Most umpires would rather not be attention-getters and would prefer to do their jobs without fanfare.
But there will be an exception for some of the men in blue at high school baseball games on Saturday, May 5. They would love some attention -- although not necessarily as a critique of a close 3-2 pitch or a bang-bang play at first base.
On that day, members of UMPS (Umpires Metropolitan Professional Services) will be sponsoring an "UMPS Strikes Out Cancer Day" at all of the Central Suburban League games at all levels and at some other games in the area. It's part of the "UMPS Strikes Out Cancer" nonprofit foundation formed by longtime officials Bob Ciulla and Jeff Siegel in response to longtime umpire and friend Dave Pluda, who died Friday afternoon after a nearly year-long battle with cancer.
"When Dave got sick, financially you get turned upside down, so we thought why not try to do something to help amateur umpires," said Ciulla, who has been an IHSA baseball and football official for 25 years, earlier this week. "If we can give you a few $1,000 here and a few $1,000 there, why not."
They had a fundraiser in mid-January to help Pluda and others and Ciulla was thrilled with the response from other officials, high school coaches and friends. The foundation was able to assist with funeral expenses for Tony Sansone, an umpire who was involved in Palatine youth baseball and died from Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis on March 7.
"We want to make this an ongoing thing for members of our association," Ciulla said.
The result is the May 5 benefit day to raise awareness and funds to help, as Ciulla said, not only Pluda but others who will need it in the future. Ciulla said all of the umpires who are working that day are donating their doubleheader game fees to the "UMPS Strikes Out Cancer" foundation and many of them will be wearing special shirts and hats designed specifically for that day.
Ciulla said all of the CSL schools have agreed to assist in raising money for the foundation -- from barbecues to passing the hat for donations. Silicone bracelets are being made and will be sold at all May 5 games.
Deerfield coach Kevin Marsh and Maine South coach Bill Milano have been big supporters of the foundation so Ciulla and Siegel will umpire their varsity game that day at 1:30 p.m. Unfortunately, the hopes of having their good friend Dave Pluda there will not happen.
Pluda was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer last July and had a portion of his colon removed. Infections in his feet required three surgeries, but as fellow umpire and Daily Herald correspondent Ross Forman chronicled in early January, Pluda has remained upbeat about recovering and making a return to umpiring.
Dave was truly one of the good guys around and he umpired because he loved high school baseball. He worked hard and didn't go looking for confrontations and had the ability to laugh off some of the standard suggestions directed toward umpires and officials.
So, if you do want to assist some umpires and officials, you can do so if you're at one of the May 5 games taking donations. You can also get additional information or donate through the umpsstrikesoutcancer.org website.
"This really transcends what we do out on the field," Ciulla said, "which is really insignificant."
Because this is one strike three these guys would really love to call.