When I last told Michael Joseph’s story in this column—20 years ago—he had just been called “safe” by the Great Umpire in the Sky after months of uncertainty.
Joseph had just made a comeback from a devastating illness known as Guillian Barre Syndrome (defined by Wikipedia as “a rare disorder in which your body’s immune system attacks your nerves.”) Before that diagnosis and treatment, Joseph had been preparing for the worst.
“One doctor told me he was almost sure I had ALS,” Michael told me. “Another doc did a spinal tap, and they learned I had Guillain Barre Syndrome. I contracted it after stomach surgery, and there was a time they thought I was going to die. I was paralyzed, and I spent seven months in St. Joseph’s in Elmira and three months at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester.”
The fact that Joseph had been athletic throughout his life might have saved him. He was a three-sport athlete at Trumansburg in the 1980’s (football, basketball and baseball), and if you count bowling (he was a two-time state champ) we can say he was a four-sport guy.
“I had plans to play baseball at TC3 and go on to Cortland State,” Mike said, “but I got hurt and I decided to get certified to umpire baseball and softball.” He added, “This is my 39th year of umpiring, and I am a member of the association for Cal Ripken, AAU Baseball and the ASA.”
While Joseph has been living in Florida for the past 16 years, he has been in Ithaca for a few months, attending family matters. I caught up with him this week, hoping to learn more about his newest endeavor. Since moving to Florida, Michael has worked around baseball and softball in various capacities, and he offered, “I was the President of the Manatee/Sarasota Softball Association for a while, and now I am a subcontractor at the IMG Academy, in Bradenton.”
What was initially the Nick Bolliterri Tennis Academy has grown in a sprawling complex that hosts athletes from around the world, offering high-level instruction in baseball, lacrosse, football, soccer, tennis and golf. When asked how big the organization is, Joseph replied, “It’s huge. The baseball facility has 11 lit fields, and the place has an $8 million locker room, paid for by Under Armour.”
There are over 100 young players enrolled in the baseball program at IMG, and Joseph said, “The kids are from sixth grade through high school, and some Major League Baseball teams bring in kids from the academies in Puerto Rico, Venezuela of the Dominican Republic. The rules are different when it involves kids from outside the U.S., and the teams pay for travel, housing and high-level coaching.”
Joseph has also worked as an umpire at Perfect Game (another baseball mecca), and he said, “We are brought in, they pay for our hotel and food, and we umpire three to five games per day. At times, I have done up to thirty games a week.”
As an umpire, Joseph sees hundreds of players and he is parlaying that fact into another opportunity. He plans to work as a liaison of sorts, working with parents, players and coaches to help kids find the right match moving forward, both academically and athletically.
“When I return, it’s in the works for me to start my own scouting business in Central Florida,” Joseph said. “I’d like to see more players from the south playing for colleges up north, instead of the other way around.”
As stated, Joseph has been in Ithaca for the past few months, as he left his umpiring and scouting duties (and his job at Publix) to return home to be with his sister, who needed his help in the last stages of an illness. Bonnie Joseph passed on last month, and while he has been in town, Michael has stayed—as always—connected to sports.
“I set up the Michael Joseph Baseball Academy,” he stated, “and we gave lessons to kids, teaching fundamentals and mechanics. We ran two events, they were free, and we drew 58 kids.”
He has also been helping his old buddy Julian Munoz prepare Trumansburg’s 8-Man football team for the upcoming season. When asked what his future plans are, Joseph said, “I enjoy running coaching clinics, and I’m hoping to eventually go into coaching myself.”
Any umpire that has been screamed at by a few hundred coaches will definitely have an advantage when coming out of the dugout.