(Story by Marco Stoovelaar; Photos by Henk Seppen & Michael Ulloa Díaz)
A dream come true for Dutch WBC-umpire Winfried Berkvens
ZAPOPAN, Jalisco (México) -
Participating in a World Basebal Classic not only is a highlight in the career of a player, it also is a highlight in the career of an umpire.
An umpire of course always is neutral when on the field, but an umpire also represents his country.
An invitation to be part of the WBC underscores the recognition of the umpiring qualities of both the umpire himself, as well as the country or region he comes from.
In the four Pools that together form the First Round of his years Classic, a total 24 umpires have officiated the 25 games played (which includes the tie-breaker in Pool D).
When adding the first three games played in the Second Round in Pool E, 27 umpires have seen action.
There was a 6-man crew at each location of the First Round, including three Major League-umpires.
Like the Major League-players, they also left Spring Training to be active during the Classic.
Let's name these umpires.
The Major League-umpires (all Americans) were Ted Barrett, Brian Knight, D.J. Reyburn (in Seoul, South Korea, Pool A), Cory Blaser, Todd Tichenor, Larry Vanover (in Tokyo, Japan, Pool B), Tripp Gibson III, Dan Iassogna, Mark Wegner (in Miami, Florida, USA, Pool C), Dan Bellino, Doug Eddings and Quinn Wolcott (in Zapopan, Jalisco, México, Pool D).
The three umpires that officiated in Tokyo in Pool B stayed there for Pool E in the Second Round and were joined by three new international umpires.
The international umpires so far in the tournament are František Přibyl (Czech Republic), Brett Robson (Australia), Chikawa Tsugawa (Japan) in Seoul (Pool A), Su-won Choi (South Korea), Fabrizio Fabrizi (Italy), Chien-Wen Su (Chinese Taipei) in Tokyo (Pool B), Edgar Estivision (Panama), Edwin Hernandez (Puerto Rico), Jesus Miller (México) in Miami (Pool C), Winfried Berkvens (Netherlands), Santos Castillo (Dominican Republic) and Michael Ulloa Díaz (Spain) in Jalisco (Pool D).
...Dan Bellino (HP, USA), Santos Castillo (2B, Dominican Republic),...|
...Doug Eddings (1B, USA) and Winfried Berkvens (3B, Netherlands)...
...formed the crew for the opening game in Pool D...
(© Photo: Michael Ulloa Díaz)
The three new international umpires that joined their Major League-colleagues in Tokyo in Pool E were Trevor Grieve (Canada), Felix Tejada (Dominican Republic) and Jens Waider (Germany).
During the first edition of the Classic in 2006, there were no full-time Major League-umpires in the tournament.
Amongst the assigned Minor League-umpires, there were some who had officiated at the big league-level as a fill-in and later joined the MLB Corps themselves full-time.
Four of the current umpires are participating in their third Classic: Ted Barrett (2009, 2013), Edgar Estivision (2009, 2013), Brian Knight (2006, 213) and Mark Wegner (2009, 2013).
Knight is one of the two current umpires who also participated in the first edition.
The other is Edwin Hernandez, who was an alternate in 2006.
For the first time, Europe is represented by five umpires in the main tournament: Winfried Berkvens (Netherlands), Fabrizio Fabrizi (Italy), František Přibyl (Czech Republic), Michael Ulloa Díaz (Spain) and Jens Waider (Germany).
Ulloa became the first European umpire to participate in his second WBC, as he also officiated during the event four years ago.
During the first Classic in 2006, there were two European umpires, being Pierfranco Leone (Italy) and Fred van Groningen Schinkel (Netherlands).
Amongst the five alternate umpires was another European, Edwin van den Berk (Netherlands).
There were no European umpires in 2009, then Michael Ulloa Díaz from Spain was the lone one four years ago.
In all games so far, one of the professional umpires was behind the plate.
