Andrew Klinger: a story that jumps out at the umpires shortage and the show of young talents

Top of the 1st inning ended. Andrew Klinger, the chief umpire, walked to the back of the home plate to grab his container of water that was tied up to the fence. He greeted the guy who was managing the Perfect Game play-by-play system, but numerous eyes were on the umpire that hot Sunday in Fairfax, Virginia. Everybody knows that in baseball the sight is most of the time directed to the players, and occasionally to the umpires when they are gonna make an important decision about a play. 

But this time was different. Andrew Klinger Umpire

“How old are you?,” asked a man seated behind the home plate area. “17?,” immediately questioned. Not only him, but others around were waiting for the answer. The umpire saw the man for a couple of seconds while he was drinking water and then he smiled to say “I don’t have to tell you that”. The man laughed nervously, I would say, because nobody was expecting that response. The blue left the zone without a word, but now the curiosity had increased. Who was that guy umpiring this game as a chief, looking physically like a young man, but reflecting an older age?

Andrew Klinger Umpire

“I think he is like 18,” said the play-by-play guy to the curious man. However, the truth was another: he was just a 16 years old umpire, high school student that is a Cross Country, Indoor Track, and Outdoor Track runner, who was demonstrating at the diamond that his age is just a number, although he got used to being questioned about that. Andrew Klinger Umpire

“I’m a little sensitive around that question,” said Klinger to Con Las Bases Llenas when was asked about his feelings on it. “I definitely gotta look out for myself and protect myself […] I don’t want that getting into the dugout being used as a way to get on me or argue things, and that kind of thing, like age, should not be a part of that kind of discussion.”

“I think a lot of people have to move away from ‘Hey, look at the age’ and think more about the skill set and the training and the experience,” he said. “I have more experience than a lot of older umpires and that people have got to stop measuring it that way. I think a lot of people trust me when I get on the field because sure I do look young, but they wouldn’t put a young guy on the field if they’re unable to handle it.” Andrew Klinger Umpire

Andrew Klinger Umpire

Klinger, who has lived in Arlington, Virginia his whole life, started his umpire career in the fall of 2019, motivated by his love for this sport and desire to make some money. At the beginning of 2022, Rob Porter, the Mid-Atlantic Collegiate (MAC) Assistant Commissioner, gave him his card, saying: “You need to start working better baseball. You are really good and you have the chance to make a run at this”. Porter had seen Klinger before while he was coaching his son in an Arlington Little League (ALL) game, but what caught his attention was that Klinger just kept getting better.

“Little League is like an entry level, just starting out, anybody can do it. And he was by far the best umpire out there. He was better than the guy that even trained him and ran the whole little league,” Porter said. “His mechanics on the field were really good. He is very crisp, precise, and very athletic. He was good at seeing the pitches and knowing what a ball [and strike] was. He was very good with rules, he knew the rules better than anyone. He was good with talking to coaches and controlling the game.”Andrew Klinger Umpire

“I thought he was much older,” the specialist of new umpires development added. “I had never seen a 15 year old be that good. And I’ve seen some friends and helped some current major league umpires and knew them when they were 15 and they were not as good as he was when they were 15.”

Andrew Klinger Umpire

Steve Sundbeck, who has been a mentor for Klinger and who currently is focused on recruiting, training, scheduling, and evaluating the umpires of ALL, had something good to say as well. “From the start, Andrew took a particular interest in the umpire craft. He was eager to learn, receive instructions, improve his own game, and move up the ranks to higher baseball,” he said.

“I’ve also seen him begin to mentor younger umpires himself, and he is happy to provide tips and instruction himself when it is wanted,” he added. “Andrew’s progress is at the point where I am learning as much from him as he is from me. His experience with other umpire associations is giving us points to discuss where the training differs—and why that might be, and which is appropriate to the particular level we’re working.” Andrew Klinger Umpire

First solo encounter 

Klinger, who turned 17 this Monday, still remembers his first umpiring game, when something that he will always remember happened. It was an ALL encounter and the players were much younger than him. No other umpire was available that day, and he ended up being completely alone in that 10 and 11 year olds game. He for sure knew that he failed many times. However, there is one key moment that really “stuck” him: he missed an interference of one runner and after the game one of the coaches emailed his boss.

