Everyone knows that it’s three strikes and you’re out, right?
That message didn’t reach someone who should know better: umpire Chris Rutz.
For seven years Rutz, of Oceanside, has swung and missed when trying to reach the Little League World Series. Since qualifying for the prestigious event in 2010, Rutz would patiently wait each summer to get the word if he had made the cut for Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
Finally the call went this popular arbitrator’s way and he’ll be working the international event that runs through Aug. 27.
“I’m extremely humbled,” said Rutz, who is celebrating his 20th season of calling balls and strikes. “There are so many umpires from the West, not only just California and Southern California, which deserve to go. There are literally hundreds of umpires that are wishing they were in my shoes.’’
But if the mask fits, wear it and Rutz does just that as well as anyone.
Rutz has done so since he signed his daughter, Desirae, up for T-Ball two decades ago. He wanted to help and who needs more assistance that those poor souls calling games, while being called some unsavory things.
He’s called a savior to many in District 70, an area that includes the seven Little Leagues in Oceanside, Vista, Fallbrook and Bonsall. When Rutz, the district’s umpire in chief, takes the field wearing blue the coaches know things will go smoothly.
“It’s like having a Little League game with a big league umpire,” Daryl Wasano said.
It was Wasano’s Oceanside American LL All-Star team that advanced to Williamsport in 2001. So Wasano knows what it takes to stand above the rest.
What’s neat about Rutz is that when he settles behind the plate, he brings calm to everyone else. He’s not there to draw attention to himself. Instead he ensures the real stars on the field — the youngsters — are treated fairly and with respect.
“He’s always there for the kids,” Wasano said.
Rutz hears the praise and allows it to pass, like a keen batter laying off an outside offering. What he doesn’t let slide is an adult taking out their frustration on a tyke in an oversized uniform.
“I can deal with managers and coaches when they tell me I might have missed a call,” Rutz said. “But when I see adults, whether they are on the field or in the stands, going after the kid, well that gets under my skin.
“If a parent is going off on a kid because he missed a fly ball and he is walking off the field crying, well there is no need for that.”
Rutz, 44, isn’t shy about telling an overzealous grown-up just that. Little League is about smiles and snow cones and good guys like Rutz showing the way. Youngsters need role models, not critics, and Rutz is the former, not the latter.
This proud ex-Navy man, whose son, Tyler, plays in the Oceanside Valley LL, grasps that the final score matters little on all those warm Saturday afternoons.
“Little League is not a baseball program, it’s a leadership development program that uses the tools of baseball to teach our children,” he said. “These are our future leaders of America, and society, and they have to learn the skills on how to win gracefully when they lose, not being a sore loser.”
So Rutz, like thousands of other volunteers, pitches in by determining if the pitch was in the strike zone. But he has similar impact when sharing an encouraging word or giving a scuffling participant a pat on the back.
“There is a way to talk to the players as a coach,” Rutz said. “And it’s by praising the kids and using positive feedback.”
There are few negative vibes when Rutz graces a diamond and the North County is the better for it. Now we share our gem with the Little League universe, where Rutz will umpire 16 games over 11 days.
“I’m going to see some of the best Little League baseball in the world,” Rutz said.
Those games will stay on track thanks to the best Little League umpires in the world.
One of them is Rutz, and as he proved after seven strikes, he still wasn’t out.
Contact Jay Paris
at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jparis_sports.
Sportswriter Jay Paris has written his “Sports Talk” column since joining the Coast News in 2013.
Paris, a Cardiff resident, is a longtime Southern California writer, getting his start with the Orange County Register before coming to San Diego in 1992 to cover the Chargers.
He had the Chargers beat for more than two decades with Oceanside Blade-Citizen, the North County Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune, before being named a sports columnist with the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Paris has won numerous awards voted on by his peers in the Pro Football Writers of America. He has also been a staple on countless media platforms, everything from the KPBS to MLB Network and various radio outlets.
Paris is also the author of three books, with his latest one being, “Shohei Ohtani: The Amazing Story Of Baseball’s Two-Way Japanese Superstar.” He has also written “Game Of My Life Chargers” and “Game Of My Life Rams.”
He currently covers the NFL in Los Angeles for Forbes. com and is a contributor to USA Today Sports Weekly.