Rice umpires Little League softball regional tournament

Billy Rice Rich Cooley/Daily

Billy Rice recently had the experience of a lifetime.

The Edinburg resident was an umpire for the Little League Softball Southeast Regional Tournament,  held July 28-Aug. 1 in Warner Robins, Georgia.

“It was something that you’ll never experience it around here,” Rice said in a phone interview this week. “The field is absolutely just beautiful. It was a great time.”

Rice was one of eight umpires for the tournament, which consisted of seven teams from seven states. He said they each umpired two games a day, unless they were the home plate umpire for one of the games, in which case they only did one game.

He said while it was a good experience, it was also stressful because they were constantly being evaluated by the regional staff.

“There are seven different categories that they evaluate you in,” Rice said. “Everything from your field mechanics all the way down to your attitude, your appearance, things like that. You have to make a certain grade on that evaluation in order to be recommended to do a (Little League) World Series.”

Rice said he made a high enough grade on his evaluation that he can now apply to do either the Softball or Baseball Little League World Series. He said he will probably apply for the Softball Little League World Series because, on average, it takes three to seven years to make it for softball and seven to 10 for baseball.

Rice said that he applied for the Southeast Region softball tournament last October and learned before Christmas that he had been accepted.

“The letter that I got right before Christmas was probably one of the best Christmas presents I’ve ever got — saying that I was going down,” Rice said.

He said that to apply for the regional tournament an umpire had to umpire a certain amount of district and state tournaments.

However, once an umpire does a regional tournament,  then he  can’t umpire another regional tournament for three years, so that everyone gets a chance to umpire. So, Rice said that he knew if he didn’t get a satisfactory evaluation he would have to wait at last three more years to try again.

On top of that, Rice said it was at least 98 degrees every day he was there.

He said that he was one of five umpires in the Southeast Region approved for the World Series level.  He noted that the umpires had to pay for travel, but everything else was paid for.

“They treat you like a king,” Rice said. “They have this really nice locker room. You have got your own locker, you got your name on it. They give you uniforms, they give you hats. They take good care of you. It’s not like you just go down there for the day, and it’s a whole lot different than regular season and it’s a whole lot different than a state tournament.”

Rice said that he started umpiring eight years ago. He was at a game in the fall that his son, Jared, was playing in and the umpires didn’t show up. So, Rice agreed to umpire the game and he’s been doing it ever since.

Rice has been president of the Woodstock-Edinburg Little League and often gives clinics in the area to help other umpires.

He said that he’s proud that Jared is already umpiring and he hopes he will continue to do so over the years.

The next step for Rice is to apply to be an umpire for an upcoming Softball or Baseball Little League World Series. The softball tournament is held each year in Portland, Oregon, and the baseball tournament, which is underway now, is held in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Rice said that he believes he’s only the second person from Shenandoah County to qualify for umpiring in a Little League World Series. Strasburg resident Jim Stup was the first.

Rice said that he umpires for the kids. He said for many kids Little League is the only time they will play baseball.

“I just feel like its our job as adults that are involved in Little League to give them the best experience they can have, and the most realistic experience that we can have,” Rice said. “And that doesn’t mean an umpire behind the plate with cut-off shorts and his hat turned around backwards and being a dad out of the stands. That means we need to work hard to give them a realistic experience and that’s what keeps me going with it.”

Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com