and provides a tremendous opportunity for both beginning and advanced training. Umpire Teacher offers some free video lessons on its YouTube site, and a free ten day trial.

The Camp
Umpire Teacher continues to expand its training options, and this summer Umpire Teacher hosted the first Vic Voltaggio Umpire Camp, August 7-10, 2009, in St. Michael, Minnesota. The camp is the brainchild of Umpire Teacher owner and former professional umpire Mike “Bugsy” Segal and former American League Umpire Vic Voltaggio. Bugsy and Vic have previously conducted camps and clinics in Florida, and now operate the Umpire Teacher website. The Vic Voltaggio Umpire Camp is staffed by the same instructors on the Umpire Teacher website, so students have the opportunity to interact with their on-line instructors. This is a unique opportunity to form an on-going relationship with the Umpire Teacher instructors that is available 365 days a year. The concept behind Umpire Teacher is to provide continuous and on-going umpire education. Recognizing that certain aspects of umpire training are more effectively taught on the field and in person, the camp was developed as an important part of the umpire’s education and provides in-person feedback to the student.

The Instructors
Meeting and learning first-hand from the Umpire Teacher instructors was without question the best part of the camp. First, Bugsy Segal is every bit as energetic as he appears in the Umpire Teacher videos. He was a perfect host and very entertaining! Bugsy gave his instructors the latitude to teach while overseeing the camp’s progress.

Vic Voltaggio is a Vietnam vet and former marine drill instructor, New Jersey police officer, and American League Umpire. Can you say, “Tough as nails?” While Vic may initially appear intimidating, he is actually a very approachable and generous guy. Vic (perhaps as a result of his military background) cuts through the B.S. and gives you what you need to survive on the baseball battlefield. No kidding! Vic instructs in a straight forward, no-nonsense manner. When things matter, Vic tells the right way to do it and the practical reason behind it.

Frank Leparik is a prototypical New Yorker, but don’t let that New York attitude fool you. Frank’s passion is umpiring and he is a gifted teacher. I was highly impressed with his energy and patience. Frank gave as much time and focus to the first ten minutes of training as he did the last ten minutes.

Erik Anderson was the instructor that surprised me the most. Erik is a local college umpire, a younger guy, and a little quiet. It turns out Erik was the perfect third instructor for the camp. Erik’s calm easy going manner made him easy to approach and to ask questions. Throughout the camp Erik worked one on one with students having difficulty with drills, and he answered student questions from everything from rules interpretations to strike call mechanics.

In addition to the core instructors, the camp’s guest instructors included former pro umpire Ken Lehner, Division III Umpire Coordinator George Drouches, and baseball rules expert Larry Gallagher.

The Facilities
The facilities at the camp were very good. St. Michael is a very pleasant little town about twenty minutes northwest of Minneapolis. The camp was conducted at two locations: classes were held at the Country Inn and Suites in Albertville, and the field work was at a park facility in St. Michael about 5 minutes south of the hotel. The Country Inn and Suites offers free breakfast and the facilities were very clean and friendly. [I have to comment that everyone I met while in Minnesota was very friendly.] The Country Inn and Suites is located adjacent to the Albertville Premium Outlets, 100 outlet stores! There are also several restaurants within walking distance. My wife and five year old daughter accompanied me to Minnesota and had a terrific time visiting the Mall of America and the outlet malls while shopping for back-to-school clothes.

The field complex is located at the Parks and Recreation field which is very well maintained. It consists of one grass infield adult baseball field and two adult softball fields. There are two outdoor batting cages, and a concession stand with a large pavilion in the center of the complex.

The camp was divided into about 1/3 classroom, 2/3 field work. The camp was a good mixture of beginning and advanced mechanics and rules. Our field work work began with an early morning review of basic signal mechanics, and then continued with an intensive review of proper footwork at first and second base. One highlight of the camp was when Vic showed us special footwork he developed for calling a steal attempt at second base. The footwork greatly enhances the angle and distance of the play. Since this camp I have been practicing Vic’s footwork and look forward to using it during the fall baseball season. If you want the footwork, you’ll have to attend the camp. Sorry!

The students began cage work on day two of the camp. Vic Voltaggio and Frank Leparik critiqued every aspect of the student’s stance, head positioning and movement, timing, and call presentation. Vic insisted that the students dress in full gear for the cage work drills, to simulate game conditions. Make sure you bring an umpire uniform (for bases and plate) and all necessary plate gear for cage work. Classroom materials (pens, paper, etc.) are provided by the camp.

The cage work continued on day three with more instruction from Frank with Vic popping in from time to time. Whether on the field or in the cages, Vic was a constant presence and ensured that each student received the proper attention and instruction. Day three ended with an opportunity for live game action and a critique by Vic Voltaggio. While awaiting our turn on the field, students were able to listen to Vic analyze the student umpires.

The Vic Voltaggio Umpire Camp is much more than the typical umpire camp. A good example is the camp party at a local bowling alley. That’s right! Throughout the camp students were treated more like family than customers. We had a beer at the bowling alley with our instructors and listened to Vic recount his run-ins with famous managers. This atmosphere should not have surprised me since it is exactly the same tone and attitude that students experience on the Umpire Teacher website: informal, respectful, and focused on improvement.

One unique feature of the camp was an unbiased discussion of umpire equipment. During the last day Vic gave us pro tips on gear and proper wear. The students were also able to inspect and discuss umpire apparel and gear from many different manufacturers. The camp ended with training for controlling on-the-field situations, including ejections.

The Bottom Line
Was the camp valuable to me? My answer is an unqualified “YES!” The Vic Voltaggio Umpire Camp teaches the basics including footwork, mechanics, and rules. However, the real value of attending this camp is in the on-going relationships that I developed with the Umpire Teacher instructors. These relationships will continue to pay dividends as I learn from Umpire Teacher on-line and progress as an umpire.

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