Umpire enjoys Little League duties in a big way

June 06, 2011|By JANET HEIM |
  • Bob VanLaningham volunteers as a base umpire for Federal Little League in Hagerstown.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer

At 81, Bob VanLaningham is the oldest umpire at Federal Little League, by at least 15 years. In his fourth season on the field, his one regret is that he didn’t start sooner.

“I just wish now that I’d started years ago,” VanLaningham said.

VanLaningham decided to volunteer as a base umpire in 2008, the last season his grandson, Zane Schreiber, played at Federal. When possible, there are two volunteer umpires at Little League major league games, a plate umpire and a base umpire.

“I really enjoy doing it. It’s just a joy to watch the kids play. Just the energy they put into it,” VanLaningham said.

“And the pay is good — a cheeseburger, Coke and fries. You can’t beat that.”

A New York Yankees fan, VanLaningham admits he would choose to watch a Little League game over professional baseball any time.

“It wouldn’t be a hard choice to make,” he said.

VanLaningham said most weeks he averages two games, and occasionally picks up a third. This season has been challenging with all the rained-out games, but most of the make-up games have been played.

Growing up in Baltimore, VanLaningham said he played sandlot baseball, then fast-pitch softball when he was in the U.S. Air Force and stationed in New York and France.

He and his wife, Betty, will celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary in September. They have lived in Hagerstown for 38 years, the entire time in the same Spring Valley home.

Bob worked as a civil engineer for Martin Marietta in Martinsburg, W.Va., until his retirement in 1994. The VanLaninghams have three daughters and five grandchildren.

VanLaningham said he’ll continue to umpire “as long as I’m physically able. I just enjoy it that much.”

He also umpires for the All-Star games that follow the regular season.

“Whenever I can, I help out,” he said.

VanLaningham credits Federal’s chief umpire, Jimmy Rux, for encouraging him when they first met at an umpire training clinic. He would like to see other people step forward.

“They do need people desperately. Less and less people want to get involved. It puts a strain on the people who’ve been doing it for years and years, some doing 20 years or more,” VanLaningham said.

“Probably out of the 40-plus umpires in the district, I can only think of five or so that have children playing. That says a lot about the guys whose children have grown and moved on or those who never had children,” Dennis Hockensmith, Maryland District 1 umpire consultant, wrote in an email.

VanLaningham also finds time to serve as treasurer at John Wesley United Methodist Church in Hagerstown and is a member of the Hagerstown Lions Club.

Youth athletics mean a lot to VanLaningham, though.

“I know from my girls, the friendships they developed being on a team. They know how to win well, how to lose well. After the game is over, there are no hard feelings,” he said.

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