A retired Marine who is now the chief umpire for the Milford Little League in Marietta, saw an unfamiliar number that had a Pennsylvania area code, and he didn’t bother answering.
That’s when Rodriguez realized that the call may be coming from South Williamsport, Pa., to inform him that he would be on the umpiring staff of this year’s Little League World Series. Rodriguez was recommended to be on staff at the World Series in 2007 by the chief umpire of the Southeast regional tournament, where Rodriguez called games that year.
Rodriguez, however, was told to not get his hopes up, with it potentially taking as long as 15 years before he would be selected.
Turns out, he didn’t have to wait that long.
Thinking that this year could be the year he goes to South Williamsport, Rodriguez returned the call. He was connected to Thomas Haynes, head of umpire training for Little League International, who told Rodriguez the good news.
“He said, ‘I’ll make your New Year’s even better,’” Rodriguez said. “He said, ‘I wanted to call you personally and congratulate you for being selected to umpire in the Little League World Series.’”
“I just choked up and couldn’t speak anymore, and they asked me if I was OK. Once it sunk in, I had to call my best friend, Jeff Lucas. Well, I called my son (Carlos III) first, and then I called everyone else.”
Rodriguez took up umpiring in 1997, primarily on the high school level. Then he started helping out with Little League games, and it eventually became more of a fulltime gig.
In order to qualify for the World Series, Rodriguez needed to start off at a local organization, which he’s done at Milford, where Lucas is president of the board of directors. Then, he had to be asked to work district tournaments, and eventually state tournaments, before getting recommended to work regional tournaments.
Rodriguez took every step to reach that ultimate goal.
“I was excited, no doubt about that,” said Lucas, who made the 14-hour trip to South Williamsport to watch Rodriguez work in person. “It’s a major area of pride for us to have someone from our park calling on that stage. He goes from calling balls and strikes for us to calling balls and strikes on ABC (television).”
“I tell people all the time, Carlos is the best I’ve seen at controlling the field, but doing so without having to be abrasive with the kids. You see a lot of his military training on the field. He always has his shoes.”
What’s made Rodriguez such a successful umpire has been his understanding of the rule book, a never-ending task.
Early in his career, Rodriguez read the rule book every day, trying to memorize a section at a time. He said studying the rule book is the most challenging part of being an umpire, but in the end, the more rules he has stored in his memory, the less he has to deal with hot-headed coaches.
“It’s knowing the rules and hustling to be in the right position to make the right call,” Rodriguez said. “That’s what keeps coaches away from you, but you’re still going to get the occasional something.”
The last thing Rodriguez wanted was coaches challenging him in his first game in the World Series, at Howard J. Lamade Stadium. Knowing it would be an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, Rodriguez had the jitters when he took the field for the first time, with 30,000 fans watching every play.
But once the first pitch was thrown, all the jitters were gone and it was business as usual.
As it turns out, he worked more than 10 games at the World Series, including each of the U.S. and world championship games. And he can’t recall a single coach charging the field to question his call.
Rodriguez rotated positions, calling games from the plate, the infield and in left and right field. He was at the plate in the U.S. championship, and at second in the world championship.
“I had to make sure they touched that base when they ran by,” Rodriguez said. “I always had to be in the right angle, so I can make the right call. I only had to make two calls, because everything was being hit to the outfield.”
Rodriguez also recalled the experience of being on the same field as Mo’Ne Davis, a Little Leaguer from Philadelphia who became the first girl in World Series history to win a game on the mound. Davis jumped to stardom during the tournament, appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
Rodriguez said Lamade Stadium and the berm beyond the outfield fence were packed when Davis took the hill. Davis could throw the ball close to 80 mph, and Rodriguez said he will never forget the deafening noise that would come from the crowd every time Davis made a big play.
“It was amazing being on the field with Mo’Ne Davis, and hearing the roar from the crowd when she came out,” Rodriguez said. “Just hearing the roar all around. That stadium was awesome.”
Working the World Series turned out to be both an exhilarating experience and a bittersweet one for Rodriguez. Once South Korea hoisted the world championship trophy after beating the U.S. champions from Chicago, Rodriguez had to pack his bags and say goodbye to the other 15 umpires he formed a bond with over the two-week event.
“I got to meet umpires from the U.S., St. Martin, Poland, Guam and Canada,” he said. “We all became a tight group. We all worked well with each other. But once the last game ended, we knew it was time for us to split and go back to our regular parks. It was kind of a sad moment.”