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In Tribute: Jeff Parker, an Umpire in a League of His Own

Dec 31, 2018 06:00AM ● By Kenneth Hamwey
ED. NOTE:  When Ken Hamwey interviewed Jeff Parker for this column, he told us that he had cancer but preferred we not mention it in the article. Ken followed up with him just before the Bulletin went to press and Jeff was optimistic about a new treatment that he was undergoing. Unfortunately, the treatment did not produce the results Parker was hoping for; sadly, he passed on Saturday, Dec. 28, at the age of 57. In a sense, this column has now become a tribute in appreciation of this particular aspect of his life. Our deepest condolences go out to his family and friends.

written by KEN HAMWEY, Bulletin Sports Editor

For Jeff Parker, umpiring isn’t a job; it’s a way of life.

The 57-year-old Bellingham resident is well-known around the Tri Valley League, not only for the adept way he calls a game, but also for his detailed approach to assigning umpires for all 12 teams in the circuit.

Parker assumed the role as the TVL’s assigner in 2008, and his disciplined and professional style is respected from Norton to Norwood and from Dedham to Dover. A perfectionist, Parker directs a staff of 70 umps who know what’s needed to be successful in the culture he’s created.

“As the umpire-in-chief, I demand professionalism, preparation and knowledge of the rules,” Parker said. “The staff must understand that every game they umpire is important to someone. Professionalism means being on time and being well dressed. Preparation speaks for itself and so does the rule book.”

Twenty years ago, in 1999, Parker started to umpire games in the Bellingham Youth Baseball Association and later became the group’s coordinator. After taking a course, he became a certified umpire and that led to officiating high school games in 2001. When the assigner position opened in the TVL in 2008, he was hired and has been scheduling crews for games for the last 11 years.

“Dennis Baker, the former athletic director at Bellingham High, informed me that the position was vacant,” Parker recalled. “I applied and was hired to assign umpires for all the schools in the league. That meant assigning umps at the varsity, jayvee, freshman and middle-school levels, and it also involves handling any complaints that A.D.s or coaches might have.”

Parker, who’s lived in Bellingham for 27 years, deals with fallout in a common-sense way—he listens to all those involved. “I’ll listen to the coach, his athletic director, and the umpire, then assess the situation,” Parker said. “I’ll follow through with a decision and most likely I’ll support my staff; but I’m also objective, especially if action needs to be addressed. If a situation occurs where rules need to be interpreted, I’ll get involved.”

Parker, however, wants parents of players and all local baseball fans to realize that the vast majority of his TVL umpiring staff are conscientious perfectionists. “They relive the games they call daily and they try to improve their skills,” he noted.

Parker said his staff is well aware that “they can be scapegoats when things don’t go well for a particular team.” And Parker and his crews know when they’re at their best. “That’s when a game ends and fans walk away with no complaints and no backlash,” he said. “That means we’ve done our job well.”

During his 27-year career, Parker has had a plethora of assignments—in 2006, he umpired 138 games in a four-month stretch. Some of his most memorable games involve tourney contests.
“Umpiring no-hitters is always exciting,” he noted; “but two assignments I was delighted to get were the Division 4 State final between Cohasset and Georgetown at Fraser Field in Lynn in 2011 and the Division 4 State semifinal between Abington and Mashpee at Rockland Stadium in Rockland in 2015. Mashpee and Cohasset won those games.”

Parker, who’s been officiating high school football games for 17 years, still assigns umps for Bellingham’s youth program, and he’s also the assigner for Medway’s youth league, the Central Mass. Senior Babe Ruth League and the Metro-West Over-28 League.

“What fans should know is that I don’t just run a two-man team onto the field,” Parker said. “Umpires have to have instruction, on-field training, re-certification and rule-book savvy. My job requires putting the best umps possible in key games.”

What can be a bit frustrating for Parker is the weather—inclement weather that produces rain, lightning, and even snow. “When an A.D. calls to tell me his game is off, I have to reschedule it,” Parker said. “At times, it can be stressful and overwhelming because of the volume of changes.”

A native of Milford, Parker played football and baseball for the Scarlet Hawks. A guard in football, he was a reserve lineman. He played the outfield in baseball his junior year and was used primarily as a pinch-hitter. “I was an average athlete,” he said. “My claim to fame was trying to block Howie Long in practice. He went on to a Hall of Fame career in the NFL and now is a TV analyst.”

Graduating in 1979, Parker enrolled at North Adams State, where he majored in English and communications. “I had my own radio show and wrote for the college newspaper,” he recalled. “After graduation in 1983, I worked as a substitute teacher at Blackstone-Millville Regional. Later, in 1984, I took the civil service test and became a corrections officer. I worked in that role for 23 years, mostly at MCI-Norfolk and briefly at MCI-Cedar Junction.”

After retiring in 2007, Parker worked security details in high schools that included Ashland, Milford, Hopedale and Marlboro. Now fully retired, he stays busy with his umpiring duties. Married for 33 years, Parker and his wife, Debra, have three children.

“Umpiring is my passion,” he emphasized. “I can’t imagine not being involved with it.”
Officials in the towns and the leagues where Parker labors diligently no doubt are glad that he remains passionate about what many would consider a thankless job.

Jeff Parker is a major asset for baseball locally because of his devotion, desire and dedication to make the game the best it can be.






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