Three strikes, you're in: Local umpire is heading to the Little League World Series

Winter Garden Little League’s Ed Smith has been selected to umpire at the 2024 Little League World Series.

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There are few examples in life and in art that capture the relationship between a father and son with sports more than the closing scene of the classic sports movie “Field of Dreams,” where Kevin Costner’s character asks his father to play catch. 

That iconic scene, though not very dramatic or over the top with emotion, still has the power to bring a tear to the eye of any father or son who has had a connection through sports.

For Ed Smith, a longtime Little League umpire in West Orange and Southwest Orange County, baseball was always the game that brought him and his son together. 

In fact, it was at one of his son’s games that Smith not only had one of his favorite memories as an umpire but also where he first gave being an umpire a try. 

“I remember that day pretty clearly — my son was in the minor league division of Little League at that time,” Smith said. “Back then, the coaches would have to umpire the games, and it just so happened that we were there on a Saturday and no coach showed up.” 

Seeing a slew of kids in uniform waiting to play ball — one of which was his son, Sean — Smith didn’t hesitate. 

“I jumped the fence and started calling the game,” he said. “I’m glad I did because I found I had a real love for it. From that game on, I started searching out how to do the proper techniques and learn the mechanics. … I just continued doing it, and it’s such a rewarding experience, I mean, to see the look on a kid’s face when they make a catch or do well is something, that is still dear to me and why I continue to do this.” 

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That feeling he embraces started on the day he first stepped behind the plate and got a better-than-front-row view of his son having a breakthrough moment in his baseball journey.

“Leading up to that game, he had some moments where he didn’t really want to be out there,” Smith said. “He had gotten hit with a pitch one time, and he was so afraid to go up to bat that as soon as the pitch came in he would bail out. But on that day, I was able to watch him get over that fear and finally achieve the goal of getting a base hit. It was awesome to see and a moment I won’t ever forget.”

That day went on to spur a more-than-two-decades-long passion for umpiring Little League games, which culminated this year with a call he’s been waiting for: Smith was selected to be one of the 16 umpires at the 2024 Little League World Series.

“I was very emotional when I found out,” Smith said. “It’s something that I’ve been striving for for years. I was a bit surprised I got it — but glad I got it. I started my journey as an umpire back in probably 2000, maybe 1999, and I’ve loved every minute of it. Little League is an organization I believe in and that I like giving back to. Even when we relocated here from New Jersey … I just walked over to the Winter Garden fields and started umpiring games.” 

Smith’s love for his craft, the game and giving back to the community has been evident to those who’ve had the chance to be around him on the ball fields. 

“He is a solid rock for these kids,” said Kim Griffith Johnston, the Florida District 14 Little League Baseball and Softball administrator. “The kids have all gotten to know him over the years, to the point where Ed knows so many of them individually. All the kids and coaches know when Ed is on the field that they’re going to get a solid game from the umpire. He is always in control and stays focused on the right things. He’s just there for the right reason.”

Beyond the connections he makes, his passion for the craft of officiating a ball game is second to none.  

“He just loves it,” said District 14 Umpire in Chief Jerry Johnston. “He loves umpiring for these kids, and he loves the game of baseball. Especially as a volunteer, which, volunteerism in youth sports in general, and certainly as an official, is waning. And so to put in the time he puts in, you have to love it and he does. He loves working at his craft, just always trying to be the best and improve himself. So he’s always attending trainings, and that’s why he has eventually gotten to this point.” 

To Smith, the level of effort he puts in is the only way to be a great umpire.

“Umpiring has evolved and will keep changing, so learning the new techniques, that’s the key to improving,” Smith said. “There are some people that don’t do that, and they’re the ones that you’re seeing go viral on social media or getting calls wrong consistently. It’s unfortunate that there are some people out there that are like that. But to me, that’s what makes a great umpire — someone who just keeps learning the trade and is willing to evaluate themselves and try to make the needed corrections.” 

That passion for studying the game and constant striving to improve is why Smith was selected to be an umpire instructor at the regional level. 

“Ed has been involved in Little League for years, he has been going to trainings as a student to hone his craft for a long time,” Johnston said. “About 10 years ago, he became an instructor at the Southeast Region in Warner Robbins, Georgia, helping umpires from all over the region refine their skills … and (helping) them advance to higher levels. He’s been through the whole process of doing games at the region, getting recommended for World Series, continuing to go to games and do the training, and he eventually received his appointment to umpire at the Little League World Series.”

Despite the slew of accolades and achievements, there are two things that Smith points to as his proudest experiences: The fact that he’s never thrown someone out of a game and the opportunities he’s had to umpire games with his son. 

“One of my special moments as an umpire was having the opportunity to be on the field with Sean, umpiring games together,” Smith said. “For the couple of years we were able to do that, those became special moments that are ingrained in my memories.”

Another memory that will probably hold a special place in Smith’s umpiring journey will be Opening Day of the 2024 Little League World Series, Aug. 14 in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, where he will joined by 15 other umpires, including two others from Florida: David Noegel from Orlando and Steven Lewis from Tampa.

Sam Albuquerque is the Sports Editor for the Orange Observer. Please contact him with story ideas, results and statistics.

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Twitter: @SamBAlbuquerque

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Sam Albuquerque

A native of João Pessoa, Brazil, Sam Albuquerque moved in 1997 to Central Florida as a kid. After earning a communications degree in 2016 from the University of Central Florida, he started his career covering sports as a producer for a local radio station, ESPN 580 Orlando. He went on to earn a master’s degree in editorial journalism from Northwestern University, before moving to South Carolina to cover local sports for the USA Today Network’s Spartanburg Herald-Journal. When he’s not working, you can find him spending time with his lovely wife, Sarah, newborn son, Noah, and dog named Skulí.

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