That includes all 12 Major League-umpires, plus the umpires from the Dominican Republic (Castillo), Japan (Tsugawa), Puerto Rico (Hernandez) and South Korea (Choi).
...Umpires Winfried Berkvens (WBC 2017) and...|
...Fred van Groningen Schinkel (WBC 2006)...
(© Photo: Henk Seppen)
As the European countries don't have professional competitions, the five European umpires have officiated mostly at third base during the games played so far.
Berkvens and Přibyl were the 3rd base umpire three times and once at first base, Fabrizi was assigned twice to 1st base and also twice to third base, while Ulloa worked twice at third and once each at first and second base.
Ulloa also was assigned for the tie-breaker between Italy and Venezuela as the 3B umpire.
Waider has just began the Second Round in Tokyo and was at third base in two games.
Winfried Berkvens is the second umpire from the Netherlands (and first in 11 years) to officiate during a World Baseball Classic.
His first assignment was at third base in the match-up between Italy and México, which was the opening game of Pool D in Estadio Charros de Jalisco in the Mexican city of Zapopan near Guadalajara.
In that game, Major Leaguer Dan Bellino was behind the plate and Major Leaguer Doug Eddings was at first base.
Dominican Santos Castillo completed the crew and was at second base.
Eddings is the Crew Chief of the 6-man crew in México.
About an hour before each game, there is a Manager's Meeting during which important issues are discussed plus the ground-rules of the playing site.
For instance, in the Mexican Pool, there was a specific rule.
When a batted ball hit the top of the outfield-padding (which is some 20 cm wide) and remains on top of it, the ball stayed in play, except of course when it is a homerun.
Mostly, when a ball has cleared the front of the padding, it is out of play.
,,The noise the spectators made a few times to cheer the team was really deafening, I thought I was in a dome'', Berkvens looked back to his first game.
...Umpire Winfried Berkvens...|
...,,This is a dream come true''...
(© Photo: Henk Seppen)
For Berkvens, this is an unique experience.
,,Of course, this is a dream come true.
I think I have had this dream now some four, five years'', Berkvens says.
,,But I never really expected that it would become a reality.
Before that, there were always smaller dreams.''
Before he left for México, Berkvens knew that it was for only one round.
Berkvens: ,,Yes, we knew from the beginning that it was for only one round, all rounds already have been assigned.
We also knew that we didn't need to bring our home plate equipment.
But of course, that's not a problem, as I'm part of it.''
In all crews, there are three Major League-umpires, which gives the international umpires the opportunity to share experiences.
Berkvens: ,,Yes, talking baseball with the MLB-people, getting feedback, etc.
Of course, you're looking whether they do things other than we do.
But, we all do the same.
We also have someone from the States, who takes care of us in our locker room.
There is a lot of MLB-personnel working here.''
The two umpires who don't have an assignment for a game, have no official function during that game.
There are other tournaments where one of the off-duty umpires act as a back-up umpire to fill-in in case of injuries.
The Major League-umpires who are not assigned for the Second Round will return to Major League Spring Training.
The WBC-games are part of their preparations for the upcoming Major League-season.
For participating players outside the Major League, it is something special to be at the same site as some of the most wellknown Major League-players.
And there are several Major League-veterans participating this year representing their country.
So, someone might wonder if this also is the case for umpires.
Berkvens: ,,Of course, I know some of the names, but not all.
Due to my work, I just don't have time enough to watch MLB-games.
The player with whom I had the most contact during all games was Francisco Lindor.
Even in the game when I was on first base, he greeted me when he reached first base as a runner.''
Lindor is the short stop of Puerto Rico and Berkvens officiated that team three times, twice at third base, once at first base.
Lindor made his Major League-debut in 2015 with the Cleveland Indians, with whom he played in the World Series last year.
,,This is a great experience'', Berkvens said.
,,I'm proud to have been part of it''.
Winfried Berkvens one of 5 European Umps invited for WBC. (November 25, 2016)