It all started simple, without any Hollywood storyline. No bright lights, either.
But this innocent Genesis has been transformed into something special for several area softball umpires who will all be working at the National Softball Association's World Series this week.
Munster's Mike DellaRocco was at his daughter's townball game and the ump didn't show. They asked for a volunteer. He accepted.
“They handed me a mask and an indicator,” said DellaRocco, who is in his 14th year as a NSA umpire. “They just told me to go at it.”
Crown Point's James Haluska has been a man in blue for 31 years and will be working his 21st NSA World Series this coming weekend in Peoria. His start was also without any bells and whistles.
His nieces were playing in Griffith, so he umped and coached.
“I did it because they needed some help,” Haluska said. “And I just fell in love with the game.”
Portage's D.J. Hayworth had a much-earlier start. He started calling balls and strikes when he was 13 at the Junior Miss league. For a youngster, the $8 a game seemed like a lot of money.
Hobart's Mitch King started making $15 a game many innings ago. He is in his 27th year as an NSA umpire.
“I rode my bike to all the games every night,” Hayworth said. “I would've made more money riding to Hobart where Mitch was, but that's too long a bike ride for a kid.”
Lowell's Jason Shupryt was 12 when he started umping. His mom came home from the Dyer league and told the lad they needed umpires.
“I was a kid and I thought I could use the money,” Shupryt said. “But I fell in love with the game.”
This week all five area umpires, though, have one goal as they leave for a NSA World Series. And it has nothing to do with the money.
They all want to get to Friday, the day the championship games are played if there are no rain delays.
King said he has worked around 11,000 games in his career. With travel softball tournaments every weekend in the summer, all five said they work about 250 games a season, which includes fall, winter, spring and summer games.
They all started doing T-Ball, but have moved on to do high school and college softball.
The love of watching the girls grow and develop as players makes the dirt, extreme heat, thirst and mosquitoes bearable on most of their weekends.
The World Series is the highlight of the year. Hayworth will be working the World Series in Chattanooga, Tenn., while the others will be in Peoria.
“When you're out on the field in a competitive game you have the best seat in the house,” DellaRocco said. “The girls are much more competitive than the boys. The girls play hard and they never quit.”
Like in most youth sports, fan decorum is not always the best. All five umps admit they miss calls. The actions and voices of some parents and coaches can be demoralizing.
But it never gets in the way of a good umpire.
“It just rolls off my back,” DellaRocco said.
“We all work very hard to do the best job we can for the girls, the coaches and their parents,” Shupryt said. “I know every game I work means something to someone. So that is why we work so hard to get it right.”
King knows how good Northwest Indiana's softball resume has been. He was 11 when he started working townball games in Hobart when his sister was playing.
“All of us have seen all the big names when they were young,” King said. “That's been the best part for me. I've been able to see the best grow up. They go on and play in college and make a name for themselves.
“We get to see them when they're starting and that's great.”
Umpiring can be risky.
King, in the 16-and-under state at Crown Point last summer, was laid out by a catcher when the throw home was wild.
“I was face down with my face in the dirt,” King said. “I got Urlacher-ed.”
The umps make about $38 a game. But a few dollars each game go into an account that helps them when they have to travel to tournaments such as the World Series.
“When it's not fun anymore, I'll stop doing it,” Haluska said.
“Our goal is to get to Friday,” DellaRocco said. “How good of an umpire that you are is what lets you move to the finals. If you look at all the championship games (at the World Series) you'll see a lot of Indiana guys working.
“Our coordinator, Terry Wilburn, works us hard to be the best we can be. Whether it's cold in March or freezing in April, we treat every game like it's a World Series championship game."