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Little Leagues can count on umpire Baker

July 15, 2005|by TIM KOELBLE

koelble@herald-mail.com

In an ever-changing environment, there are still some constants.

For one, you can always count on Hagerstown's Phil Baker umpiring a Little League baseball game.

Since 1968, the 62-year-old Baker has been a fixture behind the plate and on the bases in Maryland District 1 leagues and tournaments, and he's planning on going as long as he can.

"Keller Smith was looking for umpires in the Valley Little League and he asked me if I was interested and that's how I got started," said Baker, a 1961 graduate of North Hagerstown High School who played in the area as a youth.

When he first volunteered his services, Baker was a truck driver for a wholesale hardware distributor in Washington. He eventually became a salesman, a position which requires him to be in the city four or five times a week.

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"There were days as a truck driver I'd get up at 5 in the morning, get home at 4 or 5 and then get to a game," said Baker.

Things haven't changed much. Baker strolled into National Little League around 5 p.m. Monday after a day in the nation's capital to umpire the Federal-National 9-10 All-Star game.

"There are times when I think, 'I don't want to go umpire,' but I'll get a bite to eat and it seems after the game starts I get a second wind," said Baker. "Umpiring is great therapy. For 2, 2 1/2 hours there is nothing else on your mind."

Baker carries with him fond memories of one of his former umpiring sidekicks, Jack Hockensmith, who died in October 2002.

"(Jack) was a regular that year at Valley, and at age 74 he was even driving to Oakland to umpire games," said Baker. "He was a great man and it was always a thrill to be paired with him at a game."

Baseball is no longer the dominating "thing to do" as it once was, but Baker still gets a kick out of the torch-passing of generations and is appreciative of all the volunteers who turn out to run Little League programs locally and across the country.

"There are so many other things going on these days that you just don't see kids out playing sandlot and pickup baseball anywhere," said Baker. "It's rare now ... we used to do it all the time as kids, but now there's more on (kids') plates with things like soccer and lacrosse.

"But I've been around long enough that players I umpired now have their kids playing," he said. "I remember one parent, Barry Willard, who I umpired when he was a kid playing at Valley, and now he is a manager. When he played, his father, Paul, was a coach."

How long will Baker continue umpiring?

"As long as I have the inspiration and I feel good," he said. "I relate back to (Jack) and what he was doing. As long as I can do a respectable job, I'll keep going. When it's time, I hope I'll know it."

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