I recall interviewing my buddy Sean Norman when he realized his ambition of umpiring collegiate softball after working high school games for 15 years. Sean was proud to be climbing the ladder, he was gearing up for the increased travel and he really enjoyed it. Then… well, you know. He involuntarily took a year off.
Last weekend, Seam settled in behind the plate for a doubleheader at SUNY Geneseo, as the hosts took on the University of Rochester. I asked him how difficult it was to rise into the ranks of college umpiring, and he said, “Think of moving up — to the college game, and then up to Division I — in terms of the players. At any given game, there are 30 to 40 players and two umps. It can be tough, but it helps to have the right connections and the availability.”
Sean said that while the COVID situation did not factor in last weekend, plans were in place just in case. “I was told that my partner’s test results were not in yet, so I might be doing both games behind the plate. He could work the bases and still socially distance, but the results came two hours prior to game time, so we switched after the first game, as planned.”
Sean — who works full-time at GIAC — plans to continue to work high school games, and he said, “In fact, I am the local assigner for our association this year, and it will work out well because high school softball will start around the time college ball ends.”
Sounding like he didn’t take too many foul tips in his mask, Sean 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.”
I never really had too much in common with Jim Boeheim. He was an excellent college basketball player. I was not. He became the head coach at an elite Division I university, and he has held onto that job for 45 years. My resume is not similar in that regard. He has made millions of dollars. I have not. Yet…
Over the past couple of years, I have come to see Boeheim in a different light. He has three kids. So do I. All three kids are at different schools. I can relate. He and his wife, Julie, try their damndest to get to as many games and activities as they can. I really miss those days.
I especially enjoy seeing Jim and Julie at Cornell basketball games, especially when they leave a Syracuse game and go pedal to the metal down Route 81 to see Jimmy play for the Big Red. Jim looks like he enjoys settling into the seats and being a spectator and a dad. While I do not know what it is like to coach a team in front of 30,000 fired-up fans, I do know what it’s like to watch my kid experience the proverbial thrill of victory and agony of defeat. Either way, I have — and will — do what I can to be there.
It is my newfound sense of camaraderie with the Boeheims that makes it so enjoyable to watch them share the national spotlight with their son, Buddy, who has shot the lights out at the NCAA tournament. In doing so, Buddy has silenced the inevitable whispers of “Well, of course he gets to play, he’s the coach’s son,” and the country now knows what Syracuse fans have known for several years, and Jim and Julie have known since Buddy was a little kid: He plays because he works as hard as anyone else, he is a great teammate, and his long-range shooting skill puts him in a very small and sought-after group of players.
Like everyone else, I really have no idea how far the Orange will go in this year’s Big Dance. I hope they go all the way. As a basketball fan, I was always rather indifferent about the Orange and their collective story. As a dad, I am loving this journey.