“It was definitely an interesting first encounter and we live and we learn, and that’s part of it. But that experience, I definitely know, made me a better umpire,” Klinger said. Andrew Klinger Umpire

“We [umpires] definitely mess up,” he admitted. “We’re human. But I think it kind of turns into how you address it, right? How you handle it. We still have to stay in play afterwards and officiate the rest of the game. And, you know, I think in baseball there’s a lot of that kind of flush it mentality. And we got to do that […] A lot of times these things compound and if you’re not able to emotionally and mentally flush it, you got to think things are going to go wrong.”

Andrew Klinger Umpire

He was a thin redhead, with light skin and red freckles on a large part of his body. He was not a heartless umpire —like his response to that man in Fairfax would have reflected on him—, but his seriousness, precision in the decisions and a lot of confidence in himself made noise to the spectators who were surprised by seeing their children’s plays being “judged” by someone of their same age. Klinger was also as polite as he could, full of “Thank you”s and “Please”s. Just as he has been kind with others, others have been kind to him as well. 

Andrew Klinger Umpire

“I am very lucky to have a lot of positive reactions to people seeing me on the field,” he said. “Every so often a coach will find me after the game and thank me for my work. I really appreciate people like this who embrace what this game is about. It’s very refreshing to hear that my presence and skill set is valued in the officiating market. Nothing beats these interactions in severe umpire shortage!”

He has always been around nice people, in fact. Growing up, he had 8 au pairs who took care of him and his brother. Six were from Germany, one from Australia and another one from Dane. He admitted he knows “all the German swear words”, but not much else, and of course learned about their cultures and traditions to the point of incorporating some of it into the holidays with the family. Actually, Klinger, who is learning Spanish in high school, shared that he wants to spend a semester abroad because, yes, he wants to grow in a professional career, but unfortunately not a long time career as an umpire.

“I definitely would like to be involved in some kind of business related thing. I know that I want to study in college like business administration, and I’m so thankful for what umpiring has taught me about business,” he explained. 

Andrew Klinger Umpire

Both of his parents work in business and their work life balance and lifestyles is what he pursues nowadays. However, the umpire’s lifestyle does not seem to stop for him yet: his long term goal is umpiring a NCAA Division I game and to get that, he knows he has to keep progressing and competing while he is using a gray and blue uniform on a baseball field, where he had always been as a not-so-talented player. 

Klinger is not the only young person trying to grow in the umpire job in the United States. Lathan Williams, well-known as Lathan The Kid Umpire, is a 8 years old umpire who has gained a lot of popularity on social media looking to be the World’s Youngest Baseball Umpires in the Guinness World Records. The story of Quinn Wolcott also jumps out here: Wolcott, after being the youngest umpire hired by Minor League Baseball (MiLB) in 2006 when he was just 19, became the youngest umpire in a Major League roster in 2014. Additionally, a long time ago, in 1906, Williams Evans became the youngest umpire in MLB being 22 years old.

In ALL, Sundbeck shared, there were 350 games assigned to young umpires of the league in the spring of 2023. They did not just work with a partner, but also as a solo. “Our umpires generally get positive feedback and I’ve received many compliments on the quality of work we provide. As we do pay our youth umpires, it also serves as a wonderful first job experience for the teens, where they can learn and grow in responsibility and commitment,” Sundbeck said.

“I’m a big proponent of the little league and I think it gives kids a chance to to really start on understanding responsibilities and it gives them a different way to engage in the game and I actually think it would help people that play the game to see it from an officiating standpoint,” said Klinger.  

However, how can a little league sustain itself without umpires? How can a little league correctly work without someone who officiates the games? The nationwide umpires shortage is an unknown issue for most of society. According to different media reports, umpiring a little league game has been a nightmare since the pay is not generally high; some parents has had a “unruly” behavior against the umpires in an attempt to defend their children; some coaches have complaints with the umpires; and umpires generate the most money from high level leagues/tournaments.

That’s the moment when leagues have to resort to young umpires that are still growing and learning about the game of baseball. This can be a great chance as well for little leagues and travel ball leagues/tournaments to create job opportunities for foreigners wanting to start an umpiring career in USA.

Photo: provided by Andrew Klinger.

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Dayana Villalobos Dimare Editora y reportera
Comunicadora Social-Periodista y Especialista en Gerencia de la Comunicación Organizacional con más de tres años cubriendo béisbol. Fue beat writer de los Angels de Los Ángeles entre 2020 y 2021. Actual staff writer, editora y coordinadora de reclutamiento de Con Las Bases Llenas.