ITHACA, NY -- Damn, I will miss him… When Sean Norman told me in 2017, regarding his umpiring, “I’ll do it as long as I can,” I had no idea that he would be gone four years later.
Sean passed unexpectedly at age 46 last week, and I just loved that guy. We became Facebook friends a decade ago, we got to know one another through our ongoing interactions at the softball fields, and he was always game to help me out with a story. I featured him in that 2017 article, pointing out how much he loved his new level of mobility after losing 100 pounds. He laughed and said, “It’s so much easier to get into position, and I was amazed that I actually outran a girl to third base
Sean helped me out with another column a few weeks ago, and he conveyed how happy he was to get back behind the plate after the pandemic wiped out the 2020 season. Sean had, over the years, climbed the ladder to work collegiate games, and he told me how he had to be on his toes, as the game moved so much faster. In that interview, he said, “I did some travel team games last season, but this was the first college assignment I had done in nearly two years.” He laughed and said, “It took a couple of innings to shake off the cobwebs, but you know, after all these years it’s like riding a bike. It felt great to be back.”
Sean also worked at GIAC, and I remember visiting him there to do that 2017 interview on his lunch break. He apologized about a dozen times when people stopped into his office to say hello. Kids, colleagues, everyone loved him.
I was lucky enough to see Sean regularly during the softball season, as he worked a lot of IAC games (he had recently been promoted to be the assigner for the local umpiring association), and he was a favorite among players and coaches. He took it seriously, he hustled to get into position, he knew how to clarify rules as needed and he was just as jovial as The Man in Blue as he was at GIAC. Five days before he passed, he showed up to umpire a Spencer-Van Etten game, resplendent in a pink jersey. As my daughter walked out to the pitcher’s circle, she asked him, “Are we supposed to call you ‘Pink’ instead of ‘Blue?’” Sean laughed and replied, “Believe it or not, no matter what color we wear, we’re still called ‘Blue.’”
While it was clear that Sean loved his “real” job and all the people at GIAC, he loved being on the field, he loved dealing with players, the coaches, the fans and his fellow umps, his 8 year-old daughter, Annabelle, was the center of his universe. In the 2017 story, he said, “We have one ump that is 75 years old! I’ll do it as long as I can, but when Annabelle gets older, I might switch to coaching.” How I wish Sean and Annabelle had been able to share that experience.
As stated, I loved that guy, and part of the reason I did was his wonderfully quirky sense of humor. Over the course of the past 11 years, I have seen thousands of Facebook photos but there is only one that I have shown to at least a hundred friends. It was a photo of Sean.
A decade ago, Sean and some friends went to Las Vegas, and like any good tourists they took in some of the local sights. Some people like to visit the Hoover Dam, some like to see the Grand Canyon, some spend all their time trying to become rich. Not Sean. He went to the Liberace Museum, at Liberace’s mansion. He posted photos of Liberace’s massive and gaudy collection of outfits, a pink Rolls Royce, a gold-plated piano… the place was a study in over-the-top excess.
The one photo that I have looked at dozens of times made me laugh out loud the first time I saw it, and it will make me laugh for the rest of my days. In the photo, Sean Norman is posing in Liberace’s bedroom, under a massive portrait of Liberace himself. Sean is grinning widely, wrapped in Liberace’s purple velvet robe, reveling in the absurdity of it all.
Damn, I will miss him…