WESTPORT, Conn. – Brian Kurtz’ baptism as an umpire came when he worked men’s recreational softball games in Brooklyn and Queens in the early 1990s. “It really hardened me,” said Kurtz, who started calling balls and strikes as a 16-year-old in the Spring Valley Little League in Rockland County in 1974. “If you made a call someone didn’t like, you really were in danger. It was heavy duty stuff.”
Kurtz sharpened his skills, however, and became a much better umpire. Next month, he’ll get one of little league’s marquee assignments when he heads to the Junior League East Regional. Kurtz is one of six umpires assigned to the tournament in Freehold, N.J. The junior league is for 13 and 14-year-old players.
Kurtz is the umpire-in-chief for the Westport Little League. He worked the Big League Eastern Regional and World Series for players ages 16 to 18 in 2007 and 2008. His goal is to earn an assignment for the Little League World Series for 12-year-old players in Williamsport, Pa.
“I am chasing it,’’ Kurtz said. “The problem is you wait so long and when you eventually get there you’re a little bit older and not quite as good an umpire. If I don’t get to Williamsport, I won’t be shattered. I think the experience would be incredible. I’m honored to be chosen for my second regional.”
Kurtz started calling games shortly after his own little league career ended. “I knew my career was over at 13 when as a catcher I couldn’t reach second base on the big field,” he said. He became the head umpire in Spring Valley at 17-years-old, quit for a few years in college and then tried his hand at adult softball. When his family moved to Westport and his son started playing baseball, Kurtz volunteered for the Westport Little League.
“We’re one of the few leagues in the area that doesn't use patch (official) umpires and still have adult volunteers with kid umpires,” Kurtz said. “Every year I do the clinics and I remind all of them that once again, Westport has not instituted instant replay. They have to be assertive when they make the calls.”
Kurtz, who also works as a varsity high school umpire and for 18-and-over leagues in the summer, does not receive any compensation for his time as a Westport Little League umpire.
“Little League is so entrenched in the concept of volunteerism,” he said. “Nobody is doing this for the money. It has been a fascinating experience.”