The noble pursuit of conducting oneself in a professional manner does have at least one pitfall no matter the occupation.
It’s the unshakable instinct that one’s performance must match the magnitude of the moment, an urge to be just that extra bit perfect when the occasion seems to demand it. It is a largely self-induced pressure that has as much potential to derail a batter’s trip to the plate with runners in scoring position as it does someone’s presentation in front of colleagues or potential clients in a boardroom.
Rathdrum’s Brian Rounds is prepared to encounter such a situation, however, when he steps on the field to umpire the Little League World Series next month in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
Rounds, 54, freely acknowledges the tournament will be the crowning achievement of his 20-year umpiring career. He serves as the Idaho District 1 umpire in chief, and he has umpired previously in the Little League West Regional, most notably behind the plate in the 2010 West title game. That contest was televised nationally on ESPN.
“There were 10,000 people in the crowd that night,” Rounds recalled. “They put a mic on you. I was chatting with the ESPN guy at the end, and he patted me on the back and said, ‘Oh, by the way, there will be between 3 and 5 million watching.’ I turned to him and said, ‘People?’ He laughed and nodded.”
Still, there is little in Rounds’ history umpiring Little League games around Post Falls, Coeur d’Alene and other communities that can prepare him fully for the raucous environment that awaits him at the Little League World Series Complex and its two fields, Howard J. Lamade Stadium and Volunteer Stadium.
Lamade Stadium provides seating for up to 10,000 fans, but grassy berms surrounding the park allows attendance to soar north of 40,000. Volunteer Stadium, which is used solely during double-elimination pool play, can host more than 5,000 spectators.
Rounds joined the other 15 umpires selected worldwide for the tournament at an orientation at the Little League facility in May. They worked together on the respective fields umpiring four games with local teams. This year’s LLWS is scheduled to begin August 15.
“Volunteer Stadium is cool, a different design,” Rounds said. “I got goose bumps walking on Lamade. When I walked on it with my gear, I thought, ‘This is so cool.’ The setting is so majestic is how I describe it. There’s not a blade of grass out of place. There’s not a speck of dirt not in its proper position.
“The amount of time it takes to prepare it is unbelievable, and it gave me goose bumps walking around the field.”
Rounds is the manager of the creative services team at Itron, a utility company located in Liberty Lake, where he “manages the brand and anything the logo is applied to … whether it be brochures and web sites,” he said. He also produces marketing videos, and his responsibilities there lead to long nights when coupled with his duties as an umpire in chief who must ensure every umpire in the district is trained and properly delegated to area tournaments.
His position at Itron “is a little bit of a 24-7, 365-day type of job, but it’s very rewarding,” Rounds said. “They support 100 percent community volunteers. My boss is fantastic and supports everything I do. … Definitely when I go to Williamsport for a couple weeks I’m taking my computer and keeping on top of projects. It’s a lot of balls in the air at any given time.”
Rounds’ umpiring career began in earnest 20 years ago as a volunteer at his then-8-year-old son’s game while living in the Bothell-Kenmore area near Seattle, he said.
“There were nine or 10 of us dads standing around helping the field get sorted, and the game was about 10 minutes to start,” Rounds said. “The coach said, ‘Hey, we need an umpire.’ Nine guys walked away. I started chuckling and thought, ‘Hey, I can do that. I played baseball, and I have an idea what they’re looking for.’ I think I had on a white shirt and shorts, and I sat on a bucket and had big balloon pads.”
Rounds made it a point to remain involved in Little League when his family relocated to Coeur d’Alene in 2001.
“I was involved in Coeur d’Alene Little League for 16 years, and my wife was involved, and my son played,” he said. “I was the umpire in chief for 15, 16 years. I was on the board. I helped build the fields over by Canfield Middle School.”
Coeur d’Alene’s Little League team won the West regional last summer and advanced to the LLWS, where it finished 1-2. Rounds said he feels pride representing the area at the event for a second consecutive year. He followed the team to the 2018 regional in California and kept a close watch on the team at nationals. He said he is hopeful “maybe lightning can strike twice” and Coeur d’Alene can advance past regionals again this year.
Rounds credited his wife, Crystal, with supporting his umpiring career and the demands on time the job entails, and he noted that Little League is “an awesome organization to give back to.” He said this year’s trip to Williamsport will be a one-time affair and an opportunity to share the experience with his family.
Rounds said he appreciates the significance of the tournament and can laugh at the absurdity of suggesting the games “will be just like any other Little League game.” But he will rely on the same tenet – “Pause. Read. React.” – that has guided his career thus far and is the same one he shares with the umpires under his tutelage.
“If we take the time, no matter what the play is, to pause, read and react, we’re creating the proper opportunity for the mind to see what is transpiring on the play,” he said. “If we continue to do that, even with 40,000 people yelling and screaming, we’ll be fine.”
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