West on target as umpiring career builds
18 August 2015
While the Australian baseball community is progressively becoming more attuned to the trials and tribulations faced by our young men playing abroad – especially in United States – there is another group of persons equally challenged as they pursue a career in the maelstrom of professional baseball.
Queenslander Tom West is one of a small, albeit increasing number of Australians seeking to establish careers as professional umpires in the home of baseball while retaining a close connection with the sport back here.
Already an established Australian Baseball League umpire and an astute young man who seems destined to make a go of whatever he aspires to in life, Tom West is currently slugging it out successfully in the United States Minor Leagues.
Now in his second season as an official in the Short Season A Northwest League - a modest second step towards Major League League Baseball - Tom West is very much one of the smaller fish in a very large pond. Not as much in the limelight as some players, sure, but clearly travelling a similar journey.
Just a fortnight ago, Tom West was appointed as first-base umpire for the All-Star Game between the Northwest League of Professional Baseball – encompassing Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Vancouver - and the Pioneer Baseball League.
The appointment was a clear recognition of the progress that the young man has already made in his career.
“This season has been my best so far – at any level of officiating,” Tom West told Australian Baseball Alumni this week. “It was a real buzz to be selected for the All-Star Game, which I believe was broadcast to nine million people on national television over here.”
The appointment did not come by chance, nor was it in deference simply to Tom having a distinguishable Aussie accent or being a guest in another country. It was determined solely on merit.
“We are continuously evaluated by MiLB umpire supervisors throughout the season,” West said. “Assessments are based on more than twenty different areas – including positioning, timing, situation management through to overall professionalism.”
“Every single play in baseball has a playbook-style procedure for us to memorise and follow.”
“A hitter doesn't just wake up one day and go out to hit .300. It is a result of making small adjustments, applying feedback, mentally preparing and repetition,” he said. “This is very much the same in umpiring, with getting the call right one of the results of a lot of hard work that the casual fan doesn't notice,” he said.
So how does it come about that a young person will take on one of the less glamorous aspects of baseball – compared with smacking home runs or tossing a no-hitter - yet pursue it with such passion and commitment?
As for so many others to whom we speak, there was an initial family engagement with the sport.
“My entire family has always had a love affair with baseball,” Tom West said. “My mum Sally scores - and volunteers - as well as having been an administrator.”
“Both my sisters play in the Queensland women's team and I still get to play with them in the off-season along with my dad – David - who still spends countless hours coaching juniors at my local club Redcliffe Padres.”
“I played T-Ball and baseball from when I was about five, but the umpiring started for me when I was 12,” he said. “My parents – who were heavily involved in volunteering themselves - encouraged me to take an umpiring accreditation course. I enjoyed the self-gratification of volunteer umpiring – even many years before becoming intrigued by the hidden complexities and intricacies in baseball that make the art of umpiring so interesting.”
Mentored by some vastly experienced officials locally – as well as at National Championships and at the MLB Academy – Tom West starting umpiring Brisbane A Grade at 16 and he was properly rewarded for the promise and the dedication that he had displayed from the start.
“The Queensland Umpires Association paid for me to attend a five-week umpire academy in Florida, where I was fortunate to graduate in the top ten per cent of the class.”
“That eventually led to me being hired by MiLB.”
Still just 23 years of age, Tom West is already widely known and respected in the Australian baseball community, having worked in a range of marketing, communications and development roles with Baseball Queensland, Brisbane Bandits and the Australian Sports Commission.
He has been a media correspondent with the highly successful Perth Heat and is one of the shining younger lights on the national umpiring panel as the Australian Baseball League prepares to enter its sixth season.
“While I am very much enjoying what I am doing in the U.S., the pinnacle for me at the moment is umpiring in the Australian Baseball League,” he said. “It is in front of my friends, my family and it is a high quality of baseball.”
“I do hope that the ABL invests in the development of umpires at the elite level in the future. The league has come ahead in leaps and bounds over the past five years - on several fronts - and hopefully it will see the benefit in expanding and strengthening its umpiring base.”
Clearly enthused about the future of Australian baseball, Tom West is optimistic about where the sport may lead – both for him personally and for the umpiring profession.
“I love writing - and especially discussing umpiring and all things baseball,” he said.
“I'll take this career as far as I can, hopefully following in the footsteps of Jon Byrne. But regardless of where my own career ends up, I want to be involved as much as I can in the development of umpires back home, repaying the investment people put in me.”
Australian Baseball Alumni thanks Tom West for his assistance in the preparation of this story. We wish Tom all the very best for his future in the sport and we look forward to catching up with him at an Aussie ballpark during the upcoming Australian Baseball League season.