Trail-blazing umpire a believer in "giving back"
19 April 2018
Recently appointed to her fourth Women’s World Cup as an umpiring official, Fiona Lambrick may have entered the calling somewhat later in life than others, but she remains at the forefront in the promotion of female engagement at all levels of Australian baseball.
A 54 year-old mother – and grandmother of three boys – Lambrick has spent a large portion of her life engaged in sport and she continues to reap the personal rewards for the dedication and sacrifice that she has applied to her professional umpiring development in an area dominated by men, both in Australia and overseas.
The first female to umpire an official Australian Baseball League game, Lambrick is committed to assist aspiring officials – men and women – to embark upon this most noble and integral of baseball services.
Originally from Melbourne, Fiona Lambrick has been living in Perth for the past seven years, working as Information Technology Manager for the City of Vincent while she balances her day job with some significant baseball commitments.
Lambrick was engaged in swimming for twenty-five years and initially became involved in baseball because her son Ben had taken up playing. Starting out as a scorer, she was shortly after that co-opted into baseball administration – holding an executive role with Bacchus Marsh Baseball Club for six years before going on to be President of Geelong Baseball Association for another five years.
“I went to my first baseball game with my son at Belmont Common and I was asked to score,” Fiona Lambrick told Australian Baseball Alumni in a discussion this week. “I did that for a while and I thought it was boring – although necessary, I understood that. But I have always been one to help out, so I did it for a season or so and looked at getting better at it.”
“But being on the sidelines was just not me, and so I tried umpiring,” she said. “I did a pre-season training course with BUAV, and have really not looked back from there.” She recalls telling Mark Gooding (then Victorian Umpiring Coordinator) that if she was no good at it, then she would not continue – because, in her words, “I hate to suck at things.”
Starting as an umpire at around forty years of age, Lambrick sensed that the reception among her predominantly male counterparts was positive – especially among the instructors.
“Players will always try and push the boundaries and test the new person, especially a female,” she said. “I don’t think it was really any different from anyone else. Although I must admit - and other female umpires have agreed with me on this - we feel like we have to do 150% better than the guys to be taken seriously.”
While she has never been one to readily eject players or managers unless they have really crossed the line, Lambrick admits to having tossed her own son from a game – on his twenty-first birthday, if you don’t mind!
Fiona Lambrick is lavish in her praise of the support offered to her in the early days of her umpiring career – and ever since. Of her mentors she makes special mention of Victorian umpiring officials Mark Gooding, Stewart Howe, David Milton and Greg Howard.
“And of course the late Ian McKenzie,” she said.
“At national level, Brett Robson and Geoff Robertson – even in his retirement – have provided great support to me over the years.”
Although the organisation was accused of being involved in some unsavoury behaviour a few years back, the Jim Evans Umpiring Academy helped produce more than its share of professional umpires. Like a number of our own prominent umpires, Fiona Lambrick derived plenty from her time at the Academy.
“It was a fantastic experience, not just from a umpiring and baseball aspect, but also the chance to spend that time with others who had similar goals,” she said. “I remember wishing at the time, if only I was fifteen years or so younger, I could have been that female who broke through.”
“It is so good now to see a couple of female umpires in the minor leagues.”
“The Jim Evans Academy was definitely a turning point for me. Living and breathing baseball from an umpire’s perspective for a month. Analysing the rule book, exams on a daily basis and hours on the field and in cages. I definitely came back from there a much better umpire,” Lambrick said, “and still to this day I refer back to learnings from the course.”
Lambrick made a meteoric rise in Victorian baseball, umpiring winter and summer club ball, at Winter Championships and at Women’s Nationals – of which she has now officiated ten. She was the first female to umpire at an official Australian Baseball League game (in the 2016/17 season) and is now preparing for her fourth Women’s World Cup, after a first appearance in Edmonton Canada back in 2012.
“Geoff Robertson spoke to me about the World Cup at the Nationals in Canberra that year,” Lambrick said. “I was definitely keen to go, although it is up to the national body to nominate people after considering their baseball resume. While my nomination came through Geoff and Brett Robson, it still had to be accepted by the World Baseball Softball Confederation.”
“That was the process that had to be followed.”
