OCEANSIDE, Calif. -- The fog was just lifting at Oceanside High School on Saturday morning when 18 members of the United States Marine Corps showed up to use their highly trained discipline to learn a new skill -- baseball umpiring, from some of the game's most experienced umpires.
"This is our fifth Marine Corps camp," said MLB director of umpire development Rich Rieker, who supervises over all the various umpire camps baseball puts on throughout the year. "We take active and retired marines and teach them how to umpire. This is totally free. We have trained over 550 marines and members of the U.S. Military over the past four years, and we've had 15 of them come to our one-week umpire camp, free of charge, and two marines have made it to our umpire school."
"Some of the intangibles that marines have are the same as Major League umpires and I thought it was a great match," said Marine Chief Warrant Officer 3 Christopher Mayfield, who, this year, took over as the coordinator of the camp from the military side. "You have to be dedicated and decisive in making decisions. You have to have a command presence, be dependable and able to operate out on your own, and marines tend to do that."
The staff for the camp consisted of individuals with more than 200 combined years of umpiring experience. Instructors include Rieker; former MLB umpires and current MLB umpiring department representatives Bruce Froemming, Chuck Meriwether, Ed Montague, Ed Rapuano and Larry Young; MLB director of umpire medical services Mark Letendre; MLB umpire supervisor and Triple-A coordinator Cris Jones; MLB umpire observers Matt Malone and Joe Burleson; and NCAA supervisor Dick Runchey.
"What they go through, this must be a piece of cake because of the discipline they have in their work," said Froemming of the students he had on Saturday. "Not only in their work, but what they had to do to stay alive when they are in combat and to come back here and learn umpiring, this really must be a piece of cake."
"They're in a lot better shape than I ever was," said Rapuano, who retired after 23 seasons as a Major League umpire last year. "These guys want to learn, they're here at their own accord, no one is making them come here. That's the beauty of this camp -- the campers love the game of baseball like I do and the instructors do, and this is a lot of fun. I'm really enjoying this."
The 2013 camps are the latest in a series of free camps, many of which have been tailored to our nation's military, with previous events held in Brooklyn, N.Y., San Diego, Houston and Cary, N.C. The last free one-day camps for the U.S. Marine Corps were in 2011 at PETCO Park and Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.
The Major League Baseball Umpire Camps train both aspiring umpires at all levels and baseball fans alike. Launched in 2006, the MLB Umpire Camps feature on-field training and classroom instruction, as well as lessons on rules enforcement and interpretation, game management, conditioning, nutrition, safety and equipment needs.
On this day, America's military veterans got a chance to learn a little more about the game from some of baseball's most knowledgeable veterans.
Ben Platt is a national correspondent for MLB.com.