Colin Campbell calls a strike

Thirty years after graduating from Cibola High School, and still disappointed he wasn’t good enough in his Cougar days to make the varsity baseball team, Colin Campbell will have a marquee role in one of baseball’s biggest events: the Little League World Series, taking place Aug. 21-26.

For most people, a trip to Pennsylvania isn’t that big of a deal, but when you’re headed to South Williamsport in the Keystone State to be an umpire in the Little League World Series, that’s like swatting a home run. Only 15 other umpires, from several regions in the U.S., Canada, Colombia and Japan were selected.

Such is the case for Campbell, a District 8 umpire who once played in the Cibola Little League, played games at Roskos Field, and loved the game as a kid — but then wasn’t good enough to make the CHS varsity baseball team. He wrestled a few seasons at CHS, then coached by the legendary Joe Vivian, but, “I broke my thumb in practice and missed my senior year.”

After graduation, Campbell attended Albuquerque TVI (now Central New Mexico Community College), receiving an associate’s degree in architecture, and followed that up by obtaining his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the subject at UNM.

He’s worked for his father at BDA Architecture in Albuquerque for 16 years; “We specialize in animal care facilities,” Campbell noted.

Years later, when he had a son of his own and got him into Little League, Campbell, who grew up in Corrales but now lives on Albuquerque West Side, discovered players’ dads were being encouraged to coach and/or umpire the Paradise Hills Little League games.

And he did both, with a special fondness for umpiring.

“It helped me have a better understanding of the rules,” he said, since adding responsibilities in USSSA and high school junior varsity and varsity ballgames.

“This is pretty cool,” he remembers thinking. “I’ve got the best seat in the house.

“Little League’s been my passion,” he said, “one, because it’s voluntary and you’re giving back to the community. If the kids can’t go out and play Little League, then they’re out doing other stuff.

“Little League’s about more than baseball,” he said. “Our league has been very good about having parents understand the Code of Conduct.”

Players and coaches seem to understand it, too, he said: “I can count the number of ejections on three fingers.”

“Colin’s a great umpire — Colin’s one of our guys,” beamed Andrew Bunch, who heads the Rio Rancho Umpires Association. “He does a great job, bro.”

Bunch assigns Campbell high school games, when he’s available, which isn’t often during the week; Campbell works in his father’s architectural firm.

Campbell was assigned to regional play in Waco two years ago, and he enjoyed that, but nothing compared to the news he received in late December.

“I got the (assignment) letter three days before Christmas — it was one of the best Christmases of my life,” he said.

Until he had umpire orientation in South Williamsport, Campbell said, “I had never been there. I wanted to go, but not till I umpire there.”

The selection process to become a World Series ump is lengthy and rigorous, and it starts with a recommendation from a district administrator for a prospective ump to work a regional tournament, as Campbell did in 2016.An evaluation following work in a regional tournament is next, with two options: working another regional tournament or a recommendation for possibly working a World Series assignment.

If an individual wants to be considered for that, he/she must indicate so, and then Little League international and regional staffs screen the pool of applicants before making their choices.

Obviously, being on a World Series crew is the highest honor that Little League can bestow, and it’s literally a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Campbell doesn’t have aspirations of umpiring professionally, like former Rio Rancho High School catcher Ethan McCranie, now calling games in the Pioneer League.

“I enjoy youth baseball, where I’m gonna stay,” Campbell said, adding that when he watches baseball — on TV or at Isotopes Park — he’s more intent on watching the umpires than the game itself, “more for their mechanics, rotation.”.

He’s understandably proud that his son Tyler, 21, the kid he once coached and then progressed into umpiring, has followed in his footsteps.

Tyler Campbell is the chief umpire in PHLL, Colin Campbell said.

“He soaks it in like a sponge,” he says of his son’s thirst for baseball knowledge. “He doesn’t listen to me.”

Area Little Leagues are always seeking umpires, who happily work on a volunteer basis.

“We’re always looking for umpires to come out and give it a try,” he said.

Oh, by the way: This gig isn’t totally voluntary, as Campbell will receive a $400 travel stipend to help cover his costs.

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Campbell is believed to be just the fifth umpire from New Mexico to work the Little League World Series in Williamsport: Steve Mechem, Bruce Dinkle, Rene Sedillo and Sen. John Sapien preceded him.

Seven other District 8 umpires (District 8 includes Cibola and Sunset Little Leagues here in Rio Rancho) are headed to the postseason: Mario Martinez, Dave Rast and Phil Sapien will be off to the Southwest Regional in Waco, Texas; Phil Ramirez heads to the Intermediate Baseball Southwest Regional in Grand Junction, Colo.; Dave Salazar will be at the Little League Softball Southwest Regional in Waco; Randy Montoya will have a short trip to the Junior League Softball Southwest Regional at Isleta Pueblo; and Ron Thompson will work the Junior League Softball World Series in Kirkland, Wash.

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