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Little League umpire from Havre de Grace took suggestion to 'put on a mask' to heart

Havre de Grace Little League umpire Pete Sheward has been working the Senior Girls Softball East Regional tournament in Worcester, Mass., this week.
Havre de Grace Little League umpire Pete Sheward has been working the Senior Girls Softball East Regional tournament in Worcester, Mass., this week. (AEGIS FILE PHOTO / Baltimore Sun)

The argument that changed Pete Sheward's life took place in a Havre de Grace Little League game eight years ago.

While helping coach his son's team, Sheward became angry with an umpire, who eventually tired of it, walked over to him and made a suggestion.

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"Stop complaining, put on a mask and do what I do," the umpire said.

The comment eventually made Sheward wonder. Why not try and see what it's all about?

One week later, Sheward started the process of becoming an umpire and found out, to his surprise, that he really enjoyed it. Now, the Havre de Grace resident has taken his fondness for umpiring a long way, working the Senior Girls Softball East Regional tournament in Worcester, Mass., this week.

Sheward, 54, is a telecom consultant for Verizon and quickly fell in love with umpiring. He does both softball and baseball. Last year, he umpired at a tournament for 11-12 year old girls in Bristol (Conn.) that served as a qualifier for that age group's World Series.

He became involved again this year, going instead to Worcester with the 15-16 year old girls. Sheward said he'll wind up umpiring 11 or 12 games overall, working the plate and on the bases. He loves umpiring tournaments at this level, but even more, just enjoys what he does.

"I gave up playing golf because I umpire," he said. "It gets me out thinking about things other than work."

And it's not always an easy task. He served as the plate umpire Tuesday on a day when it was 95 degrees and very humid. Sheward stood in the sun for two-and-a-half hours and came off drenched in sweat – but did not mind a bit.

"I'm going to keep doing it as long as I can put on the gear and stand the heat," he said.

Sheward began studying and learning right after that umpire's comments to him. He said it wound up being a very fast learning experience that taught him a lesson or two.

"It made me really, really study and learn the rules," Sheward said. "It showed me what I didn't know."

It also eventually gave him a chance to be an umpire and get very busy while doing it. Last year, for example, Sheward umpired almost 100 games at various levels of baseball and softball.

Sheward really enjoys working with kids. Umpires and officials often say that those who fare best at their task are the ones who are not noticed. Sheward agrees.

"I get the opportunity to work with a lot of great kids, show them respect and…gain respect," he said. "It's for the kids. I want to make sure these kids have a good umpire who knows the rules and lets them play a good game."

That's why Sheward keeps studying his craft and working to improve. He goes to a few clinics on umpiring each year, even heading to Bristol for one. Sheward said it's all about learning and trying to get better.

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It's certainly not about the money. Umpires, like all of the adult leaders in Little League, are volunteers.

Being an umpire is a complex task where you need to learn so many things, from the rules to how to ignore managers, coaches and parents who simply can't shut up. Sheward said he enjoys gaining experience from other umpires on all kinds of subjects, which helps him improve.

Sheward wants to keep getting better, especially if he's becoming busier at the higher levels. He was able to land a berth there by applying, gaining some recommendations and eventually being picked by the people who run the tournament.

These tournaments keep him busy. Sheward, who is the umpire-in-chief for the Havre de Grace Little League, as well as its vice-president of baseball, admitted to feeling some pressure last year when he did a regional tournament for the first time, but he said they put together a great support group for the umpires.

"I wanted to do more of it," he said. "I really learned a lot."

So he tried again this year and was picked once more. Sheward took a week out of his life to head to Worcester, where he first saw East Region softball tournament play when his daughter, Katy, played on a Little League state championship team from Havre de Grace.

In Worcester, although he worked the softball games in the heat, once again he had a blast.

"So far, it's great," he said following Tuesday's game. "They've made it, again, as easy as they can. There's a lot of support, which you really need."

Becoming an umpire has grown into a real positive for Sheward. He's made a bunch of new friends, found something new that he loves doing and now is getting to travel a bit. It's probably a good thing that he listened to that umpire's "suggestion."

Here's the funny part. Sheward eventually met up with the same man, who this time asked him a different question.

"Well, what do you think?"

"I've got a lot to learn," Sheward replied.

So far, he seems to be on the right path.

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