Commentary: Kevin Murphy retains his love for umpiring
No question, umpiring baseball and softball is a tough job. More often than not, umpires will take heat from coaches, players and parents during the course of a game — whether it concerns the strike zone behind the plate or a call on the bases.
Kevin Murphy of Sutherlin has heard his share of criticism over the years, but remains passionate about umpiring. Murphy, who turns 62 on Aug. 20, has been a softball umpire since 1975 — dating back to his slowpitch days in the Douglas County Men’s Softball Association.
He’s umpired fastpitch since 1983. He moved up the ranks, umpiring in the Division I Pacific-10 Conference from 1997-2005 and calling games in the National Pro Fastpitch women’s league for a couple of years.
Murphy — who taught at North Salem High School from 1990-2005 and was a substitute teacher in the Elkton School District last year — works county high school and ASA summer games these days.
He recently returned from a month-long road trip, which included umpiring 66 Triple Crown Fastpitch tournament games in four states. His travel partner was Greg Naber of Dallas, Texas, formerly of Eugene.
Murphy has done this summer road umpiring swing for three years.
“I became interested in umpiring because you don’t only have the best seat in the house, but you get to work with people who have goals,” said Murphy, a 1975 graduate of Sutherlin High. “I’m all about teaching, educating and instructing, so I want to help people find their pathway towards their goals and dreams. I just want to make a contribution.”
If you don’t have some thick skin when umpiring, you’re probably not going to stick around very long. Umpires make between $40-45 a game, according to Murphy.
“One of the things I always say to people when they criticize umpires, police officers or whoever it may be, be part of the solution,” Murphy said. “If you’re part of the solution, it’s better. That way you can understand what we have to tolerate ourselves — in terms of staying on top of the game with rules, mechanics and people skills.
“That’s the metaphor I use. I use the same skills as a teacher as I do on the ballfield.”
Murphy’s trip began in Hillsboro. Then it was on to Denver, Colorado; Westminster, Colorado; San Diego; and Reno.
“It’s just a journey I really look forward to each summer,” he said. “We just have a great time. I don’t know how many more summers I’ll do it, but I know going to these tournaments helps me get a fresh perspective of people throughout the United States. I really look forward to working with Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas teams — they’re the nicest people in the world. It’s not uncommon for them to come on the field and offer you a sandwich or drink.”
Taking care of yourself when you’re calling 18 tournament games over four or five days is crucial.
“Our eating schedule is rather interesting,” said Murphy. “It’s very important when you’re working in 95-100 degree temperatures at 6,000 feet like Denver or Reno that we eat properly and stay hydrated. We had some umps going down because they didn’t prepare themselves for the heat.”
Oregon has a shortage of high school umpires and officials in every sport, and the younger generation doesn’t seem interested in joining the mix. Murphy also officiates volleyball matches in the fall and basketball games in the winter.
“Work yourself up,” Murphy replied, when asked what advice he’d give to an aspiring umpire. “Find yourself a couple of mentors, study the rulebook and make sure you watch plenty of YouTube stuff. Go to clinics, go out and watch games, ask questions.
“There are too many opportunities to be educated nowadays. Just be around people who’ve done the game, and you should come out well.”