By: Nick Galle
Like most pitchers, Peter Van Loon spends most of his days on the mound. The right-hander threw 73 1/3 innings this past season at UC Irvine and pitched 6 2/3 innings in Bourne this summer. But when he’s not on the hill, the San Ramon, California, native spends a good majority of his time behind the plate calling balls and strikes.
Van Loon started umpiring when he was 12 years old in his home state of California, and it was his only source of money at time. He made about $20 per game calling Little League games and has worked his way up the ladder ever since.
“As recent as two summers ago I was doing summer college ball in California (and) men’s league,” Van Loon said. “There’s a men’s league that’s like 25-year-olds, 35-year-olds, 45s, 55s, even 65-year-olds and travel ball, 13U through 18U, pretty much anything I get my hands on, I’ll take.”
Some of Van Loon’s most memorable moments as an umpire have come during those men’s league games, especially the ones in the older age divisions.
“There was a bang-bang call at first base, really close call, I think I might of missed it. This is when I was 16 years old, my first time ever umpiring men’s league, and next thing you know a 70-year-old man comes up to me screaming in my face,” Van Loon said. “He says, ‘That’s bullshit,’ and he says, ‘Let me see your ID, you’re not even 18.’ But I mean I was 16 and I was assigned to that game, so it didn’t matter at all.”
There were also a few instances in which Van Loon was behind the plate for some of his former teammates’ summer league games.
“They’d come up to bat and always mess with me,” Van Loon said. “They would just say stuff in the dugout that umpires would find offensive but it was just hilarious because it was my buddies and I knew that they were messing with me.”
Aside from the frustrated 70-year-olds and soft jabs from past teammates, Van Loon said that he’s been able to make great connections with a lot of his fellow umpires.
“The best part about it is probably the guys you meet out there, just the people you see,” Van Loon said. “People don’t realize that there’s like a whole other umpiring fraternity. Just as I’m here playing summer ball with these guys, getting to know these guys, it’s the same thing as umpires. I got guys I know that are following my playing career, they text me once a week or check in on me (to) see what’s going on.”
The umpiring crews certainly have more than enough time to get to know each other, as they can sometimes work upwards of 10 games in a single weekend. Van Loon said the job is a grind and there are always parents that complain, but over time he has learned to power through the minor drawbacks that the job carries with it.
“There was one tournament I remember where I did six games in a day because they had a ton of games and less umpires,” Van Loon said. “It was so backed up, we had a game that was supposed to start at 7 p.m. (and) it started at 10:45 at night, I left the field at 1 a.m., got back to my house at 2 a.m. and had to wake up at 5:30 the next day to umpire five games straight.”
The grind has been worth it though, as umping has allowed Van Loon to observe pitches from a new angle, one that he considers to be the best field of vision in all of sports.
“It’s very interesting as a pitcher because you see the different pitches and how they move from an umpire’s perspective, which I think is the best view in any game,” Van Loon said.
Since he has gotten that perspective, Van Loon said there have also been times where he’s been frustrated on the mound because he knows what his pitches look like coming in.
“One of the frustrating parts about it is when I’ll make a really close pitch and the guy will call it a ball, because I know exactly what that pitch looks like behind the plate,” Van Loon said. “And I know that it should be called a strike.”
As for what the future holds, Van Loon said he wants to umpire college baseball once his playing days are over. He said he doesn’t really want to pursue professional umpiring, but he hopes to work his way up to the Division I level and umpire in conferences such as the Pac-12, Big West and West Coast Conference.
“It doesn’t seem like work to me even though I’ve been doing it mostly for money, but I do it for fun too,” Van Loon said. “It’s something that I will do until I can’t walk again.”
Cover photo via: Joe Sullivan