It all started with stepping up to the plate.
Now, 20 years later, Brian Rounds’ goal of reaching Williamsport will become a reality.
“I walked onto the field because my son’s game needed an umpire,” Rounds said. “It was in Kenmore (Wash.) Little League near Seattle and it was a coach-pitch game. They needed someone to call balls and strikes. All of the other eight guys that were standing there walked away, and I said ‘I could do this,’ so I asked if they had a (chest) pad, or big balloon (chest protector) and they gave me a clicker, so I started calling balls and strikes. After a while, I thought this was the best seat in the house. Regardless of when my son was coming up (to hit), it was the best seat in the house to me.
“I’d played baseball as a kid all through school, loved it, and never thought 20 years later that my goals would have gone the way that they have.”
Since that day, Rounds, 53, has umpired games at the Little League Regionals in San Bernardino, Calif., in 2010 — and soon, the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.
“It kind of set in around 2005 after going to San Bernardino and doing a week-long clinic,” said Rounds, who played baseball and basketball throughout school at Abbott Loop Christian School in Anchorage. “Going into it, I thought I was good, but after Day 1, I realized how much I had to learn. Being there, at Al Houghton Stadium (where the West and Northwest Regional tournaments are held), that’s when I started thinking that there’s some goals to set forth on.”
As Little League is a volunteer organization, Rounds — a brand manager for Itron, a marketing consulting firm in Liberty Lake — isn’t paid for his services.
“It’s not that way everywhere — some leagues aren’t that way and they pay their umpires,” Rounds said. “But that’s not the reason I got involved. Not by a long shot — at all.
“In 2005, I realized it was a goal to umpire there (San Bernardino), and (fellow District 1 umpire) Torben Begines had umpired there in 2002. During that time, Torben was mentoring me on Little League baseball in general, and being positive about education and stuff I could get into. At that point, the West Regional was a goal of mine, and it took five years to get that done (Rounds went to San Bernardino in 2010) and met 13 other umpires that I still associate with.”
Rounds learned some valuable things at that regional.
“With teams from Southern California and Hawaii in the finals, and I wasn’t the best umpire there by far, but we get two plates (assignments for the West and Northwest Regional championships),” Rounds said. “Going into 2010, I got lucky and got the (West) championship. It took an extraordinary amount of focus just to keep my face forward, not look side to side, and focus on what I was doing there. In the end, it’s just another Little League game. You’ve just got an outstanding setting. I don’t expect Williamsport to be any different, and I don’t expect it to be. When I did the West Regional, I thought I’d love to do a World Series.”
Rounds will get that chance this year after being selected to be among the 16 umpires for the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.
“As a young child, my mom and dad got divorced and I got involved with Little League,” Rounds said. “From age 8 to 12, I had four gentlemen that were big contributors to my life. They were not only my Little League coaches, but they coached me in basketball, and I got to know them a lot. It meant a lot to me to be able to give back. Walking onto the field when my son needed an umpire, this is how I’ve given back the last 20 years. It’s enriching to me to be able to do that, and it’s rewarding.
“We’re literally 30 days from now, and I’ll be in Williamsport and going with two other guys from the West — Tony Estrada of California and Jeime Perez of Maui. Tony’s been umpiring 44 years and being from California, it takes a while to get to Williamsport. Jeime has been doing it equally as long, 40-plus years. I feel so grateful that it’s only taken me nine years and the opportunity is humbling. When you go back, it’s about the event and competition for these kids. It’s organized really well. I’m honored by my peers that I get to work with throughout the West Region that they get to send quality umpires to this event.”
Rounds was notified of his selection in January, and since then, has had plenty of communication to prepare himself for the two-week tournament.
