by Josh Bootsma
LANSING, Ill. (August 28, 2018) – Jeff Schoettle spends his days determining if adults are safe. In the evenings, he puts on a different uniform and does the same for kids.
Construction safety officer by day, the 50-year-old Lansing native spends many of his spring and summer nights umpiring for Little League baseball and softball games. Visit Lansing Old Timer’s Park throughout the summer, and there is a good chance you will catch Schoettle calling a game on the same field on which he played decades ago as a child.
Staying around the game
A father and former Little League coach, Schoettle has been around youth baseball a long time. “Like most umpires, I started out as a dad and a coach, and once your child graduates the program, you want to stay around the ball field,” he explained.
His strategy to stay close to the game he loved was to become an umpire, a position he has enjoyed for 21 years.
Unlike most Little League umpires, however, Schoettle’s duties often do not stop in mid-July, when the Little League season ends. Like the most skilled ball players in the league, Schoettle regularly appears in postseason action as well.
A few weeks ago, Schoettle umpired at the boys Central Region Tournament in Westfield, Indiana, a 13-state tournament that sends the winner to the Little League World Series.
The year before, Schoettle was selected to officiate the Little League Softball World Series in Portland, Oregon, and had the honor to call the final out of the World Series, an experience he says was “pretty cool.” Schoettle has umpired for a handful of other high-level tournaments in his two decades of officiating, and he is always impressed by the energy at these games.
“[For] every team that comes there, this is the culmination of their season. Not only are they playing at the top of their game, they are exuberant, excited, and engaged the whole week. It’s an energy you really can’t describe,” he said of his World Series experience.
Success at such a high level does not come easily. For Schoettle, “every game is a learning experience. Every season, I want to see myself getting better. And even after 21 years, there’s still a lot of room for improvement.”
The Navy veteran spends hours training, attending clinics, reading the Little League rulebook, and brushing up his mechanics, hours he could be spending with his family or his guitar group at church.
Making an investment
So why does Schoettle invest all this time an energy into his umpiring career?
The short answer: It’s all about the kids.
“I saw what Little League did for not only my own kids, but other kids I had coached along the way. …My desire to stay on the field was from watching the development of young men and women,” he said.
As a Little League coach, Schoettle emphasized teamwork and friendship more than the game itself, something he still strives to do as an umpire. “Watching these kids become friends and work together to play a game under the rules of fair play and sportsmanship? Invaluable. And I get to continually see that happening, which is a lot of the reason I keep [umpiring],” Schoettle said.
The most special moments for the strike-calling veteran take the form of small acknowledgements from the players he interacts with. A head nod from a kid coming to the plate or a quick “good game ump” in the parking lot after a game might “seem inconsequential,” but according to Schoettle, “those little feedbacks—they’re the ones that count.”
Having been selected by his Little League district multiple times to umpire at a postseason level, it is clear Schoettle has received plenty of good feedback over the years.
And he doesn’t plan to stop anytime soon.
“I don’t see an end,” Schoettle said of his umpiring career, “It’s been 21 years that I’ve been doing this—and I’d say I’ve got 20 years left in me.”
Schoettle’s advice for parents of young ball-players is to “praise your child’s performance regardless of the outcome of the game,” and his suggestion for Little Leaguers seems to be the same principle he applies to his umpiring: “Remember, you’re playing a game. Have fun.”