Making the calls: Baxter enjoys umpiring
T.R. Miller assistant baseball coach Chris Baxter has held a unique position as he has helped call the shots on the field and from the dugout. Although he has served as a coach, Baxter has also worked as a baseball umpire for more than 30 years.
“I have been umpiring in some form or another since I was 13 so I have been doing it for 30 years,” Baxter said. “I started at t-ball and then worked my up to coach pitch and machine pitch and then I was able to drive at 16, I did 9/10 and 11/12-year-old games.”
While going to college at Auburn University, Baxter did basketball and softball intramurals and flag football to get through school. The spring of his freshman year, he started umpiring high school baseball.
“I had a buddy of mine from Prattville, Skip Poe, and we went to school at Auburn together and worked for the same association and travelled a lot together to work the games,”’ Baxter said.
Baxter said he first thought of being an umpire after visiting his brother while he was in school at Auburn University.
“I remember my brother was at Auburn and he was umpiring intramural softball,” Baxter said. “We had gone up for the weekend to visit and I just said I would like to do that one day. Playing baseball and just watching him umpire, it encouraged me to do it.”
While umpiring in Montgomery before moving to Brewton, Baxter had the opportunity to umpire some games for the Minor League Baseball AA Montgomery Biscuits.
“In 2006, Greg Rouch from Montgomery Biscuits called and the minor league umpires were on strike,” Baxter said. “The unique thing about any sport is the game has to be played with officials. Someone has to be out there to keep it on a fair playing ground.
“The Biscuits were about to have opening day and they had no umpires. He called and asked our association if we had some officials that would like to call some minor league baseball games. I jumped at the opportunity. It was a great spring.”
Baxter said he umpired 25 games that spring and got to meet several big league players.
“It was a unique experience because I got to meet a lot of folks,” he said. “I met former Braves player Jeff Blauser. He was the Mississippi Braves minor league baseball coach. I still have his autograph. Prince Fielder was with the Huntsville Stars. Javy Lopez was doing a rehab start for the Braves.
“There were several other big leaguers that came through, but it was just a neat experience. Charlie Montoyo who is the hitting coach for the Rays now was the AA manager for the Biscuits then. It was just really neat.”
It was the first of many “neat” experiences, Baxter said, telling how he umpired two state semifinal baseball games for T.R. Miller.
“I think it was 1999 and 2000 in back-to-back semifinals games, I umpired a TRM game for coach Jim Hart against St. Paul’s,” Baxter said. “I know in 1999, St. Paul’s had Jake Peavy.
“That was my first time meeting coach Hart as we were down there in Mobile. The next year they met again in Mobile and I had both series. It is kind of a unique deal how things work out and I end back here coaching with him.”
Baxter came to Brewton in the fall of 2007 and was still umpiring high school ball up until he started helping Hart with TRM’s baseball team as an assistant coach.
“I actually registered that first year of coaching, but I haven’t registered since,” he said. “It has been three years since I called a high school baseball game. I do the youth sports around here. It is my way to give back and spend time with the younger kids.
“I am back there umpiring and I talk to the kids and try to encourage them. I tell them a few things to help them out, especially catchers. I don’t want to influence the game, but I try to help them out back there.”
Now that he is a coach Baxter said he now sees the game from both sides.
“The biggest thing now that I am a coach, I know where the umpires have been,” he said. “To be an umpire, you have to have good judgment and knowledge of the rules. The coach part of is it that knowing the rules is just something I bring to the table. As an umpire, I pretty much understand the game from what they see and where they are supposed to be.”
Baxter said through umpiring he has come to know other umpires really well.
“I just like the game of baseball,” he said. “I like being out there and having the comradery with other umpires and the players. I like talking with them.
“There is a lot of communication that goes on with umpires, both good and bad. The good is really good. You get to meet a lot of people. I have travelled a lot of places. I met Joey Weaver through umpiring before I moved to Brewton. I have called with Rodney Arrant in state championships. Both of them are from Brewton. I have been to several camps and met a lot of folks.”
But with the umpiring, there comes the negative sides making one team happy and another team unhappy.
“Baseball and softball especially are the sports where every pitch you have to make a call,” he said. “It is good on one side and bad on the other. The fans are right there on top of you and one pitch is good for one side and bad for the other. It is just a unique deal. I almost went 20-plus years before I threw a person out of a game. A lot of times people say they don’t know how we do it, but most of the time I don’t hear any of it. Every once and a while I will hear it. You just learn to tune it out.”
Baxter said even though he has spent a lot of time as an umpire, his family has been supportive and may have rubbed off on his oldest son.
“My son Tyler is now umpiring some youth games,” Baxter said. “My wife Angel and all three of my kids have been supportive of my umpiring. They sometimes would just come to the games to watch me umpire. It is just a gratification experience to give back to the community.
“Yes, we get paid, but I get to be around the kids and have a relationship with the kids and coaches, it is just a gratifying experience.”