When Trailways Conference Commissioner Rich Fronheiser went out to get his mail Jan. 5, little did he know the postman had delivered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
It was from Little League Baseball, and the note inside the envelope informed him that he had been selected as an umpire for the Little League Baseball World Series that will take place from Aug. 15-25 in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
“I was surprised when the letter came in the mail,” Fronheiser said. “They send letters to the people they (select). I’ve applied for the last few years and you either get a letter or you don’t. This year it came and I was really surprised.”
Fronheiser, a Columbus resident, will be one of 16 umpires going to the 2019 tournament and one of two from the Central Region, which is made up of Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Ohio.
The other umpire selected from the Central Region is Kelly Dine from Hudson, Ohio. A dozen of the umpires are from the United States, with the other four hailing from around the world.
“I was pretty overwhelmed,” Fronheiser said. “It really is an honor because there’s so few spots for umpires to go.”
Fronheiser has been working Little League games for 20 out of the 30 years of his umpiring career and is also the umpiring chief for District 4 in Wisconsin, which means when there are Little League tournaments in Beaver Dam, Portage or Madison, he is the one in charge of scheduling umpires.
Little League Baseball also governs Little League Softball — formally, the organization is called Little League Baseball and Softball — and has seven flagship world series tournaments (four baseball and three softball) encompassing different age groups. According to the organization’s bylaws, an individual can only umpire one of those seven tournaments every four years and cannot umpire the same tournament twice.
“They’re all pretty much a once in a lifetime thing,” Fronheiser said. “There’s such a backlog of people that want to do this tournament. You go and you have a great experience and you can say you’re a World Series umpire for the rest of your life.”
In 2011, Fronheiser umpired the Senior World Series — for children ages 13-16 — in Maine, which meant he couldn’t apply for the tournament in Williamsport — the organization’s marquee event, for children ages 9-12 — until 2015. In the interim, he umpired a Little League regional in Indianapolis in 2012 and was evaluated by District Administrator Jeff Wolfe, who liked what he saw and recommended Fronheiser for the top tournament.
“I was one of 12 umpires at that regional,” Fronheiser said. “I worked the entire week of the tournament. I was fortunate to work one of the championship games on the plate (broadcast) on ESPN.”
Fronheiser applied for the Little League Baseball World Series every year since he was first eligible in 2015 and finally got the nod this year.
There are more than 90 umpires participating in this year’s seven world series tournaments, and Fronheiser is only the fifth umpire ever from the Madison district to head out to Williamsport.
The next step for Fronheiser will be an orientation in Williamsport in May, when Little League Baseball is paying for him and the 15 other umpires to fly there for a tour and meetings to get up to speed on what to expect in August.
“All the other tournaments are televised (too), but the one in Williamsport has a lot of scrutiny,” Fronheiser said of the need to be very well prepared. “They’re trying to get people more comfortable with the environment there. That whole tournament is on TV. Every pitch of every game is on national TV.”
The Little League Baseball World Series consists of 23 games, but “everybody that’s been there says it goes extremely fast,” Fronheiser said. “It seems like a really long tournament because it’s 11 days, but they say it goes incredibly fast once you’re there.
“You work your first game and before you know it, it’s over.”
Not before Fronheiser gets to rule from all vantage points on the field, though.
“We’ll all get to work a few games at each position,” he said. “With 16 umpires, most everybody will work one or two times a day because of the number of umpires and number of games they have.
“I’m looking forward to the experience.”