“It’s been a lot of fun getting to know these people,” Rounds said. “I’m really truly honored by those throughout the West Region. And I’m blessed because I’ve got the ability to do this. I’ve been officiating high school baseball at a varsity level for 15 years, so I’d like to think when I see (coaches) like Paul Manzardo from Lake City, Jason Bradbury from Lakeland, or Nick Mahin from Coeur d’Alene, that they see me and think, ‘Oh, we’ve got Brian today, so we’re going to get a good, fair game called’. I feel very blessed to be able to give back. I’m just humbled, honored and blessed with the appointment to get to go to Williamsport.”
Now about all those cameras and the national television audience that will be tuned in on ESPN ...
“It’s raised the level of where the umpiring needs to be,” Rounds said. “You feel a little more pressure, and I’m not a pressure umpire in that the field is supposed to be my happy place. It’s a place that I go to de-stress. I love being on the field.”
Rounds traveled to Williamsport in May for a rundown of what to expect on and off the field.
“They have all 16 umpires (for the World Series) come to Williamsport and they take us through a pretty good orientation,” Rounds said. “It’s amazing all the do’s and don’ts that you’ve got to adhere to. One is that they’ve got a locker room for us underneath Volunteer Stadium where we need to be prior to game time. We meet as a group at a certain location, and move as a group.”
Rounds added that he won’t know which game he’ll be calling beforehand.
“We won’t get our game schedule until the day before,” Rounds said. “And they don’t want us wearing our umpire gear when we’re not at the games. There’s certain places you can’t be, so you can’t talk to reporters about a call after the game, or a certain play.”
Rounds will fly to Williamsport along with Estrada and Perez for the World Series. Umpires are lodged in a nearby hotel in Williamsport, although Rounds and his family coming in for the tournament opted to rent a home nearby. All umpires pay for their own flights to Williamsport.
Social media is also something that comes under the microscope as well.
“They just want to make sure we’re an authority on teams during the games, but have professional behavior,” Rounds said. “Just getting to and from the hotels — the umpire’s hotel is 5 to 6 miles from the stadium — you might need to leave an hour early for a game.”
While in Williamsport, local teams from the surrounding areas Pennsylvania traveled for games at Volunteer and Lamade Stadium to get the umpiring crews some on-field practice.
“We talked a lot about what to expect and got to know each other as a crew,” Rounds said. “It’s heartwarming to me to say that we all got along great. We’ve got people from each region, and four international people coming from Quebec, Puerto Rico, Germany and China. Everyone got along great, and we’ve been communicating with each other for the last seven months. And we got some games in at those stadiums where we rotated positions, then had a day of classwork and another day of games.”
Umpires also were given a rundown of what to expect from instant replay as well.
“I think on any given game, there’s like 23 or 24 cameras,” Rounds said. “Whether at Volunteer or Lamade Stadium, there’s cameras all over. And they want us to think positive about instant replay. The main thing they want us to do — and what we should be doing all the time — is a theory that goes pause, read and react. On any given play, you don’t want to process any of those elements too fast. You want to take the time with the call and have your eyes wide open, read the play, think about it, and then react with either a ball/strike, safe/out or fair/foul call.”
Plays that are close often times come on the bases, either at home on a scoring play or whether a ball was caught in the field or not.
“If you do your job as an official, and stay in the wedge — the middle part of the play where everything is coming together — if you’re on either side, you can see everything,” Rounds said. “You don’t want your back to the play or miss a swipe tag. Whether I’m at second base, or on the left field line, I want to see the ball caught, or if its trapped onto the ground. Replay has this dynamic where coaches have two challenges a game, and the first one is important because if they get it wrong, they’ve only got one left. So when you do the first one, and any close play at a base, as an umpire you should feel fine with your call. But they want us to embrace instant replay as the seventh umpire. If we pause, then react properly, it’s easier said than done. Myself, I think I’m a logical person and take my time when a close play happens. I’m going from a field where I’ve got maybe 200 people in the stands to 40,000. I want to be that person where I can slow it down, react and make the right call.”
His first one might have been stepping up to the plate, when others took a step back.