Hometown umpire gets his shot at calling balls and strikes in the World Series
Some people might call Ken Owens an umpire's umpire.
Once upon a time, the Taylor resident was coaching a Little League team and became frustrated became umpires calling balls and strikes didn’t seem to understand all the facets of the game.
“I never argued with an umpire or a manager, but lots of the umpires didn’t know the rules,” Owens said. “For the most part, they’re there to keep the program moving, to call balls and strikes, but they don’t know the difference between interference and obstruction.”
Owens decided he could help.
“If you want kids to learn the game of baseball better, you have to teach them,” he said. “So I started teaching. I thought that if I taught the umpires and they taught the coaches and managers, they’ll coach the kids better.”
That was more than 23 years ago. This year, Owens was rewarded for his expertise and experience by receiving an appointment to work the Junior League Baseball World Series – right in his hometown of Taylor.
Owens, 54, was one of 15 umpires selected to work the weeklong international tournament for the world’s best teams of 13- and 14-year-old baseball players.
Over the 23 series games and consolation games, Owens umpired behind the plate, at all the bases and along the outfield lines. And he loved it.
“It’s great,” he said. “It gives me confidence to know I’m doing something right.”
Owens, who is the Michigan Little League District 5 umpire consultant, represented the USA Central Region at the series.
Sharon Mayer, administrator of Michigan Little League District 5, recommended Owens for the assignment. Regional Director Mike Legg supported him as well.
“One of the things that makes Kenny outstanding in the umpire crew is that he brings a Midwest culture to the crew,” said World Series Director of Umpires George Glick. “By a Midwest culture, I mean he probably isn’t as rigid with discipline and mechanics, so therefore he’s a little more lenient of the cultures that players may bring from other parts of the country.”
Prior to the World Series assignment, Owens was a guest umpire at the Junior regional in 2001 and was assigned to three other regional crews: the Junior regional in 2004, the Big League regional in 2005 and the Little League regional in 2007.
“He knows what my expectations are,” Glick said. “He has also worked on this field before so he has a feel for how the ball plays on the field.”
Two of his Pepsi co-workers, Tim Foucher of Southgate and Vince Pizzo of Taylor, were among those on hand to see their pal call balls and strikes.
"Kenny will do whatever it takes for the kids," Foucher said. "I've known Kenny 22 years and he's always been affiliated with Little League and anything to do with kids. It's nice to see one of the good guys get a shot."
Umpires are all volunteers for the Junior League World Series. Owens said he never asks for pay when he umps, saying "I have a good job; I get my bills paid."
Owens started playing baseball when he was a child. He was a catcher at Robichaud High School in Dearborn Heights.
A long-time softball player, Owens played in the Reserves at Selfridge Air Force Base and for the team at Pepsi Cola, where he has worked for 36 years. He ran a Pepsi team for 12 years. His softball career came to an end when he blew out his knee and had surgery.
In the meantime, Owens and wife Donna had two sons, Jason and Brian. When Brian was 9 or 10, he played at the Taylor Northwest Little League fields at Papp Park. And Owens started coaching. His last year as a coach was 1997 when his team went to the Junior state tournament.
Owens became a member of the Taylor Northwest board of directors in 1988 and served as a vice president until 2006. In 1998, he was named umpire in chief for Taylor Northwest. The next year, he was named District 5 umpire in chief.
“The umpires in District 5 are really doing good, so we as a district must be doing something right,” Owens said. “We’re teaching the rules and the mechanics. They’re not making the same mistakes and everyone is getting a good, fair, even game. It’s getting better. It’s never going to be 100 percent, but they’re going in the right direction.”
Ken Owens of Taylor behind the mask as the home plate
umpire in the Junior League Baseball World Series at
Ken Owens with the Hill of Flags in the background.
Ken Owens works a game in the USA Pool.
Ken Owens (second from left) stands with the six-man umpire crew prior to the United States championship
game between Texas and California.
Ken Owens umpires in the world championship game between Chinese Taipei and Texas.