Jim Haibon to umpire at the Little League World Series

  • Phillipston’s Jim Haibon is shown during the 2017 Senior Girls Softball Regional Tournament in Worcester. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Umpire Jim Haibon watches a player from Italy (in red shirt) and the other from California, during Little League World Series action in 2011 in Bangor, Maine. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

PHILLIPSTON — Jim Haibon is once again among the very few chosen to umpire at this year’s Little League World Series in Lower Sussex, Del. He is among 12 people (six from the U.S. and six from around the world) selected from more than 2,000 applicants.

Haibon will be in Deleware from July 30 through Aug. 7. He will be umpiring during the 15- to 16-year-old Little League Senior Girls Softball competition.

“I’ve been waiting for six years to be selected,” said Haibon. “It’s such an honor when you’re assigned.”

He last umpired at the World Series Little League in 2011 in Bangor, Maine for the 15- and 16-year-old boys (the Taiwan team won the title that year) tournament.

“I do it because I love the sport, ” said Haibon. “How many kids can say they are world champions?”

Haibon was officially notified three days before Christmas by mail from Little League International’s main office in Williamsport, Penn.

The umpires donate their time, pay their own way and cover their own expenses to these events. The Little League International application process includes the amount of time an applicant donates to other teams during the year. Haibon has been donating his time as a umpire for the past 21 years, officiating games in Athol and Winchendon each year.

Haibon became interested in umpiring after watching a friend of his umpire more than 21 years ago.

“He had been doing it for 10 to 12 years — some people don’t hold a regular job for that long. I noticed he enjoyed watching these kids grow as they went along. I figured it would be fun, and got involved,” he said.

Haibon played high school baseball and raised two sons — Will, 17, and Corey, 27, both of whom played through the Little League system. There are three levels in Little League: Major League is ages 9 through 12; Junior is ages 13 and 14; and Seniors, ages 14- through 16. There could be a 17-year-old in this last division, depending on when he orshe turned 17. Haibon became certified as an umpire in Bristol, Conn., in 2006. Recertification is required every six years, and he just attended a clinic over the past weekend to brush up. Clinics are held once a year.

Haibon’s oldest brother, Fred, is an umpire in Warwick, R.I. and the surrounding areas.

Asked if he ever umpired one of his son’s games, he said, “I tried very hard not to umpire any of my sons’ games, but at one point, they were in a pinch and asked if I would do a game for them that one of my sons was part of. He came to bat and I called him out on strikes. Talk about a game that went down into infamy. Needless to say, to this day, my lovely wife and son still, from time to time, remind me of that day. But that’s what’s great about having a family like this — we can still joke about things like this from many years ago.”

To get to the World Series, players have gone through several levels — if they win during their regular season, they advance to the districts. If they win districts, they advance to sectionals, and then, on to the state championships and to regionals. The regional competition will be held in Worcester in early July.

“Whoever wins there goes to Delaware,” said Haibon.

At the World Series, each game could take from one and a half to three hours. Four games are played each day. There are 12 umpires, two sets of six, with each working two games a day. The youths are allowed to play up until 1 a.m., but they can’t start a new game after midnight.

Haibon said, “There are so many tournaments they have to go through before we get to this point. These are the best in the world, and I am looking forward to it.”

The 15- to 16-year-old girls will be playing fast-pitch ball.

“This is some excellent softball,” said Haibon, “You can’t really appreciate it until you see how these girls play.”

Little League International separates the officials from the players, holding separate functions so there is no controversy. Each umpire gets a day off to go and explore the city.

Haibon’s wife Gretchen will accompany him to Delaware.

“This is all volunteer, as we pay our own way to attend this event,” he said. “We do not get paid to do this. As an umpire, our payment is to be able to get a front-row seat to see the best of the best do what they do best, and to meet people from all different walks of life.

“Neither my wife nor I have ever been to Washington, D.C., and it’s not too far away. We plan to take a side trip there and see the monuments,” said Haibon.

Haibon is a purchase and sales manager at Pete’s Tire Barns in Orange. He says owner Peter Gerry is an avid supporter of youth sports and is happy when his employees get involved in such things.”

Umpiring for local sports teams takes a great deal of his time during the summer months, said Haibon. While he said he is appreciative of the support of his wife and family during the baseball season, he hints at retiring from umpiring in a couple years.

“I’m a grandfather now,” he said. “It’s time to have family time in the summers.”

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