Catasauqua Press

Monday, October 23, 2017

Local umps get the call

Wednesday, April 12, 2017 by chuck hixson Special to the Press in Sports

Every year, the Lehigh Valley IronPigs and Reading Fightin’ Phils play an exhibition game for charity. Among all of the planning that goes into putting the game together is finding umpires to work the game. Minor League umpires aren’t allowed to work the game, so the teams generally turn to PIAA umpires. This year’s game was played at Coca-Cola Park in Allentown, and when there is anything to do with umpiring, the IronPigs turn to Marty Ondrovic for help. This year, Ondrovic called on some old friends to umpire the game, with two of the guys being well respected local PIAA umpires Whitey Williams and Mark Onushco.

The opportunity was somewhat of a dream come true for both umpires. They were joined by two other PIAA umpires Chuck Malitsch and Stan Herster, all of whom credit Ondrovic with being a mentor. Williams was given the job of umpiring third base, while Onushco, the “young guy” of the crew handled calling balls and strikes.

“Marty was a long-time PIAA assignor and he gave us a tremendous honor to do this,” said Williams after the game. “To get to work with these guys and be in this situation was a blast. It was just a wonderful evening and I can honestly say that Marty taught us the love of baseball and to get this honor was something special.”

Minor league baseball and high school ball are two different levels. The game is a much faster pace at the minor league level and even in an exhibition game, the players are looking to the umpires to control the game and get the calls right. The players seemed to have very little problem with the calls, but there may be a very good reason why.

“I’m going to go out on a limb and say we didn’t miss a call,” laughed Williams.

After a Lehigh Valley reliever finished his warm-ups, Onushco struck up a conversation with the Phillies top catching prospect, Jorge Alfaro, at home plate.

“I was just talking to him to get a comparison between us and the normal International League guys and I basically said, ‘how am I doing?’ He told me we were doing great and that he felt that we belong,” said Onushco. “There were a couple where they said ‘ooh, that could have been a ball,’ or something, but for the most part, they admitted that the calls could have gone either way.”

While the pace of the game is very different, including the velocity of the pitches and the speed and power of the players, the local guys found that they were able to handle the situation. In some ways, they found it almost easier to umpire a game with players at this level.

“Somebody, who has worked a little bit at this level, told me that it’s almost easier, and it is,” said Onushco. “The catchers are phenomenal and the pitches come in faster, but they’re generally all going to be pretty close.”

Many of the young players on the field that night have either spent a little bit of time in the majors, or will be there before too long. This was an opportunity that the local umpires will remember for a long time, especially when they see these players playing at the next level.

“It was great, because the players and the coaches were all very respectful and it was an honor to be out there in this situation,” said Williams. “For guys like us, you don’t get opportunities like this a lot, so I think I speak for all of us when I say that we are all thankful that we got to do a game like this and be on the field with those guys.”