LUMBERTON — Roger Chavis and Terry Jones have both worked numerous tournaments throughout their careers as umpires, but the Dixie Youth AA World Series held at the Ray Pennington Athletic Complex last week stood out above the rest.
The two Robeson County natives suited for the first half of a two-week event that continues to bring more than 1,000 visitors to the county.
Both said they took pride in being able to take part in one of the biggest sporting events to ever take place in the area.
“This is the fourth World Series I’ve called, but this one means more to me,” said Jones, a 47-year-old native of Fairmont who has been an umpire for roughly 15 years. “It means more to me because it’s local to my hometown, and friends and family get to see me. It just means more than the rest of them.”
Chavis, 61, has been umpiring for 42 years, including 25 years with Dixie Youth. A native of Lumberton, Chavis said the World Series was a “good opportunity” to help his hometown host a major event.
Chavis said he has developed relationships with many Robeson County residents that helped him develop as an umpire. One of those connections was with Leon Maynor, the longest-serving member of the Lumberton City Council who also served as a booking agent for middle school sports before he died in July after an apparent heart attack.
Having those local connections has helped both umpires progress through careers that have been fueled by a love for baseball as well as a passion for working with children.
“Once I got into it, I loved the game,” Jones said. “I love being around kids. That’s the most important thing. If you don’t love the game, you can’t call the game.”
“I’ve seen some really good plays,” Chavis said of his experience with Dixie Youth. “They finish plays and they hit the ball really good.”
That passion helped Chavis, Jones and the 14 other umpires working the AA World Series earn the opportunity to work the tournament. Lumberton Youth Baseball Association Treasurer Bruce Mullis said organizers are always highly selective when choosing umpires for the World Series.
“They’ve earned their way up to this level,” Mullis said. “They’ve been regarded as very good umpires.”
Mullis said experience with Dixie Youth Baseball as well as other work history is taken into account when choosing umpires. Many of the umpires in the AA World Series had officiated the event multiple times in the past, while others, such as Chavis, were in it for the first time.
The umpired did have one thing in common.
“They’re all characters,” Mullis said.
Chavis, who is nicknamed “Hop Sing” after a character in the television show “Bonanza,” is known for interacting with batters and catchers when he works behind the plate. Sometimes that means giving words of encouragement to a player, and other times it means coaching a batter between pitches.
When it comes to dealing with fans who don’t agree with his calls, Chavis has one philosophy.
“If they leave it up to the kids, it will be a much better game,” Chavis said.
The Dixie Youth World Series concluded its AA tournament, which included Coach Pitch and Machine Pitch brackets, on Tuesday. Louisiana won the Coach Pitch championship and Florida took home the Machine Pitch title.
The second half of the World Series, which officially begins with an opening ceremony on Friday at Lumberton High School at 7:30 p.m., will feature tournaments in the AAA, Majors and “O”Zone divisions. More than 40 umpires will be on hand for the remainder of the World Series.
When the festivities end on Aug. 9, 60 team will have participated in the World Series.
Reach Brandon Tester at 910-816-1989 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @BrandonTester.