Thirteen-year-old Antonio can’t really recall a time when baseball was not part of his life. Whether it was Little League or playing for his junior high school, he always seemed to have a bat in his hand or was on the field playing.

But he never gave much thought to the umpires working at those games or umpiring in general.

“I never thought about what they were doing,” said Antonio, who certainly never thought about umpiring himself.

That all changed when he registered for the UMPS CARE Charities Official Leadership Program in Phoenix earlier this year. To date, Antonio has worked a whopping 41 games and has been fattening his wallet in the process, earning $1,270 through umpiring.

The Official Leadership Program was launched in 2021 with a goal of motivating teens to learn umpiring mechanics but also to acquire leadership skills such as perseverance, community service and conflict resolution skills. Local umpire educators teach the students over six weeks, with half the time dedicated to learning in the classroom and the other half devoted to field work.

In Phoenix, Antonio and 30 other teens from the program had the opportunity to test their umpiring skills at Chase Field, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Among Major League Baseball umpires who participated in some of the classes were Alfonso Marquez, Alex Tosi, Malachi Moore and Nick Mahrley.

Former Minor League Baseball umpire Bryan Fields now heads Top Choice Officials AZ, which trains umpires and assigns them to tournaments, and was instrumental in teaching the course. A key element of this program is mentoring students and connecting graduates with local umpire assignors so they can start working in supportive environments.

Through this program, Antonio caught the umpiring bug.

“Now I can see how they see the game and how it works,” Antonio said.

Antonio’s parents found out about the Official Leadership Program on Facebook, and they thought it would be a fun class, especially since the teens get to practice drills on Chase Field, where the Arizona Diamondbacks play.

“I had been on the field for a Diamondbacks tour in the offseason,” Antonio said. “But to actually be on the field and practice on an MLB field, that was pretty cool.”

What made a big impact of Antonio was meeting Alfonso Marquez, the first Mexican-born MLB crew chief. Alfonso provided specific examples as to how to prepare mentally before games, which Antonio found especially helpful as a new umpire in need of building confidence.

As an extra bonus, students enrolled in the program get the opportunity to go to a Major League Baseball game and meet with the umpire crew before a game.

His mom, Rose, has been excited to see Antonio hone his umpiring skills.

“We thought it would be a fun opportunity to learn that perspective on the game,” she said. “And it’s a skill he will always have.”

The goal of the Official Leadership Program is to encourage more teens to follow Antonio’s path, to be exposed to umpiring and to become a leader on and off the field.

UMPS CARE launched the Official Leadership Program in 2021 in four locations. This year, UMPS CARE will provide this program to reach students in Atlanta, Chicago, Cincinnati, Compton, Dallas, Houston, New York, Philadelphia and Phoenix. We know there is a huge need for sports officials across the country, and we’re here to inspire and build the next generation. 

Special thanks to Eric and the Arizona Diamondbacks for supporting this program and to Sandi Gomez and the Pedro Gomez Foundation for sponsoring the program in Phoenix.

For more information about the Official Leadership Program, click HERE.