The ump rules!

Umpires enforce the rules, police officers enforce the law, and Jason Bergin of Port Washington does both
Ozaukee Press staff

Jason Bergin sees baseball games differently than most.

The longtime umpire zones in on a specific area when he works behind the plate.

“I call it an imaginary box,” he said.

Anytime a pitch hits that box, Bergin calls it a strike. He reminds fans that pitches are called according to where they cross a batter’s path and not where they land in the catcher’s glove.

At a recent Milwaukee Brewers game, Bergin said he watched the four-man umpire crew for two innings — where they stood, where they moved, how they conducted themselves.

Bergin grew up in Sheboygan and played baseball until eighth grade when he focused on other sports. But his love for America’s pastime never faded. Umpiring lets him stay involved.

“I still have a passion for baseball, and it’s a way to give back,” Bergin said.

Bergin got into umpiring in Sheboygan, doing fifth-grade through high school junior varsity games. He moved to Port Washington in 2001 when he joined the city’s Police Department and had to take a six-year break because of his schedule.

He got back into umpiring more than a decade ago and has done it ever since, as time allows. Six years ago, he added a role in helping the city’s youth umpire program and passing along his passion for the sport and umpiring.

Despite the regular abuse umpires take — Bergin said that’s a factor in youth umpires quitting — he relaxes and has fun while umpiring a game.

“When I get out there, everything stops,” he said.

Working behind the plate, he said, is easier than on the bases, where your mind can wander.

“You have the best seat in the house,” Bergin said of working the plate.

The downside is that the abuse isn’t only verbal. Umpiring a game behind the plate is like doing 200 squats.

“You’ve got to be in shape to have that commitment to be umpiring. You never take a pitch off,” Bergin said.

He has been hit by his fair share of pitches and foul balls, including a couple that went straight off the bat into his mask.

“It jars you a little bit,” he said.

He gets bumps and bruises when the ball hits him in places his protective equipment — which Bergin has to buy himself — doesn’t cover.

“It teaches you to be in the correct position every time,” he said.

Bergin doesn’t engage with players unless they talk to him, but he does make friends with catchers.

“You give them a little time to recover (if they get hit by the ball) and they give it to you,” he said.

Bergin umpires fast-pitch softball and baseball, and notes the difference in how pitches spin. Softballs tend to rise, while baseballs tend to fall.

Softball moves quicker than baseball as well, requiring some fast moves to get the best angle on a play.

He mostly handles youth games but did his first varsity baseball game a couple of weeks ago. He thought it would be more difficult, but it was actually easier. The skill level is much higher and the players and coaches know the rules better.

In youth games, weird things tend to happen, he said, such as catcher interference and the ball hitting the bat twice. And many don’t understand the concept of an infield fly.

“You get fans that are great, but some think they know the rules and don’t,” he said.

“Sometimes they forget at the younger levels it’s a youth game. They’re there to learn the game.”

He provided some advice to youth coaches.

“You don’t have to shout from the dugout. What examples are you setting?” he said.

“My biggest thing is, call time, or if it’s in between innings, come out and have a discussion. Just be polite. We’re going to be polite back.”

The toughest calls to make, he said, are the bang-bang plays at first base, any play at home plate or a dive in the outfield and pitches on the outside corner.

At the end of a game, Bergin said he appreciates when someone says, “Good job, blue,” and sometimes likes it when he hears nothing, which he equates to a success.

Bergin is also a youth coach for his three children ages 13, 11 and 9. He teaches his teams to move on to the next pitch after a close call. He makes it a point not to give umpires a hard time.

“Fans cheer. Umps ump. Players play. Coaches coach. We all make mistakes,” he said.

It helps to hustle to get in the correct position and to be confident in calls. If an umpire shows uneasiness on a call, that opens the door for criticism, he said.

Bergin’s full-time job helps him handle difficult situations on the field. While police officers enforce the law, umpires enforce the rules.

Learning de-escalation tactics and how to communicate with people applies to both jobs, as well as qualities such as integrity, respect and relationship building.

Bergin has built some relationships with Port High students as he is the liaison officer for the school. He has bumped into some of them while umpiring, which makes his second job all the smoother.

“When you know somebody and develop a relationship, I feel there’s going to be no tension there,” he said. “It sets that respect line.”

Bergin’s goal, once he retires from the police department, is to become a college umpire. He has already attended clinics and reads the thick rule books of the different leagues of baseball and softball.

Regardless of level, Bergin’s role on the baseball field is a vital one.

“The big thing I know is you can’t play the game unless you have somebody fair and impartial,” he said. “It’s kind of like life.”



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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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Port Washington, WI 53074
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