The Bronx Umpires Alliance dinner is held annually for umpires in the Bronx area of New York. They mainly cover outdoor sports such as baseball, softball, and football. It’s a time for umpires to rejoice, discuss the previous season, and what’s ahead for the upcoming season.
Their discussions at the dinner consisted of several common themes, including the state of coaching in youth baseball, the scarcity of baseball players in New York, and the way the game is played today. Guest of honor, Fortunato Salvietti explained that most children in New York are more into lacrosse and soccer.
“They have to get the kids more interested in the game of baseball,” said Salvietti. “The competition [in New York] was a lot higher than it is now. When you go down south, that’s where all the real competition is.”
Salvietti has umpired for 27 years. Over that span, he has umpired in over 50 different leagues. He grew up as a player in leagues officiated by the BUA and now he’s umpiring with some of the same officiators.
“The transition was easy. If you love baseball, you can be a good umpire,” said Salvietti. “The hard part is learning all the rules. Every rule has an exception. You have to be a lawyer to understand the rulebook in baseball.” In making that transition, Salvietti was able to see the all the changes in youth baseball and where it currently stands in New York.
Gus Maniotis, a current umpire who played in American Legion during the early 1970s, has also seen changes in New York’s youth baseball community. Similar to Salvietti’s viewpoint, he also feels that there’s less interest in youth baseball.
“There’s a lot of talent out there so it’s not that the talent is thin, it’s the interest of the youth,” said Maniotis. “Baseball is one of the hardest sports to go pro. Kids would rather take up football or basketball, sports where it’s much easier to go pro.”
Maniotis noted that although today’s athletes are in great physical shape compared to other generations, parents and coaches still need to do more to draw more interest to baseball. Another point that he raised is it that he thinks there’s too many leagues in New York, making it harder for kids to stand out to scouts for professional baseball.
“It’s keeping kids off the streets but at the same time, it thins out the talent,” said Maniotis.
Maniotis played A-ball in 1978 and through that experience, he met several individuals in the baseball community who helped him to hone his skills as an umpire.
“Being an umpire, I take that as doing a serious job,” said Maniotis. “We stick to the guidelines of umpiring where it keeps us out of trouble from the parents and coaches and keeps us focused on the game itself.”
Joe Holzberg, six year umpire in the BUA has officiated in over 10 different leagues during his time with this organization. He mostly appreciates the diversity of the BUA and how they get to umpire kids from all over New York, particularly the five boroughs.
Holzberg’s concern with baseball in New York is that the pace of the game has slowed down. He attributes this to the lack of quality from the coaches and ballplayers.
“They’re not coached properly,” said Holzberg. “Every kid wants to throw 95 MPH instead of realizing the importance of throwing strikes. You have to teach the kids the basic fundamentals.”
Athleticism in the game has greatly increased but with that, players have sacrificed their fundamental skills. Based on what the umpires have said, that’s what has hurt the game the most. However, this has not stopped the umpires in the BUA from doing the job they love.
The umpires are scheduled to begin preparations for next season in a less than a month. With the New Year underway, we can hope that coaches have made their resolutions to improve on promoting the fundamentals of the game.