Bartow County umpire retires after 27 years
by Jason Greenberg
Jun 13, 2013 | 1084 views | 0 0 comments | 77 77 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Chances are, if you grew up or raised a child who played baseball in Bartow County, you have watched Russell Bailey at work.

Bailey has been umpiring youth baseball games in Bartow County for 27 years and, after working a tournament in Cooperstown, N.Y., is calling it quits.

Bailey has served as a youth umpire all over the county and state. He has worked games from T-ball all the way up to high school baseball.

“I started in ’87 when I got out of the military,” Bailey said. “At the time I did it for extra income. It was an easy way to make a little extra money. It turned out to be a whole lot more fun than I thought.”

Bailey became such a well-respected umpire that he was recently asked to ump a youth tournament in the town where the baseball hall of fame is located, Cooperstown.

“If I'm going to go out, that's the way I'm going to go out,” Bailey said.

Bailey was asked to represent Bartow County when two youth baseball teams from the area were accepted to play in the Cooperstown tournament. The coaches of the local teams nominated the well-thought-of Bailey to umpire the games.

“It was a lot of fun,” Bailey said. “I've never cried at a baseball event, but during the opening ceremonies, I looked down at all the players on the field and I thought about how in five days, it would be over. A little tear came to my eye then.”

Bailey did not lose the love for umpiring, but health issues have made it hard to continue.

“I was used to doing four or five games out in the sun on Saturday and then do four or five more on Sunday. Now I do a couple hours in the heat and it starts to affect me,” Bailey said. “So I can't give everything that I could back then.

“I always said, ‘If I can't give something that I love everything I can and everything it deserves, then I'll walk away.’”

The selection to umpire the tournament in Cooperstown was recognition for a job well done. It is recognition for doing a job that rarely gets any.

“I guess one of the biggest compliments I get is when someone calls me and wants me to do their game,” Bailey said. “That's a big thrill to me. I’m going to miss that.”

The lack of recognition is why it takes a special man to umpire for as long as Bailey has done it.

“I love to see kids excel,” Bailey said. “Watching them advance through life is one of my biggest thrills in life.”

Bailey has always worked the games, not for himself, but for the players’ benefit. This is evident in a story he recalls from Cooperstown.

“One kid came to catch behind the plate and he was crying a little. I said, ‘What’s wrong?,’ and he said, ‘I haven't gotten a hit in this whole tournament.’ So I told him he would get a hit and gave him some encouragement,” Bailey said. “The next inning he hit one off the wall. After the game, the coach comes up to me and he says, ‘Blue, I just want to thank you for talking to my catcher. It meant a lot. He came to the dugout laughing and came up to the plate more relaxed than he has the whole tournament.’ I said, ‘Coach, that’s what I do.’”

To Bailey, helping youngsters is as much a part of the job as calling balls and strikes.

“12-year-olds were my favorite age because they're just learning how to steal bases and to play the game,” Bailey said. “They are old enough that they can understand what you're teaching them, but you can actually talk to them and the coaches don't mind.”

Bailey did not play much baseball growing up and did not think he would find so much joy in umpiring until after a career in the Army.

“I got the itch for it in the military. The kids on the base would have games,” Bailey said. “They would send some military personnel out on the base to umpire and it was fun. It started catching on and when I got back into the states I did it for the extra money. Next thing I knew, it was more for fun than it was for money.”

Bailey lived in the Cartersville area all his life and sees his umpiring as a way to do his part in the community.

“I like the hometown feel. A lot of these kids, I've watched since they were 18 years old, and now I see them growing up with their kids and they still call me Blue,” he said. “My family and I have been around all my life. My wife gets mad when we come into Wal-Mart. She does the shopping and I do the talking.”

After all, Bailey is a people-person.

“My favorite part of umpiring is the people you meet,” Bailey said. “I was blessed to meet people from all over the state and the camaraderie with some of the umpires I’ve met is great. That’s what I’m going to miss the most.”