This summer, Randy Lee’s lifelong dream came true.
Lee, who lives near Minter, was invited to be an umpire at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Penn.
Lee has been involved in baseball in one way or another ever since he was a kid growing up in North Texas. “We played organized baseball like Little League, and we played sandlot baseball,” he said.
“There were times when we didn’t even have a baseball so we’d use an old tennis ball and a one by four or whatever we had for a bat,” he said.
Lee also played organized baseball all through high school. “There was always somebody there for me and for all of us kids. There were always adults to coach, to umpire, to take care of the administration of the league,” he recalled.
During high school, he started umpiring the younger kids.
“It was just kind of something the older kids did,” he said with the slow drawl that still says “Texas.”
“The need was always there and there was always an adult or a high school kid there behind the plate, umpiring. And if you umpired you’d get a free snow cone,” he added with a laugh.
In 1977, Lee got a job at Weyerhauser working as a logger and moved to Bonney Lake.
His two kids, both of whom are now grown, played baseball and he coached, and one day he got a call from the local league that they were “really hurting for umpires.”
He volunteered to help, and within a few years he became chief umpire for District 10, Washington Little League, which includes Pierce County and South King County. “It’s a pretty good-sized district,” he said. “It runs about 75 teams –– T-ball through 18-year olds, both baseball and softball. There are hundreds of games.”
When Lee and his wife moved to the Key Peninsula about seven years ago, he stuck with his volunteer work on the District 10 staff, rather than switching to District 2 –– the local district.
“I had put in 25 years and I’m the umpire in chief for District 10. And my wife and I both work in Tukwila at Boeing and I just go to the District 10 meetings in Auburn or umpire games on my way home,” he said.
It’s really important, he said, because Little League is based on volunteerism. “There’s only about a hundred or so employees in the world and Little League is played in 82 countries. So without volunteers –– be it team moms or coaches or umpires –– there’s no way it could happen,” he said.
In January of this year, Lee got a call from Tom Haynes. “He’s the umpire in chief for Little League Baseball Worldwide and is one of the few full-time paid employees. He said, ‘It’s your turn to umpire the World Series.’ I was pretty excited because I’d been on that list for 10 years,” Lee said.
In May, Lee joined 15 other umpires from all over the world who had also been selected to work the series.
“We had a two-day orientation at Little League headquarters in Williamsport and studied the ground rules for Lamade Stadium and Volunteer Stadium where the Little League World Series is held every year,” he said.
According to Lee, a total of 16 teams go to the Little League World Series: eight teams from the United States and eight teams from other countries.
“It was absolutely incredible,” he said of the umpiring experience. “The day before the series started, we had a parade that lasted three and a half hours.”
And the games themselves were mind-boggling.
“The umpires rotate through the positions for the first round,” he said. “Everybody does first base, everybody does the plate, everybody does the right field foul line and so forth.
“You spend 31 years umpiring, and you spend all those years watching the games or just hovering around the TV watching the World Series and all of a sudden you’re there. And you’ve got these cool uniforms with all this Little League World Series stuff all over them. It was absolutely incredible.
“And the level of play is amazing; the pitching, the hitting, the whole thing. Because these are the best 12-year-old Little League teams in the world,” he said.
Lee even got to umpire the Pennsylvania Mid-Atlantic game “when a little girl pitched. She pitched a two-hitter shutout. They beat Tennessee four or five to nothing. There were more than 40,000 people in the stands and it was just vibrating. She’s not as strong as the big stud guys on the teams, but she did a great job,” he said.
And she made history.
But the thing that touched Lee’s heart the most was the “Challenger game” –– the disabled kids.