Local umpires ready for all-star assignment

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 6, 2002

Mario Jones, left, and Fulton Carson will umpire Saturday’s MHSAA All-Star Games in Jackson. It will be the first all-star game for the two umpires from Vicksburg, who have worked together for four years.(The Vicskbrug Post/C. TODD SHERMAN)

[06/06/02]While Mario Jones is busy making calls Saturday night, he’ll be hoping his wife isn’t.

Jones, a Vicksburg resident, will be the first-base umpire for Saturday’s MHSAA Class 1A-2A-3A all-star game at 6 p.m. at Smith-Wills Stadium in Jackson. The thrill of umpiring his first all-star game could easily be overshadowed, however, if the cell phone in his pocket starts to ring his wife, Joan, is expecting their first son any day now.

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“I’ll try to concentrate. I’m usually pretty good once the game starts, but I’ve never been in this predicament,” Jones said with a laugh. “I hope nobody calls me playing a joke on me.”

Jones’ crewmate for much of the year, Vicksburg resident Fulton Carson, was also selected as an all-star umpire. Carson will call balls and strikes in the Class 4A-5A game at 1 p.m. The duo, who have umpired together for four years, were originally scheduled to call the same game but Jones’ child caused them to reshuffle their plans.

“That’s the reason we’re not working together. I said I better wait, just in case she goes into labor in the middle of the day,” Jones said.

Jones’ reason for switching games is a good one, but he’ll miss the chance to share in one of the brightest highlights of he and Carson’s young umpiring careers. They were selected for the all-star games based on evaluations from coaches and their peers and, much like the players, the game is a chance for the umps to show their stuff.

“This is the top of the top, the cream of the crop. You’re going to have colleges there, professional scouts and the best players,” Carson said. “This is one of the moments you look for. But I wouldn’t have been here if I didn’t have the guys who laid the groundwork.

“(It’s) guys like George Smith. It’s their hard work that has gotten us to this point. They’re the teachers and we’re the students … We know they’ll be there, still watching us, still critiquing us.”

Jones, in his fourth season as an umpire, and Carson, in his fifth, have learned well and risen quickly through the umpiring ranks. Both men umpire SWAC games, and are certified to umpire other college games in Mississippi.

Part of the same umpiring crew for the last four years, they both said the all-star game is one of the biggest honors.

“All-star officiating helps to enhance opportunities for going to other conferences,” said Carson, who is also a football line judge for the American Southwest Conference, the league that NCAA Division III Mississippi College plays in. “It’s not only opportunities for us to see the players, but for us to be seen.”

Don’t think that it was easy for Jones and Carson to reach this point. Their success and skill is the result of countless hours of preparation, study, and even making practice calls in front of a mirror. They try to arrive at games 45 minutes before the first pitch and sometimes spend that long afterward in the parking lot critiquing their effort.

“After the ballgame is done, we’ll have our own little conference and harshly critique what we did,” Carson said, adding that a bad call sticks with an umpire long after the game is over. “It’ll eat you up at night and you’ll go through the entire game situation on your drive home from the ballpark.”

It’s not uncommon for them to spend half a day driving to a game on either end of the state, knowing that half the fans at whatever distant diamond they’re heading for won’t like them. They receive a small fee for working the game, but if they do their job well the biggest reward is a pat on the back.

“If you’re in it for the money, you won’t go anywhere,” Carson said.

For Jones, his reward is even smaller. He said he’s happy if the fans don’t give him an early shower.

“You know you’ve done a good job when you can get dressed in the parking lot without anybody throwing popcorn or peanuts or their cokes at you,” he said with a laugh. “That’s when you know you called a pretty good game.