Bryan Horne grew up playing baseball. Jim Goodwin always loved the game, but as a spectator and not a participant.
Both men found a way to get closer to the action on the diamond — much closer — as umpires.
“I don’t think you can get more involved than being right on the field,” Horne said.
The men will be on some very special fields this summer. Umpires in Tennessee’s District 5, both Horne and Goodwin have been chosen to work the Little League World Series.
Horne reports to Easley, S.C., for the Big League Baseball World Series, for 16- to 18-year-olds, which runs from July 28 through Aug. 4.
Goodwin heads north to the Big League Softball World Series, also for 16- to 18-year-olds, which takes place Aug. 4-11 in Kalamazoo, Mich.
“It’s the pinnacle,” said Horne, a Blountville native.
“A dream come true,” added Goodwin, who always found himself following the umpires whenever he watched baseball during his days in college and law school. “I never played. I was a football player.”
An assistant district attorney for Sullivan County, Goodwin got involved in umpiring after speaking with a work colleague who volunteered for the Bristol Little League.
“The lawyer in me wanted to know as much as I could before I did it,” said Goodwin, who is in his eighth season as an umpire.
Before beginning his umpiring career, Horne was a parent watching his son play. Then, his son’s league came up short on umpires.
“That’s how most people get into it,” said Horne, now in his sixth year as an umpire.
“The biggest misconception is there’s plenty of Little League umpires,” Goodwin observed. “And every league in the district, from Mountain City to Colonial Heights to Bristol, is in need of good umpires.”
Horne also calls TSSAA games, but he and Goodwin aren’t compensated for the approximately 150 Little League contests they work each year. They do so in those games as volunteers — which does nothing to defray the costs of travel, much less the $400-some dollars for plate gear.
“You don’t want to be behind the plate without good quality stuff,” Horne said.
And you don’t get to a Little League World Series event without being a quality umpire. An umpire has to work a state tournament, then apply for a regional before even being considered. At the regional, umpires are evaluated in seven categories ranging from personal appearance to judgment to field mechanics to attitude on a scale of one to five, with one being best.
Neither will be in Williamsport, Pa., the site most people probably identify with the Little League World Series. But the level of play will be high, given the age of the participants.
“The older the kids, the faster it happens,” Horne noted.
It will be at least four years before either Horne or Goodwin will be eligible to umpire another Little League World Series event.