Miller leaving high school umpiring ranks

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 2, 2002

Andrew Embry of Porters Chapel waits for a pickoff throw from Ryan Hoben as Simpson Academy’s Shannon Steed slides into the base safely. The ball got away from Embry, allowing Steed to advance to third and eventually score. Below, longtime local umpire Charlie Miller looks over the field. It was Miller’s last game as a high school umpire.(The Vicksburg Post/JON GIFFIN)

[07/02/02]Like most good umpires, Chuck Miller was barely noticed during Monday’s doubleheader between Porters Chapel and Simpson Academy. Other than a handful of close calls, a brief delay as a thunderstorm blew over Pierce Field and a shout to his crewmate asking “Did he go?” as a batter tried to check his swing, it was hard to tell Miller was even there.

As the sun set following game one and he walked off the field, however, he was already being missed.

Miller, who has called all-star games, state championship games and even a softball national championship game during his three-decade-plus career as an umpire, decided to retire from the high school game at the end of the summer. Monday was likely his last game at that level.

“I have really enjoyed having Charlie Miller umpire through the years in games I’ve played and coached in. I felt like he does an outstanding job of controlling the game and making it fun,” said PCA coach Randy Wright, whose team lost the first game of the doubleheader 2-0.

PCA pitcher Ryan Hoben struck out 11 batters in a complete game, but the Eagles managed only two hits off Simpson pitchers Derek Thompson and Zane Croxton and hit into inning-ending double plays in three of the last four innings. Cullan Kight had two hits, including an RBI double in the seventh, for Simpson. Chip Lofton and Humphrey Barlow had PCA’s only hits, both singles.

PCA improved greatly on its regular-season meeting with Simpson, in which the Eagles were beaten 18-1.

“They beat us 18-1 in the regular season. We’ve got to be coming around some,” Hoben said.

Wright said he wasn’t aware it was Miller’s last game until after it started, but was honored to be a part of it.

“He called games when I played in high school and he coached games when I was in peewee football,” Wright said. “He genuinely enjoys being out there. He knows when it’s time to be serious and when it’s time to be loose.”

Wright was just one of hundreds of Warren County players who got the chance to experience Miller’s unique brand of officiating. Miller said he enjoys keeping the atmosphere of the game light, and often jokes with players during games or rain delays.

During the lightning delay in Monday’s game, Miller wandered over to the PCA dugout and told a joke in German. At another rain delay during last week’s game between PCA and the Vicksburg Thunder, he sought refuge in the Thunder dugout and told the players an old joke that had them in stitches.

“You have different types of umpires. Some feel like they have to be really authoritative, but the spirit of the game is fun,” Miller said. “I feel like I can go out there and call a good game and enjoy myself, and have (players) enjoy themselves too.”

He also tries to be a teacher. He’ll usually warn pitchers of hitches in their motion that could result in a balk, and is quick to clear up any controversial calls on the basepaths. Among other umpires, his experience is also helpful and respected.

“He’s a great teacher,” said Wayne Scott, Miller’s crewmate for Monday’s games. “That’s what it’s all about, when you’ve got those older umpires that are willing to teach you.”

Miller, a 56-year-old St. Louis, Mo., native, served in the army and moved to Vicksburg to work at the U.S. Army Engineering Research and Development Center Waterways in 1969.

When one of his friends asked him to serve as a volunteer umpire in a local youth league, he jumped at the chance. Several years later, as he was bitten by the umpiring bug, he was certified as a high school umpire and has called games on both the high school and youth levels ever since.

His trademark call is a call to his crewmate or their call to him on a check swing. The plate umpire will yell loudly, “Did he go?” The field umpire will then answer just as loudly, “Yes, he went!” or “No, he didn’t go!” Wright said Miller’s consistency behind the plate was his true trademark, however.

“I like him behind the plate. He establishes a strike zone and he sticks with it. He’s very consistent,” Wright said.

Miller umpired games for the Mississippi High School Activities Association until 1996, when he moved over to the Mississippi Private Schools Association. He has also umpired softball, and called the championship game of a national tournament in 1981. Miller said the highlight of his umpiring career was calling the MPSA Academy-AAAA championship series in 2000, followed by the MPSA all-star game two weeks later.

As he got older, however, Miller started to realize he was losing a step. The fire and passion for the job was still there, but his reflexes were going. The doubleheaders weren’t as easy to handle and it was becoming more and more difficult to move around.

He went into semi-retirement this spring, working only occasional games to help train younger umpires, and decided to step away from high school games at the end of the summer.

“I found myself not being able to give the effort to the kids as much as I wanted to. I get tired and don’t have the speed and agility like I used to,” Miller said. “If I can’t give them everything, I don’t want to do it.”

Although he may not be spry enough for high school games anymore, Miller won’t be retiring from umpiring completely. He intends to continue to work youth baseball games, and is the district supervisor for Babe Ruth umpires. He said working with young people players and umpires helps keep him feeling young.

“Little kids just give you life. You go out there and call a game, and you never know what they’re going to say. They’ll ask about the birds or play in the dirt,” Miller said with a laugh.

“Those young kids, they need umpires down there, and I feel like I can help the young umpires and take some of the heat off them when the coaches out there get to be too much.”