FORT MYERS, Fla. – A chance encounter between Glenn Carnes and Kathleen Rieker at a Perfect Game tournament in Marietta, Ga., last summer has led to new relationship between Perfect Game and Major League Baseball.
Carnes is the Director of the Perfect Game Umpires Association as well as the Director of the UmpNation umpiring group. Kathleen Rieker is the wife of Rich Rieker, the MLB Director of Umpire Development and the MLB Umpire Camps Coordinator. Kathleen Rieker was watching her son, Michael perform at the 2013 PG WWBA 16u National Championship where he threw a perfect game while pitching for Chet Lemon’s Juice.
“She asked me how many perfect games had been thrown in Perfect Game history, and I told her I would have to try to find out,” Carnes said. “But we struck up a conversation and I learned who her husband is.”
That conversation led to a meeting between Carnes and Rich Rieker at the PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., a couple of months later, and a working relationship was discussed involving the MLB Umpires Office and the PG Umpires Association/UmpNation. The two will formerly come together this weekend at Perfect Game Park South at LakePoint in Emerson, Ga.
Major League Baseball will conduct a free umpires camp and instructional seminar Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the new complex in Emerson in conjunction with the PG WWBA 18u National Championship, which runs Friday, June 27 through Friday, July 4.
The free camps are used to identify potential candidates for MLB Umpire School who may have what it takes to move into, first, Minor League Baseball – MiBL’s umpiring organization is the Professional Baseball Umpire Corporation (PBUC) – and ultimately the elite group that serve as umpires in Major League Baseball.
“Major League Baseball and PBUC are actually partnering with Perfect Game and UmpNation for the betterment of all of the organizations,” PG Vice President of Development Brad Clement said. Added Carnes: “They want to be a part of us and they want us to be a part of them.”
Rieker will be bringing in a variety of notable people from within the umpire industry for this weekend’s camp and seminar, including highly regarded former big-league umpires Bruce Froemming, Chuck Meriwether and Ed Rapuano, among others.
“I’m bringing a couple of hundred of years of experience to Emerson as an experiment to see how it goes at these tournaments, to see if it’s the right thing, and the right fit for Perfect Game and the right fit for us. To see if we can find prospects out of (the camp) while we’re also training umpires,” Rieker said.
There are training sessions on Saturday, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, to accommodate the schedules of the umpires that are working the tournament; the sessions cover a variety of topics.
Mark Stubblefield, the Medical Coordinator for PBUC, will conduct a short seminar on how umpires should prepare themselves physically before working a game; that is just one example of the kind of presentations that will offered.
“We want to offer some training, try to (identify) some prospects and be able to further this relationship (with Perfect Game) and see if we can do something later in the year in Fort Myers,” Rieker said. “It seems to be a pretty good parallel relationship, and it seems like we have similar values and similar things we’re looking for; if both sides can benefit, why not?”
Rieker worked as a major league umpire for 10 years and has worked in the MLB Umpire Office under Joe Torre – the MLB Executive Vice President, Baseball Operations – for the last 13 years. Eight years ago MLB executives decided to embark on a program to improve umpire training.
“We thought it was not only a good thing to do, but the right thing to do,” Rieker said. “If we wanted to be treated like the 31st club, which is what we call ourselves, we needed to go out and recruit just like the teams do.”
MLB began running training camps in Compton, Calif., Houston and New Orleans and they have now expanded all across the country. The camps and academies are designed to create opportunities for players, managers, scouts, grounds crews, umpires and just about anyone else who works in the game.
Whenever a new academy is opened, more opportunities are created for everyone, including umpires. The partnership with Perfect Game is an extension of that.
“It’s our job to not only train umpires for the good of the game but also to recruit umpires,” Rieker said. “We want to train umpires and recruit new umpires, and last year 17 people that went to our umpiring camps are working in the minor leagues today. Over the past eight years, more than 90 of our people that have graduated from our camps have gone on work in the minor leagues.”
Those numbers provide the impetus behind the staging of the free umpiring camp being conducted at Perfect Game Park South in Emerson this weekend. Attendees will be given the opportunity to be rewarded a scholarship to official MLB umpire camps for further training and then have an opportunity to be rewarded a scholarship to MLB Umpire School.
“Our program is gaining momentum, people know that we’re out there and they’re starting to realize what’s going on,” Rieker said. “It’s possible for a student to come to a camp for free, get a scholarship to Umpire Camp, no cost, get a full ride to Umpire School, no cost, and get a job in the minor leagues with the hope of getting to the major leagues.
“We’ve met a lot of people at Perfect Game and so far I like what I see,” he continued. “When we run these camps there are different avenues that we follow and we mostly go through local umpires associations because we rely on the host of the free camp to get the attendees there.”
There are usually anywhere between 80 and 120 attendees at one of MLB’s free umpire camps. By working with Perfect Game and UmpNation at the PG WWBA 18u National Championship, Rieker and his staff have a readily available audience of umpire hopefuls.
“Number one, we can reach a good target market for what we want to do; two, (the umpires) are already there and, three, it would be free for them,” Rieker said. “It’s an added value thing for Perfect Game to where they can get their umpires free training. … It’s an opportunity to hit the right target market and start a relationship.
“I think Glenn (Carnes) does things the right way … and I just think (PG is) a professionally led organization,” he continued. “Everybody I’ve met so far through the organization is first class and it would behoove us as Major League Baseball to show up where any umpires are at.”
Everyone benefits, Rieker said, when umpires are better trained and have the goal of becoming one of the 220 umpires currently working the minor leagues and eventually one of the exclusive group of 74 umpires currently working the major leagues. The free camps are a great place to start.
“These camps are a fun thing for us because they’re proactive; all the other stuff that we do is pretty much reactive,” Rieker said. “We like being on the front of this with the umpires and the students because it’s very proactive. Our best days on the job for my staff are the days we’re working the camps; we really enjoy it.”
Michael Rieker, a 17-year-old right-handed pitcher and first baseman who just graduated from Olympia High School in Orlando, Fla., has moved on since his perfect game performance in a Perfect Game tournament last summer. He was heavily recruited throughout his six-event PG career and accepted a scholarship offer from the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.
“(Michael) was scouted (at Perfect Game events) and he had a good (high school) season and he looked at a lot of other schools,” his dad said. “Air Force recruited him … so he’s going to pitch for Air Force, hopefully play some first base and go on from there.”
And this weekend, people who aspire to be umpires at the highest level may very well be recruited at a Perfect Game tournament, as well, thanks to a chance meeting a year ago this month.