Baseball: Gilroy ump treks to ‘mecca’ of sport

“It was so unbelievable” said Gary Diaz, a Gilroy umpire of his trip to Cooperstown. Diaz accompanied the Boys of Summer from Gilroy for a weeklong baseball program and tournament at the Cooperstown Dream Park in New York.

Gary Diaz’s eyes get a little wider and his smile a little brighter when he talks about his trip to Cooperstown. As a man who lives and breathes baseball, both as a fan and as a local umpire, visiting the birthplace of the sport was on his bucket list and he got to check it off in unique fashion this summer.
Diaz was invited to join coach Aurelio Rodriguez and the Boys of Summer team when they attended the Cooperstown Dream Park program July 17 through 23. Each team that attends is required to invite an umpire and Diaz was the Boys’ pick.
“It was so unbelievable and it’s in Cooperstown, which is the mecca of baseball,” a beaming Diaz said.
For 13 weeks each summer, the Dream Park invites 104 teams from around the country and Canada to immerse themselves in all things baseball. Things kick off with an elaborate opening ceremony, where all 104 teams—along with their 104 umpires—participate in a parade, complete with skydivers and culminates with the singing of the American and Canadian anthems. After a skills competition on Saturday, it was all business for Diaz and his 103 peers as the tournament kicked off Sunday.
The Gilroy ump said the Dream Park left him speechless. The grounds, named “Little Major Field,” includes 22 fields on 150 acres with fields 1 through 10 televised live on the internet. Fittingly, the tournament follows Major League rules including leading off, stealing and sliding head first into any base except for home plate.
For Diaz, the weeklong program was an opportunity to grow as an umpire—and he was evaluated and graded every step of the way. The top 10 umpires were selected to officiate the championship game, six umps and four alternates, and Diaz was one of the alternates selected.
Though he wasn’t able to officiate the final game, Diaz wasn’t disappointed by his experience. He said being amongst his umpire peers was more fun than he could have ever imagined.
“Just being in the barracks with these guys (was great). They play tricks on each other, but they take their stuff really serious,” he said, noting his barrack mates laid out their uniforms and polished their shoes before their games. “I learned a lot more than I probably ever have just by watching them.”
While in Cooperstown, Diaz visited the National Baseball Hall of Fame and saw pitcher Randy Johnson, a 2015 inductee. And Diaz got the Hall of Fame treatment, too. The Dream Park is home to the American Youth Baseball Hall of Fame and those who attend the program become part of it. Diaz was even has an AYB Hall of Fame ring to prove it.
The weeklong journey was a dream come true for the umpire, who got his start in baseball as playing Little League at 6 years old. He said he hopes more teams from Gilroy get the chance to go and become Hall of Famers, too.
“I’ve never experienced anything like it,” Diaz said. “It was just a great experience and I just want the kids to experience it, too.”