(l-r, Cory Blaser, Drew Goodman (Rockies TV), Chris Guccione, Josh Cordova, Tony Randazzo and Laz Diaz)
On Oct. 26, there will be an Open House at Triple Crown Sports in Fort Collins sponsored by Protect The Game, a non-profit initiative designed to introduce service veterans to the world of youth sports officiating.
Scheduled to speak at the gathering is MLB umpire Chris Guccione, who has a 22-year career as an ump and earned full-time status in the majors in 2009. He just finished working the National League Championship Series (his fourth LCS); he has worked six Division Series as well as the 2016 World Series.
While most sports officials envision a life not making headlines, Guccione did hit the news cycle this summer, for positive reasons. A Colorado native, Guccione heard about the incident in Lakewood, CO, in June where a 13-year-old umpire, Josh Cordova, was calling a 7u game that ended up dissolving into a full-out brawl between parents, the video of which went viral on social media.
Guccione made some calls and arranged for Josh and his family to attend the June 30 game between the Colorado Rockies and Los Angeles Dodgers, and he also spoke with Josh about what happened in Lakewood and how to approach the job of umpiring.
“Anytime you can get people involved, folks like veterans who might be able to help out, I’m 100 percent on board. I think it’s great,” Guccione said about Protect The Game.
Here’s a quick Q&A with Guccione – the Protect The Game Open House runs from 5:30-8 p.m. at the TCS corporate office, 3930 Automation Way, Fort Collins, CO, 80525.
Q: What’s your take on the struggles in keeping youth officials coming through the pipeline, and how did your time with the Cordova family come together?
A: I’ve seen the articles and news stories about the lack of officials. In the last couple years, it’s become a problem. From what I’ve seen, men and women don’t want to become officials because of the fans. To them, for the dollars they are making, it’s just not worth it.
When I saw what had happened there at Bear Creek, I did some research and was able to track down his association, and then I was able to get a hold of his dad, Josh Sr. I sent them an email, introduced myself, and it worked out great because I wasn’t even supposed to be in Denver at the time. I was changing (MLB umpire) crews, and I thought it was an opportunity to reach out to the family, especially Josh. His dad called me right away, and things started steamrolling.
I wanted to encourage him … stuff happens, people will say things, and what you did was right. That’s the whole thing about officiating, keeping the integrity of any sport. We do that the best we can, no matter where you are at, what organization – keep the truth and integrity of the game. I wanted to encourage him not to give up. Unfortunately, he was in the middle of a brawl on the field. Now, interestingly, right after all this I had people come up to me and say they had that happen to them in the 50’s, the 60’s, the 70’s … people of every age. Today, it was something that hit social media and the whole country saw it. It’s been going on forever, and it needs to stop – with education, and with people realizing umpires are doing the best they can.
Q: Stories of bad behavior from parents and coaches seem to sprout up all the time. Are things getting worse?
A: We see it more because of cameras and social media, how everyone can take a video now and hide behind the screen. You can umpire the Little League World Series, literally 13-year-old baseball, and criticize it from their seat. It’s more open, so maybe it has become more normalized. But remember, you’ll have haters no matter what you do. It took me a long time to realize that. Officiating, acting, politics – there are haters. You got to let it go like water off a duck’s back. It takes a certain kind of person to be an official; you have to have passion for the game. You’re not going out there to get rich doing it at the amateur level. I got into it because I love the game. I tell anyone who’s complaining about officials, there equipment out there, so go do it yourself. Maybe that’s a slippery slope …
Q: MLB umpires are under a different level of critical observation, what with computer overlays of strike zone and all kinds of analytics being used. Has this been a positive development?
A: The technology has definitely helped us in our umpiring world. We’ve been able to fine-tune the strike zone. We are always trying to be 100 percent accurate. Guys are pretty consistent with the strike zone. We get evaluated after every plate job, after every base job, we look at it the next day on the computer. We analyze pitches and look at how catchers are catching the pitch – it’s all been to our advantage. Now, every network has that box on the screen, but as an umpire you focus on your zone. We don’t have imaginary lines to use, but we do have left-handers throwing a ¾-arm (slot) slider, coming into a right-hander who’s blocking the plate, with a catcher in the way. There’s a lot of stuff goes on, and guys do an awesome job. We’re more accurate now than ever before.