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It didn’t take long for players of the North American League to try to ruffle the feathers of a rookie man in blue.
Nor did it take long for the man in blue to squawk back.
Local umpire Doug Weiss got a chance to call balls and strikes this summer for the North American League professional baseball organization. Weiss, who has worked in every baseball level from Little League to the pros, did 24 games in Calgary, Alberta, Canada for the independent professional league.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Weiss said of his stint calling pro ball. “Baseball at that level is very different. It’s a lot faster. The pitching’s a lot faster and a lot better. The amount you have to know and retain is a lot higher.”
Weiss started his umpiring career in 2005 doing local little league games. A year later, he was calling prep baseball games, but said that through umpiring, he met people with connections to college baseball.
This year, he started calling Mountain West Conference baseball games. Through those he met during the MWC season got Weiss connected with the North American League, which needed help north of the border.
The North American League consisted of 10 teams, several of them housed near the Canadian and American Rocky Mountains. Teams from as far away as Canada, including the Calgary Vipers, and a team from Hawaii, compete in the league, which is comprised of a Northern and Southern division.
The league is actually expanding to 14 teams for the 2012 season, with one of its expansion teams being the Tucson Toros. The Toros were formerly members of the Pacific Coast League, which the current Albuquerque Isotopes are members of, as the Albuquerque Dukes before them.
Weiss joined a three-man crew in Calgary. As it happened, Weiss’ first ballgame came on a day when his position was behind the plate.
Being behind the plate, the toughest position in umpiring, was somewhat daunting for the rookie.
“I was nervous. I was really bad nervous,” Weiss said. “But you have a game the next day, you’ve got to move on.”
To add to his stress, on the mound during Weiss’ first contest was former Major League pitcher Lou Pote.
In pro ball, balls and strikes go more by the book – at the high school level and below, most umpires’ strike zones are considerably more liberal – but there was still plenty of grumbling in the first game Weiss called.
“I got tested,” Weiss said of his first game. “The guys knew they could push me.”
However, Weiss pushed back.
Following a call, one player got particularly testy, to the point that Weiss had to eject him.
Since wrapping up his stint in the North American League, Weiss is hoping to get back onto the MWC schedule. It’s also possible that he could be called back to the North American League for a full season in 2012.
He said it’s difficult to break into umpiring professionally – he’d like to expand his collegiate sphere to a few more conferences but is unsure if he’ll be able to this year.
“With the path I’ve taken, it’s hard to get into college ball,” he said. “But my contacts have helped me make it into the pro leagues.”