The Women’s World Cup is at the pinnacle of international baseball. Fiona Lambrick is one of those fortunate participants well-placed to speak about what their involvement meant to them personally.
“Going to a World Cup is just a fantastic experience both on and off the field,” she said. “Not just to work with umpires from all over the world - and learn about umpiring within their countries - but also to see the differences in how such an international tournament is run. Once you’re out there on the diamond you go into auto-pilot mode and the training just kicks in. Even though you don’t necessarily speak the same language off the field, it is the same on the field.”
“The Asian countries certainly know how to throw money at these events.”
“I will never forget - in Japan - my first game was Japan playing Taipei,” Lambrick recalled. “I was on the plate for this night game, but it was also televised live. This was reality - that I was on the world stage, and it was also easily the biggest crowd I had seen at a Women’s World Cup.”
“Not only was I nervous from an umpiring perspective, but I also had to remember to watch for the cues to be able to commence every innings.”
To umpire at elite level for such an extended period of time naturally requires a person to be physically fit and mentally alert – a reality that Lambrick has accepted for all of her adult life.
“I have always been a reasonably fit person and have been involved in sport most of my life,” she said. “These days I am a bit of a gym junkie - CrossFit actually – which not only allows me to keep fit, but also compete and satisfy that competitive side of me. I also enjoy playing softball - not baseball, unfortunately, only because of timing of games during the season.”
“I actually have a goal of doing my first half marathon in the next twelve months.”
Having personally achieved at elite level as a baseball umpire in both women’s and men’s competitions, Lambrick has some direct suggestions for any person aspiring to build a part-time or professional career as an official in the sport.
“Just give it a go,” she said. “Especially players or ex-players. You will be surprised how much you learn and you will see the game from a different perspective. Who knows, it might even help your game. It is not a short road to get to a higher level, so you will have to be patient. You will pick up little things every game, if someone gives you advice. Work on it until it is natural. Build that muscle memory.”
“I would totally encourage any females to give umpiring a go,” she continued. “Start with juniors if you need to build the confidence, especially with respect to how you will be treated by the males. Do the nights of reading the rule book and manuals, and who knows where it will lead.”
“I wish there were more out there that I could mentor, and help have the opportunities I have had.”
During her time as a baseball volunteer, administrator and umpire now engaged at the highest elite levels, Fiona Lambrick has been in a position to note any perceived changes in attitude towards the involvement of women as players, umpires or other officials in the sport.
“Yes, there has definitely been some evolution – if that is the word - especially from a playing perspective,” she said. “I think this has been helped here in Australia by a handful of people doing some great work. But in other locations around the world, Japan has always been a leader and other Asian countries are also doing some great work. In the USA most of their players were softballers, now they have an actual national championship and a number of female tournaments.”
“While overall there has been a huge shift in the acceptance of females in the sport, I think there is a long way to go, especially with regards to officials. It may look on the surface like acceptance, but to a certain extent this is more so in relation just to women’s games. I feel at times that the powers that be are blowing their trumpet about inclusion, but it is maybe to look like they are doing the right thing rather than something that is felt from the heart and delivered in a genuine manner.”
With the Women’s World Cup scheduled in Florida in late August, Fiona Lambrick plans on keeping in touch with the demands of her calling through umpiring games wherever she can in the interim.
“There is not much happening for Western Australian baseball during this time of the year, apart from a junior programme about to start,” she said. “However, I have been invited to attend the Japan/Australia tournament in Bendigo with the Emeralds in June.”
“I will definitely be ready to go for the World Cup in Florida,” she said. “Really looking forward to the experience, and maybe to include recreation time getting to some MLB or MiLB games when I can.”
“I am expecting another fantastic experience in Florida, no doubt about that, though there is plenty more to come back home that I am excited about. Certainly keen about a regular gig in the ABL, finding time to do a few more Under 16 and Under 18 Nationals, but also being able to assist with the next group of umpires – especially females.”
“I am definitely a believer in giving back,” she said.
Australian Baseball Alumni extends its appreciation to Fiona Lambrick for her assistance in the preparation of this story. We wish her all the very best up to and including the 2018 Women’s World Cup and we recommend her story as an inspiration to other persons interested in taking on baseball umpiring as a profession.