The average age of the 47 umpires working the Hall of Fame baseball tournament for 12-year-olds in Cooperstown, N.Y., is somewhere around 40 years old.
When you factor Thom Sutton is 71 and his little brother, Dave, is 70, you have to wonder just how far they skew the data.
The brothers from Spokane Valley were invited to work the Cooperstown Baseball World U12 tournament taking place just up the road from the baseball Hall of Fame – a treat for a couple of guys who still love their part-time job with more than 80 years of umpiring experience between them.
“Well, there are a few guys here who are in their 50s,” Dave Sutton said. “And there are a couple who are probably 18 or 20 years old. There are two women umpires here, too – one from Canada and the other from, I want to say North Carolina. It’s a good group.”
Sutton estimates there are six or seven umpires under 30 in the group for this tournament. Among the rest there are a healthy number of retirees, some former military members and ex-CEOs.
A family-oriented baseball camp that puts on youth tournaments all summer, there are several umpires who rent summer places in Cooperstown and work tournaments all season.
Sutton calls the facility, located about 20 miles outside of the village of Cooperstown, exceptional – the best of any tournament they’ve worked in their long, distinguished careers. It features fields to stage 10 games at a time for the tournament, each built to major league specifications, just on a smaller scale.
And the tournament is so much fun that the brothers have decided to come back next year – not as umpires but as a vacation with their wives.
“My wife is a baseball fan and she would love to come see the Hall of Fame,” Sutton said. “When we were first invited, I started to figure out how much this was going to cost, and she said, ‘Go – this is an experience you can’t miss.’ ”
For a baseball fan who enjoys the best seats in the house to watch a game, this tournament is a treat.
“These are elite 12-year-olds,” Sutton said. “These kids are nothing like the 12-year-olds we see playing in Spokane, and that’s nothing against our own kids. The parents of these kids have paid hundreds and thousands of dollars to get their kids to this level. A lot of these kids have private coaches working with them. One of the premiere hitters is working with a hitting coach who also works with major leaguers.”
The first night of the tournament features a skills competition that included a home run derby. One hitter belted a dozen or more consecutive balls over the outfield fence.
“He was 12, but he was also 6-feet and 160 pounds,” Sutton said.
Thom Sutton has been an umpire for 48 seasons; Dave for 38. And still, the brothers approach each game as an opportunity to learn something new, or relearn something old for that matter. Their personal motto is: A day without learning is a wasted day.
“The umpire-in-charge here is really sharp, and it’s been a great experience so far,” Dave Sutton said. “This tournament is a little bit different. We have our own rules and our own youth baseball federation. This tournament uses Major League Baseball rules, and they’re just a little bit different.
“This is a very disciplined umpiring corps and some of the best umpires in the country. When we got here we were given our shirts, ball bags and hats. We have them cleaned and pressed. If we’re going to make a bad play here, at least we’re going to look good doing it.”
Midway through the weeklong tournament the brothers have already put their names in the record book.
“We have umpired the longest game here,” Sutton said. “We had a late game that went three hours and 10 minutes. And then the next morning we had one of those teams again and that game was over in 53 minutes. So we did both the longest and shortest games in the tournament.”
So what exactly, aside from a lifelong love affair with the game of baseball, keeps someone working games for almost a half-century?
“The thing about it is that this gives you permission to be a kid again,” Sutton said. “This is just a lot of fun. I had a kid go full-horizontal to make a play the other day. How fun is that?”
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