Texas umpire puts knee surgery on hold to volunteer at Junior League World Series

Youth baseball umpire Roger Woolf needs knee surgery.

Five years ago, he woke up, his knees were swollen and he couldn’t move. A doctor told him to stay off the knees and rest. Eventually, he went to the hospital for an MRI and learned the meniscus was torn in the front and back of his right knee.

Woolf, a 59-year-old native of Uvalde, Texas, continued umpiring. Earlier this year – his 31st as an umpire – doctors pressured him to get his right knee replaced as soon as possible.

But Woolf had other ideas.

“I’ve got bad knees,” Woolf said. “The doctor wants to replace my right knee. I said, ‘Not this year, Doc. Your job is to get me through August.’”

Woolf – bad knees and all – wanted to reach the pinnacle for people who umpire youth baseball games. He wanted to call balls and strikes in a World Series in August and this year he got his chance in the Junior League World Series at Taylor’s Heritage Park.

He reached his goal, umpiring two games a day – including the 14-inning and 10-inning games between Chinese Taipei and Venezuela – never complaining about the pain he was feeling.

Woolf’s story and efforts did not go unnoticed. On the last day of the World Series, he was honored with the Chuck McAllister Umpire Award. The award is named for McAllister, the first director of umpires at the Junior League World Series who served in that capacity until his sudden death in the winter of 1999.

In his memory, each year one member of the umpire crew who best exemplifies the qualities and characteristics of McAllister is selected. Current Director of Umpires George Glick called Woolf “the true epitome of the Little League umpire.”

Woolf started umpiring before sons Jason and Brian were too young to play Little League baseball. He figured that when they started playing, he would give up umpiring, sit in the bleachers and watch his kids play.

“That didn’t happen,” said Woolf, a lifelong electrician who works for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

Instead he kept umpiring, even calling balls and strikes in his sons’ games.

When his umpire career began, Woolf recalled, “I had nobody to teach me anything. I just went out there and started. I went out and learned the hard way. I didn’t have rule books or indicators or anything. I just went out there and did it.”

Woolf became so well respected that he served 10 years as umpire-in-chief in the Uvalde Little League and then the first district umpire consultant in District 21 – at the time, the largest district in Texas. For eight years, he was both umpire-in-chief and equipment manager in his local league.

Umpires must qualify to work a World Series. One of the requirements is to work a regional tournament. Woolf has umpired regional tournaments in Little League, Senior League and twice in Junior League – all in Texas.

The World Series umpires work the games for free and pay their own travel expenses. The World Series organizers pay for their hotels and feed them. Otherwise, they’re all volunteers.

To demonstrate Woolf’s commitment to umpiring, Glick told a story about Woolf accepting a last-minute assignment in Eagle Pass about an hour away from his home. It was at a time before cell phones and when Woolf arrived at his destination, he learned his services weren’t required there, but were needed back in Uvalde, which is about 80 miles west of San Antonio.

He drove straight to the second tournament only to discover he had the wrong umpiring shirt. The tournament was held up until Woolf’s wife Julie brought the correct shirt to the field.

Woolf said he continued umpiring “for the kids.” He said he enjoys it when a player or former recognizes him at a local store and says ‘Hey, Mr. Woolf, are you still umping?’”

“That’s what keeps me coming back,” he said.

Julie and their son Brian accompanied Woolf to Taylor and were present when he received the McAllister Award.

“It’s a good life, baseball is, with good people,” Julie said. It shows that you work at anything – umpiring or anything – your dreams can come true.”

But Woolf said the honor could have gone to any member of this year’s 15-umpire crew.

“This group of guys we work with – Carl (Pelletier), Larry (Friedman), all of them – they’re all just great guys,” Woolf said. “Any of them are just as good or probably better than me. Any of them are just as deserving.”

Friedman said Woolf is a worthy award recipient.

“Roger is very, very quiet, but he speaks when he’s got something to say,” said the native of Coral Springs, Florida. “He’s always positive – always encouraging – and has an incredibly upbeat attitude. His heart is the shape of a Little League diamond.”

-- Dave Gorgon

Roger Woolf receives the Chuck McAllister Memorial Umpire Award from Umpire-in-Chief
George Glick and Shirley McAllister, Chuck's widow.