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Plant City Observer Thursday, Jul. 12, 2018 4 months ago

Next stop on the road to Williamsport

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Dave Byars is getting ready to umpire the 2018 Little League Intermediate 50/70 World Series.
by: Justin Kline Sports/Associate Editor

Just a few weeks ago, Dave Byars was umpiring district tournament games at his home field, Mike Sansone Park. Later this month, baseball fans can watch the Plant City resident work a Little League World Series on ESPN.

Byars has been invited to work the Intermediate 50/70 World Series in Livermore, California from July 29 through Aug. 5. He’ll get to see some of the best young teams from the United States, Canada, Australia, Europe and other countries around the world play not only for glory but also for the love of the game.

“It’s special. I don’t know how else to describe it,” Byars said. “I’ve had opportunities to go to Cooperstown, I’ve worked a World Series for a couple of the travel ball organizations and I want to say it’s special, but nothing compares to Little League.”

Dave Byars has enjoyed umpiring Little League baseball games since starting in 1995. (Courtesy of Marc Estrada Photography)

It will be the second Little League World Series he’s worked and the first in baseball. He previously umpired the 12-year-old softball World Series in Portland, Oregon in 2011.

Byars will work every position on the field during the tournament, sometimes umpiring two games each day. He said, for him and crewmates he’s worked with in the past, umpiring at the World Series doesn’t feel like work. Byars’ own love for the game, as well as the enjoyment he gets seeing kids love the game and have fun, keeps him and other umpires excited for every pitch.

“We forget about that purity and it becomes about the stats, it becomes about getting selected to be on the all-star team or about your team advancing to the World Series. That’s not what it’s all about,” Byars said. “It’s really all about the individual things that the kids experience.”

Byars is working toward the loftiest goal in youth baseball: the 12-year-olds’ World Series in Williamsport, which is Little League’s most well-known event.

“My ultimate goal is to get to Williamsport before I’m 80 years old,” Byars said.

Making the cut for a Little League World Series, whether it’s in Williamsport, Livermore or any other location is no easy task. Byars, who began umpiring in 1995, said getting considered for the job boils down to three things: volunteering, education and game performance.

Because Little League relies heavily on volunteers, Byars said, umpires who work for money do not get considered for World Series events. With 23 years of volunteer experience to his name, doing everything from umpiring and coaching at Plant City Little League to becoming PCLL’s president at one time, that part’s long been covered.

Byars said Little League encourages volunteer umpires with World Series aspirations to hit the books hard. Though he wasn’t expecting to catch the bug when he was first asked to umpire tee-ball on a whim, Byars said he quickly found a passion for the work and wanted to learn as much as he could. He read books, scoured the Internet and attended clinics and schools sponsored by Little League.

“They (Little League) advocate that if you want to do it at a high level, the next level, you need to go to these clinics and these schools,” Byars said.

Then there’s the work itself, which starts at the local levels. Byars started with district tournaments before being considered for regional and state tournaments, which require umpires to consistently perform well and, in some cases, achieve a certain rating to even get looked at for a higher-level event. If an umpire is good enough at the regional level, they can be considered for a Little League World Series gig with the right qualifications. If an umpire is fortunate enough to make it to Little League’s Southeast Regional in Warner Robins, Georgia, they have a chance to make the cut for Williamsport.

At 55, Byars still has plenty of time to reach his goal. But no matter how long it takes him to get there, he’ll be grateful for the opportunity to help kids learn sports and have fun doing it.

“To me, that’s where I feel the sense of satisfaction,” Byars said. “Knowing what I’m doing means something. It’s not about me. It’s not necessarily about the game as much as it is the experience that the kids are having and being a part of that experience…life’s made up of those moments, and every one of those moments adds up."

Justin Kline is the Sports/Associate Editor at the Plant City Observer. He has been covering all things sports-related in the Winter Strawberry Capital of the World since 2013.

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