By Kyle Koso
When you’re sliding on an icy road, the smart thing to do is turn into the skid, a technique that sounds counter-intuitive.
Turning toward extra pressure seems like a risky way to navigate post-traumatic stress disorder, but that plan has worked out nicely for a Coast Guard veteran who has found comfort and purpose as an umpire through the Protect The Game initiative.
Ron Jensen, 60, of Colorado went through the PTG umpire training program about two years ago, where former military servicemen and women learn the basics of the job. Successful candidates can use their new skills as youth sports officials to better integrate with civilian life, while helping improve the supply of officials, which has been plummeting in recent years.
“I’ve suffered from PTSD for years, and this has helped me with that a bit, kept my mind off it and kept me busy,” said Jensen, who has worked dozens of games. “I really love the sport, love teaching the kids and helping them learn while I’m behind the plate. It’s been very enjoyable. Since I started this, I haven’t had that many bad days from my PTSD as I used to.”
Jensen grew up in Chicago and had an early affection for baseball, playing on the diamond as well as improvised games with a wall functioning as a backstop/catcher, and a game called Pinners that employed the steps to a building. At age 8, on a camping trip with his father, the family was going through the Fox River Locks in Wisconsin when a U.S. Coast Guard boat tied up and asked his father if he would consent to an inspection. The experience was impressive enough that Jensen became determined to join up once he got older.
He entered the delayed enlistment program while still attending Mather High School; he attended boot camp in Alameda, CA., and began his journey on the Coast Guard Cutter Acacia. He also served with stints in Brooklyn and back in Chicago. Within six months of leaving boot camp, he earned a promotion from Seaman Apprentice to Seaman; within another 11 months he achieved Petty Officer Third Class after graduating Storekeeper Class A School in Petaluma, CA.
While stationed at the Coast Guard Supply Center in Brooklyn, on Christmas Eve of 1980 he earned a “Letter of Appreciation” from the commanding office; at the Marine Safety Office in Chicago he was in charge of the Coast Guard Honor Guard. In 1983, he had the honor holding the American flag at first base during the opening ceremonies of the MLB All Star Game.
After leaving the Coast Guard, Jensen worked as a land surveyor, started a computer/printer repair business, worked as a commercial driver and also as a delivery driver.
Jensen saw a story on a Denver TV news station featuring 13-year-old umpire Josh Cordova, who in June 2019 got in the crosshairs of an angry crowd at a 7u youth game (a video of brawling parents went viral). That story and his own affection for baseball created momentum for Protect The Game training.
“My experience with it has been great -- it’s totally different how you see the game. I don’t think I could ever get after an umpire in my life now,” said Jensen, who has been known to generate some upbeat spectator response by dancing to between-innings rock-and-roll. “Even when I watch on TV now, I watch the umpires more than anything else.
“I had a game the other night; it was barely the second inning, and a fan was getting after me about my strike zone. He’s by the dugout, behind the fence, no way he can see it like I can … I turned around once and said, that’s enough. He started up again, and I went to the head coach and asked him to control his fans. After the game, getting ready to go home, one of the parents came up to me from that team and said I’d handled it perfectly. I told him about Protect The Game, and how it worked using former veterans who have that recommended attitude.”
Jensen’s schedule included multiple sessions at Triple Crown’s Arizona Spring Championships in March, and he’ll also work the TCS SlumpBuster in and around Omaha in June. With his military background fitting in nicely in terms of understanding rules, protocols and staying cool under pressure, Jensen enjoys nearly everything about the umpire role.
“I’ve had no problem (correcting) coaches or fans if I have to – what they are doing is not teaching the game to the kids the right way. I’m there to help them learn the right way,” said Jensen, who added his son Adam is an even bigger baseball fan and is his life’s pride and joy. “I tell the coaches at the plate conference before the game, welcome to my religion, this is my church. I ask the coaches to respect the game, which is how I grew up with it. I want these kids to respect it as well. Baseball is what, 150 years old, and it won’t stick around if you’re not careful.
“Bad umpires, bad coaches, kids who don’t care … the game will just go away, and I don’t want to see that happen.”
For more information about Protect The Game, check out the website (www.protectthegame.com) or contact Jordan Cohen (firstname.lastname@example.org).