|Derek Stevenson umpires games in the greater Atlanta area|
On August 22, 2021, San Diego’s Petco Park hosted the 19th edition of the Perfect Game All-American Classic. This annual event brings together the nation’s top amateur players heading into their senior year of high school to face off in an East versus West battle. Elijah Green, Dylan Lesko, and Jayson Jones each took part in this year’s contest along with many other top high school prospects from the Class of 2022. The game also featured the sons of former major leaguers CC Sabathia (Carsten), Andruw Jones (Druw), Matt Holliday (Jackson), Carl Crawford (Justin), and Lou Collier (Cam). Coverage of the event was broadcast live on the MLB Network. Over the years this game has showcased dozens of future first-round draft picks. Moreover, five recipients of the MVP Award—Freddie Freeman, Bryce Harper, Buster Posey, Kris Bryant, and Andrew McCutchen—have played in the All-American Classic along with 2016 AL Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello and frontline starting pitchers Gerrit Cole, Kevin Gausman, and Zack Wheeler. Each club was managed by a former major league player with Clint Hurdle helming the East and Luis Gonzalez in charge of the West. Hurdle skippered the Colorado Rockies to the 2007 NL Pennant and managed in the majors as recently as 2019. Gonzalez hit 354 home runs during his impressive 19-year playing career and is most remembered for his Game Seven, Series-ending walk-off RBI single to help the Arizona Diamondbacks triumph over the New York Yankees in the 2001 Fall Classic.
The East won this year’s game, 9-1, with ten pitchers combining to no-hit the West. The no-hitter was the first in the history of the All-American Classic. Catcher Luke Heyman hit the only home run of the night, a two-run shot in the bottom of the third inning to put the East up 3-0, and was named the game’s MVP. It was neat to get a glimpse into the future as I expect to see several of these players selected in the 2022 Amateur Draft and popping up in the major leagues over the next few seasons.
However, what made this year’s All-American Classic special for me was seeing my friend Derek Stevenson in uniform as the game’s third base umpire. Derek and I worked together in 2012 and 2013. Since that time, our mutual love of baseball has helped us stay in touch and it has been wonderful to see Derek follow his career path and become an umpire. Derek currently works games in the greater Atlanta area and was nice enough to answer some of my questions about his participation in the All-American Classic and his career as an umpire.
Derek, first of all congratulations for getting the opportunity to work this game and thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. Can you tell us what it was like to receive the invite to work the Perfect Game All-American Classic and about your experiences during the event?
Thank you so much. Getting this opportunity was a blessing. When I received the invite, I was shocked. Very unexpected. I believe I was speechless. The experience was amazing. Seeing all of that talent from these young men just motivates me to be a better umpire for the game. During the pregame Home Run Derby, I got to see some of these young men 16, 17 years old hit upper deck home runs at Petco Park. And I got to stand in the same spot as some of the great umpires, Joe West, Hunter Wendelstedt, Jansen Visconti, and Tom Hallion. It was an honor to be a part of this and I wish all these young men the best in the future.
What types of games do you generally work as an umpire in the greater Atlanta area?
I generally work high school, college, and travel ball games here in Georgia.
When did you first become a baseball fan and who were your favorite teams and players growing up?
I was a baseball fan probably when I was in the womb. Hahahaha. I remember playing baseball since I was 5 and watching the Yankees, Mets, and Braves. I gravitated towards the Braves because I watched Greg Maddux pitch one time and just was in shock at how great of a pitcher he was. Chipper Jones was and is my favorite player. His ability to switch hit amazed me and I wanted to play just like him and tried.
When did you start umpiring and what made you realize you wanted to pursue this as a career?
I started umpiring about 4 years ago. The moment I put on my uniform I knew this was what I wanted to do forever. I was doing a travel ball game and I was the home plate umpire and it was an amazing close game, fans were into the game, the players were great—playing hard and making amazing plays. I said to myself “this is where I belong!” The joy and feeling I get on the field makes me want to continue this. These players are so talented.
Can you tell us about the progression of your umpiring career that led to you getting the call to work the Perfect Game All-American Classic?
I have had a lot of help along the way. My trainers, instructors, and my umpire brothers have all helped me. They saw that I had raw talent and a drive to be a better umpire, so they took me under their wing and have and continued to mold me into a good umpire. Going to umpire camps every year, working on your mechanics at home in the mirror, and the most important thing, being in your rule book, have all helped with my progress. I have a long way to go to get to where I want to be. I believe that Perfect Game has some of the best umpires you can find and we all work hard together and push each other to be better than yesterday. It’s a blessing.
You mentioned umpire camps, what were some of the things you learned or felt you were able to improve on by attending these camps?
“What can’t you learn” is probably the better question and easier question haha. I can go on for years about this topic. When you go to these camps, you’re learning everything about the game of baseball. They improve your rules knowledge of the game which helps your confidence on the field. They improve your mechanics so they are nice, crisp, and sharp. You come out these camps gaining a confidence you didn’t have going in. There so much more these camps offer you as well. They offer you a chance to be a part of something special. Seeing these talented players on the field up close is a blessing and these camps humble you and make you feel special.
What is the most unbelievable moment that has happened during a game you were working?
I think the most unbelievable moment for me was doing a quarterfinal game for Perfect Game and I got to see a kid throw a seven-inning no-hitter at the age of 17.
Occasionally we see umpires get hit by the ball, what’s the worst injury you’ve sustained working behind the plate?
The worst one I had was getting hit in the mask by a foul ball. I had to be taken out of that game.
Ouch. Sounds painful. I know concussions are a concern for umpires too.
Yes they are. The catchers do a great job in trying make sure we don’t get hit but it happens.
Have you officiated any other sports besides baseball?
Yes. I do football and softball.
As we know umpires get more than their fair share of verbal abuse. What is the funniest or strangest (family-friendly) thing a player or coach has said while arguing a call?
Hahahahahaha yes we do from time to time. I think the funniest thing was when a parent told me that I’m supposed to ask for help on a check swing every time.
What is your advice for someone looking to pursue a career in umpiring or officiating?
Always be humble, work hard on your mechanics on and off the field. Always remember someone is watching you no matter the level game you’re calling. Be professional, don’t be afraid to fail or make a mistake. Get and stay in your rule book. And lastly have fun. As Harry Wendelstedt once said, “You can’t hide a good umpire.”
Derek, thank you for taking the time with me today. I look forward to seeing the continued progress of your umpiring career. And once again congrats for working the Perfect Game All-American.
Thank you so much John. I had a great time doing this interview.
----by John Tuberty
Follow me on Twitter @BloggerTubbs
Sources: Perfect Game, MLB Network telecast of Perfect Game All-American Classic
Stat links to players mentioned: Freddie Freeman, Buster Posey, Bryce Harper, Kris Bryant, Andrew McCutchen, Gerrit Cole, Kevin Gausman, Zack Wheeler, Rick Porcello, Chipper Jones, Greg Maddux, CC Sabathia, Andruw Jones, Matt Holliday, Carl Crawford, Lou Collier, Clint Hurdle, Luis Gonzalez
Links to Perfect Game All-American players mentioned: Elijah Green, Dylan Lesko, Jayson Jones, Carsten Sabathia, Druw Jones, Jackson Holliday, Justin Crawford, Cam Collier, Luke Heyman
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